Marketing High Technology

March 21, 2012

There may be a “cool factor” that gets some people excited about new technologies, but CAD/CAM systems are business tools designed to make dental labs more efficient and productive. Taking something once done physically and moving it into a virtual environment can offer practical benefits to many labs. But if you aren’t marketing around your new capabilities and efficiencies, you’re not going to be maximizing your investment.

There may be a “cool factor” that gets some people excited about new technologies, but CAD/CAM systems are business tools designed to make dental labs more efficient and productive.

Taking something once done physically and moving it into a virtual environment can offer practical benefits to many labs. But if you aren’t marketing around your new capabilities and efficiencies, you’re not going to be maximizing your investment.

Terry Fine, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at AMG Creative Inc., said dental labs’ marketing efforts need to articulate the benefits their business can bring to their current and potential clients. While this is true for marketing all of a lab’s services, CAD/CAM investments provide labs with a great message to bring to the marketplace.

“Around CAD/CAM there’s the opportunity to message it a little differently with the fact that the lab is making investments in technology to streamline processes and deliver a better, more cost effective restoration,” Fine said. “You have the opportunity to promote your brand as an innovative cutting edge laboratory and I think that’s an important message.”

Selling CAD/CAM capabilities

When a lab launches a new material or a new restoration type, they certainly want to get the word out to current clients. However, when a lab makes an investment in technology that can open a range of doors as it has a completely different story to tell, Fine said.

With CAD/CAM technology, labs should be talking about not just the latest product or material, but the increased production efficiency realized via their technology investments. Fine said the key is to help dentists understand how the technology can benefit the clinicians and their patients via faster, lower-cost production and increased restoration accuracy.

Labs should let their current accounts know about new technologies via newsletters and case-stuffers that go out with every restoration shipped. However, a one-on-one approach can be even more important. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or get out of the lab to bring the news directly to your most important accounts, Fine said. Of course the timing of these outreach efforts is critical. Whether it’s a full-system or a scanner-which Fine said is an investment that makes sense for even small labs-mastering the new technology must be done before you can start selling what it can do for your customers.

“The worst mistake you could make is introducing that product to your marketplace before you’re truly ready or able to deliver a quality product,” Fine said. “You get one chance to make a first impression. If you deliver something to the marketplace before it’s ready it’s going to have severe ramifications for a long time.”

Benefits messaging

Setting yourself up as a cutting edge operation is only part of the equation. If they think of you solely as someone clicking computer buttons, your products become commodities that someone else might be able to produce at a lower cost, Fine said. To avoid this, it’s important to focus marketing efforts on how your lab’s investment in technology enhances what you already do well.

“You’re streamlining but you’re improving the quality and you’re improving the final product that’s being delivered, and you’re able to do it more cost effectively,” he said. “The end result is they’re getting a better product for less.”

For dentists who view their lab as a commodity provider, lower cost will be an appealing message, but not all competition is about price. Fine said that whether a lab is marketing CAD/CAM or any other product or service, the message must speak to more than just price and communicate the role you play in working with the dentist to produce the best possible restoration.

“If you’re not doing that, at the end of the day you’re just a vendor and it’s easy to switch vendors; it’s much more difficult to find another partner,” he said.

Moving your doctors

When you’ve established your role as a valuable partner, you are in position to help your doctors find new products that provide improved patient outcomes while benefiting the bottom line for both practice and lab.

An investment in CAD/CAM technology allows labs to offer all-ceramic restorations, which often can be produced with a higher profit margin. Fine said any business would want to focus on shifting customers from lower profit products to ones that bring in a higher return. Therefore, dental labs should be making the case when they can offer an option that is better for everyone.

“The labs really should be getting the doctors off metal,” Fine said. “Every PFM case that goes out your door should have a case-stuffer that ties in a new all-ceramic option.”

Explaining that in many cases insurance companies are reimbursing at a higher rate for all-ceramic crowns than for PFMs can move some clinicians, but it’s important marketing efforts go beyond cost savings. Fine said labs can promote the way increased accuracy and fit of milled restorations can save a clinician chairtime at seating appointments. Including clinical studies showing benefits of all-ceramic restorations can be a good idea as well.

Not so different

Not every doctor will be swayed to make a switch right away, and some might never glance at a case-stuffer. For those accounts Fine recommends a more personal approach. As with all marketing efforts, marketing around CAD/CAM comes down to understanding the audience and tailoring a message to appeal to their wants.

“If you can really look at that doctor’s practice and understand his hesitation to all-ceramics and address them directly, you have a great chance of him switching,” Fine said.

CAD/CAM marketing can be done in the same ways labs have always reached out to dentists. Fine recommends repeating the message in newsletters, case-stuffers and if a lab has a sales staff, in sell sheets they can leave behind. It’s important to keep your messages simple and targeted as too much text can obscure the point you are making that your investment provides direct benefits for your dentists.

Because all marketing is really about communication, Fine said the personal approach always should be a part of your efforts. Check in with your top accounts, and after you share the exciting news about your new technology, take the time to listen and answer questions they may have.

“I think so much of it comes back to the relationship you have with the doctor,” Fine said.

Regular communication with your top accounts can help you determine when you need to invest in something new to keep their business, and just as importantly, how to approach them to share the news that you’ve made a new investment.

Knowing your accounts also can help you determine how to promote new products you can offer via assistance from an outsource partner. Some accounts trust you and expect if you’ve partnered with someone they are going to provide the quality you’ve always delivered, while others will want to know more about anyone new you work with. Fine said you can market a product produced with help from an outsourcer, but you need to be sure the dentists you send those restorations to are provided with the information they expect.

“On an outsource basis domestically, I don’t think it’s that important to tell every client about your parts supplier, but when you talk outsource offshore, it’s a whole different equation,” Fine added.

Reaching new audiences

Marketing around the advantages of your new technology investment is important to maximizing your use of the new capabilities, and reaching out to existing accounts will be critical to that success. Still, your investment might make your lab a good fit for new accounts as well.

If your investment means you can accept digital impressions captured chairside, you will want to inform current accounts with compatible technologies. Reaching out to potential new accounts with those technologies also can benefit your business, and Fine said getting involved with local study clubs and talking with your accounts about the technologies they’ve invested in can help you find the right targets for your marketing efforts.

When you are comfortable with and confident in your new technology, it’s easier to sell the capabilities to existing and potential customers. Knowing that your investment brings benefits to those customers and communicating those benefits can lead to success and help make sure your lab’s investment provides the returns you planned on.

“You need to make sure the technology platform that you’re promoting is the right one for your laboratory and most importantly for your customers,” Fine said.