For the best results, know where to focus your efforts and when to tap the experts.
Dentists who don’t have the time or expertise to handle marketing for their practice often outsource the work. However, with patient flow numbers still recovering from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, hiring expensive professionals may not be in the budget in 2020.
Fortunately, there are many ways dentists can promote their practice inexpensively yet effectively on their own. The following blueprint for building an in-house marketing plan highlights the ideal opportunities for delegation, the tasks dentists should focus on, and 3 areas where it’s best to rely on outside experts.
What to Delegate
Marketing is a great way to get the team involved. Harness their enthusiasm and put it to work for the practice. Start by asking for patient referrals and online reviews, which are especially powerful in today’s postpandemic world. Encourage the staff to get in the habit of checking the daily schedule every morning and finding 1 patient they are comfortable asking to refer a friend or post an online review.
Social media presents another opportunity to solicit the team’s help. One of the toughest challenges with social media marketing is simply coming up with ideas of what to post. For example, ask each team member to submit 1 idea a month to post on the practice’s Facebook page — maybe a new employee profile, a local publication’s recent article with a dental or health care angle, or even a local event or news story of interest to patients.
When patient flow slows down, there’s no budget for marketing. The irony is that when it starts to pick back up, marketing often gets pushed to the back burner. If a particular team member is eager and able to take charge of creating and executing the marketing, this is a great task for the dentist to delegate. Get a social media–savvy staff member trained on how to effectively manage and monitor the practice’s social media profiles to stay on top of online chatter about the dentist and the practice. This person should be given guidelines on what kind of content to post and how often and needs to be aware of HIPAA (US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) guidelines in case they must respond to a patient’s online inquiry.
The front desk team also plays a critically important role in marketing. They are most often the first contact people have with a practice, and that conversation can make or break a new patient opportunity. This “welcome committee” should keep track of the referral source for every new patient caller, even if that person doesn’t make an appointment. This enables the dentist to monitor marketing results by understanding which sources generate the bulk of new patient opportunities and the team’s success at turning those callers into patients. The ideal front desk employee is friendly and charismatic, possessing the necessary communication skills to easily answer both common questions and the unusual request. And anyone working in new patient opportunities should be directed to prioritize these individuals by offering them an appointment at the earliest opportunity—whenever possible, within 3 days of their initial inquiry. Not every new patient wants to be seen right away, but keep in mind that pain and discomfort are often what drive a person to finally make a dental appointment, so time may be of the essence in the caller’s mind, even if the problem is not technically a dental emergency.
Where to Focus
Delegating day-to-day marketing tasks is incredibly helpful but doesn’t mean taking a hands-off approach. With the practice’s reputation at stake, it’s important for the dentist to participate in crafting the marketing strategy, reviewing the tactics, and closely managing the person responsible for implementation and daily marketing duties.
Dentists should also keep tabs on outcomes from all the practice’s marketing initiatives. It is impossible to know what efforts are producing results if no one is monitoring results. Make it a monthly habit to review marketing sources from all new patient inquiries and opportunities to inform future decisions on which efforts should continue—and which should be stopped.
Finally, dentists must learn the power of saying no (or at least “not right now”) when fielding calls and emails from people hard-selling the latest marketing scheme. Not every marketing plan is right for every practice, no matter how convincing the salesperson on the other end of the phone (or behind the email) might be. Limit the practice’s marketing to a handful of focused, sustained key strategies, especially when the budget is tight, rather than spreading yourself (and your marketing dollars) too thin. Always keep patients in mind, and move forward only the initiatives that are timely, trackable, and targeted.
When to Hire an Expert
Dentists can manage many marketing tactics on their own, but it is best to hire an expert to handle 3 integral areas. Practice branding, website design, and search engine optimization and marketing (SEO/SEM) are the foundation of any dental marketing plan. These factors work together to form the base on which all other marketing initiatives are built, so unless a practice’s team includes a graphic designer, search marketing expert, and web developer, it pays to enlist the experts for this work.
Countless vendors specialize in these areas, so seek out industry-leading companies with a proven track record of working primarily with dental practices that fully understand the nuances of dental marketing. If this year’s budget doesn’t allow for that expert advice, table these marketing components until the cash flow returns to historic levels.
The good news is that there’s no need for a marketing degree to start successfully promoting a practice. Taking a DIY approach to dental marketing will help a practice survive this tough year and set it up to thrive in the good years to come.