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As the dental market becomes more competitive, how can dentists stand out?
Dentists are all well versed in providing the finest in oral care. That’s why they spend years learning and refining their craft.
But what’s often missing in their education portfolio is running a business. And in today’s competitive environment, even dentists need to know how to bring in new customers. They won’t simply show up on your doorstep.
Mayer Levitt, DMD, FAGD, is a retired dentist who now works as a consultant to other dentists in New England. He doesn’t mince words when assessing dentists’ business acumen.
“I’d say that the typical dentist is often clueless about how to manage the business side of a practice,” Levitt says. “And everybody needs to be able to attract new patients.”
Levitt says that a highly competitive environment exists within the dental community. Corporate dental practices are being set up, and they’re offering what patients want—come in any time between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., six days a week.
“They can get everything done at one place, and they accept every single insurance plan in the world,” he says. “So you’ve got to compete on a different level. Specifically, on exquisite customer service.”
Levitt is a believer in two types of marketing, neither of which, he says, is very expensive. The first type is internal marketing. For example, the average dentist may have approximately 1,500 to 2,500 patients—people who come back on a regular basis.
“Those people should be referring their friends, family, and business partners to their dentist,” Levitt says. “World of mouth advertising is the most powerful way to advertise.”
How do you get current patients to refer new patients? Levitt says it starts by letting them know you care.
“If somebody sends you a new patient, do something nice for them,” he explains. “Send them a coffee card, maybe a lottery ticket or movie tickets. It’s easy to do, and it’s very inexpensive.”
But any type of marketing you employ, Levitt says, must be consistent.
“You’re trying to create such a ‘wow experience’ through exquisite extraordinary customer service,” he says. “And if you’re doing that, it’s the kind of stuff that people talk about at cocktail parties.”
In addition to internal marketing, Levitt is also a big proponent of Internet marketing. Not necessarily ad campaigns on Google or Facebook, though they definitely have their place, but a focus on search engine optimization. That means when somebody searches online for a dentist in your community, your practice falls within the top three that come up.
“You can do this without spending a lot of money,” Levitt says. “But there are very specific website strategies that will help create that.”
Those strategies include adding Google patient reviews to your website, or incorporating video, where prospective patients can hear or read about what other patients have to say about your practice.
“Something like 40% of dentists in this country don’t even have a website,” Levitt says. “And a lot of them have websites that haven’t been updated. So nobody can find it because Google rewards relevance. And relevance means adding new content to the site all the time.”
In addition, it’s important to determine how you want to compete in today’s environment. Levitt tells the story of a dentist whose practice was stagnant. They’d reached a growth plateau and were trying to get to the next level but didn’t know how to get there. They weren’t attracting new patients. When Levitt asked what his hours were, he said Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“Well, that should have gone out in the 18th century,” Levitt says. “I’m not saying you have to work more hours, but change the hours up so that you can be more accommodating. That can be hugely successful in bringing in new patients.”
Set Funds Aside
As part of your strategy for attracting new patients, Levitt suggests that 3% of annual collections should be set aside for marketing. So, if you have a $1 million practice, it’s not unreasonable to think you could spend $30,000 annually on marketing.
“And you don’t have to put it all in one bucket,” he says. “But you do have to be out there.”
By “out there” Levitt means if you want to be doing more adult orthodontics, or more same-day crowns, or more implants, write a series of blogs—maybe once or twice every two weeks on the same topic.
“It’s amazing how people click on that, and that can take them to your Facebook page where they see all these blogs about the same topic they’re looking for,” he says. “Now you’re starting to build a brand, and you can get some return on that.”