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6 signs marketing your dental practice could be a waste of your time


Nobody likes to waste time and money-yet that could be exactly what you’re doing if you are marketing your dental practice without first having the correct internal systems in place.

Nobody likes to waste time and money-yet that could be exactly what you’re doing if you are marketing your dental practice without first having the correct internal systems in place.

That’s why it’s imperative for every dentist to be intimately familiar with the type of internal marketing and practice management challenges that even the best external marketing strategies can’t overcome.

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Marketing is so much more than simply placing an ad in a local newspaper or having a great practice website. Dental practice marketing is a process, and its results truly reflect the sum of the entire patient experience – starting from the moment a patient first learns of the practice and extending well beyond the initial appointment.

In short, the practice’s processes need to be shored up, otherwise marketing efforts can easily be undermined and their results quickly undone. Here are six common scenarios where external marketing could be a waste of time, money and effort because of missing links elsewhere in the practice.

Continue to the next page to see the scenarios.




1. Lack of practice indentity

Dentists who have failed to invest in branding, or who haven’t updated the practice’s graphics in decades (ahem, all tooth iconography included!) leave themselves vulnerable.

Remember, a brand is more than just a logo, font and color scheme; it is the visual indentity that distinguishes one practice from the rest, and without a modern, professionally executed branding effort, your practice is likely to be lumped in with all the rest – rather than remembered – by prospective patients.

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Milton Glaser, one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the U.S., is quoted as saying, “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no and WOW!”

Whether it’s your commitment to extensive continuing education, your use of the latest technology or your dental team’s high level of patient care, you know that all of your patients – new and existing alike – are going to have a “wow” experience in your practice.

But those patients who have never met you before or visited your practice in the past need a reason to believe that they are going to have that “wow” experience with you; your branding and practice identity are your opportunity to communicate this promise non-verbally – even subliminally, one might say.



2. An ill-equipped front desk staff 

The front desk team plays an all-important role in the marketing process. Patient phone calls – especially new patient phone calls – need to be handled delicately. And it certainly doesn’t do any good to ramp up external advertising if the staff isn’t equipped to identify new patient callers, answer questions effectively and gently but firmly guide them into new 

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Think of those who answer the phones and greet patients as the welcoming committee for your practice. These individuals should not only have the natural skills necessary to do the job, such as charisma, poise and kindnewss, but they also must have received the proper verbal skills training to enable them to know how to say precisely the right thing to form instant relationships with patients, to effectively answer cost- and insurance-related questions, and to get new patients on the practice schedule. 


3. Scheduling issues

Keeping the front desk in mind, another common, yet often overlooked, struggle comes in the form of new patient scheduling. New patients, particularly those who come from external marketing, often have a sense of urgency – after all, they chose today (of all days) to call a dentist. Plus, they don’t (yet) possess any feelings of loyalty toward your practice, so they’re often simply looking for the dentist who can get them in as quickly as possible.

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With this in mind, the front desk should endeavor to offer the option for a new patient appointment to each caller within one to three days. While not all new patients will want to come in within that short of a timeframe, the likelihood that a patient will a) accept the appointment and b) actually show up increases dramatically when the appointment is as close to the time of the initial call as possible. 

Otherwise, prospective patients with a sense of urgency may be more likely to move on to the next dentist listing they see on Google or Yelp! sending all of the money and effort put into external marketing – and getting that patient to call the practice in the first place – down the drain.


4. Failing to track current marketing

It’s easy to tell a certain marketing effort is working when the phone suddenly begins ringing off the hook, but this shouldn’t be the sole measurement in deciding whether a specific tactic is providing the desired return on investment (ROI). 

For example, it could be that while a direct mail postcard campaign elicits a ton of phone calls, they don’t materialize into actual appointments. At the same time, another medium may drive inquiries that largely convert into new patient exams, making this endeavor much more profitable. 

Tracking the ROI provides hard numbers as evidence of what works and what doesn’t and helps you decide where you can best direct your marketing budget in the future. 

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The front desk team that answers the phones should also be in the habit of asking every single new caller his or her name and how he/she heard about the practice. Other essential measurements of success include tracking what proportion of new patient callers (or online inquiries) actually make an appointment and of those, how many actually follow through and show up for their first visit.

Sample script: 

“Thank you for calling Dr. Smith’s office – this is Naomi – may I ask who I’m speaking with?” (pause and make note of new patient name)

“Well, patient name, you made the right choice calling Dr. Smith. All of her patients love her and I know you will too. In fact, many of our patients find us by way of referral… is there anyone in particular we can thank for referring you?” 


5. Treatment planning and case presentation skills

Lagging revenue isn’t always a result of a lack of new patient flow; sometimes all it takes to boost production is better communication with the patients who are already in your chair. After all, they already know and trust you, so your current patients can be a great source of production for your practice to tap into – no external marketing required.

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Establish an open, two-way dialogue with patients. Look at each existing patient’s mouth with an open mind; rather than seeing all the dentistry you’ve done, pretend it’s a new patient’s mouth and look wth a fresh set of eyes. Present multiple treatment options or phases of treatment, but always give your opinion about the care you would provide to a similarly situated family member. And avoid letting pre-conceived notions about the patient’s possible financial situation cloud your treatment planning. 

Talk with your current patients to discover the main motivations that are driving them to the chair in the first place. Then tailor each conversation directly to the patient, addressing why certain procedures are necessary or optimal – and how the patient will benefit directly from the treatment(s) you are recommending from an aesthetic, functional or quality of life perspective. 


6. Nothing new to market

Many dentists lament the fact that their patients don’t have a budget specifically set aside for dentistry. While this may often be true, the lack of earmarked funds is certainly not the only factor that keeps patients from saying “yes” to dental care. People don’t often need a new car, a designer handbag or the latest iPhone, but they are willing to pay for these items anyway because they want to have them.

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Patients can treat aesthetic and even restorative dentistry in the same way. Someone may not necessarily want to go through a bone graft for implants, but he/she surely does want to have a megawatt smile. Give patients what they want – not just what they need – by offering the kind of dental care they desire – modern equipment, comfort-conscious laser dentistry, sedation, CAD/CAM, and adult ortho to name a few – and start attracting an entirely new type of patient.

Dental marketing is not a magic bullet. When there are underlying practice management challenges endemic to the practice, these problems will sabotage even the most sophisticated and intricately planned dental practice marketing strategy. It is only when your practice is functioning at an optimal level on all fronts that you will begin to truly experience the power of marketing – and what it can bring to you, your practice and your patients. 

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