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Client vs. patient: Who's more important? (Part 1: Marketing)


You want new patients. You take courses, workshops, read forum threads and even hire “experts” on how to market to patients, get them in the door, connect with them, get them to say “yes” and have them return, time and time again. There’s a falsely held truth in dentistry that success relies solely on new patients and how much treatment dentists can diagnose. This is far from the whole story.

There is another target market that plays a critical part in the success, diversity and longevity of a practice. These are the clients. Clients are the decision makers. They decide if a patient moves forward with treatment, which level of service a patient will tolerate, if the cost to value ratio is acceptable and often drives the patient’s emotional response throughout the process. Often these important individuals are called guardians, parents or spouses. Don’t be fooled by those titles. These people are clients and must be catered to in marketing, technology, practice management, team development and office environment with equal amounts of thought and energy as a patient.


Marketing is all about creating awareness of who you are and what you do. You want to generate buzz around your product and service so that people consistently seek you out. Effective marketing talks to a person’s pain and clearly draws them a picture of how you and your practice provide them their only solutions. Patients and clients have different pains, so marketing must be diverse enough to cover the critical basis for each group.


Results focused: Patients will want to see before/after pictures and have some visualization of what their results might be, regardless of how simple a procedure might be to you. Helping them imagine what their new smile will bring them—confidence, that perfect job, new friends—makes for same-day-dentistry.

Part of the crowd: Our brains are wired for assimilation. Leverage this psychology by creating a marketing message that highlights the regularity of seeing the dentist. Use the demographics of your community to paint the picture that it’s normal for members to visit the dentist, and make it clear that their friends, colleagues, counterparts all see the dentist. Show them how to become part of the crowd.

Life changer: Patients are concerned about having to change their lifestyle for any length of time. Committing to injections, parlay of eating, Invisalign, night guards or any type of appliance can be scary. Marketing that talks about the simplicity and ease of care while maintaining normalcy is key for patients.


Team skills: Where patients want to know about the end result, clients are more curious about who will be the driving force behind getting the patient to the end result. Marketing to clients includes specific information about the team qualifications, certifications and experience. Clients need to trust the team they are about to enter an agreement with and it starts with bios.

Quality of equipment/products: Clients are looking for peace of mind when it comes to products. They want to know that they won’t be spending additional time and money replacing or repairing lower-quality material. Everyone making a buying decision wants to feel confident that the product they get is worth the value they pay.

Convenience: Both client and patient are concerned about the changes brought on by any dental procedure or service. The patient is concerned about changes in lifestyle, while the client is mostly concerned about changes in daily life management. Effective marketing to the client includes information around locations, office times, staff availability, after-hours options, weekend calls, emergency contacts and so on. Make treatment easy to add to their plate and clients will say yes to treatment.

Editor's Note: Jen Butler, M.Ed., has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching for over 20 years. For more information on how to stressLESS, join her mailing list, take a stressLESS Intensive course, and connect with other like-minded, dental professionals while learning how to reduce and manage stress by joining a stressLESS Mastermind Alliance TODAY!

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