Regardless of a company’s size or industry, it is impossible to achieve success without customers. The activity of attracting customers, or marketing, can therefore be considered the ‘central dimension of the entire business’, according to management guru Peter Drucker.
It is widely accepted that the price of acquiring a new patient is higher than that of retaining an existing one. The Chartered Institute of Marketing, in fact, suggests the cost to be between four and eight times more. As a result, it makes financial sense, having made the initial outlay, to satisfy and care for patients in a way that encourages their continued loyalty.
Marketing is just as relevant to dentistry as any other business. The reality is that every practice needs to promote itself and the services its provides to ensure a steady stream of new patients. However, in an industry where businesses are often relatively small with tight margins, sales and marketing activities need to be carefully administered in order to ensure budgets are used wisely.
A scattergun approach to marketing, aiming everything at everyone, can be an expensive and potentially pointless exercise. Closely considered and targeted tactics are needed to ensure that the right messages are fired at the right people.
Topping the charts
For you to create a successful marketing strategy for your practice, it helps to follow a tried and tested formula. The seven-step principle known as lifecycle marketing effectively encapsulates the process of attracting new patients and retaining them by building successful long-term relationships.
Devised specifically for small businesses, lifestyle marketing takes the seven basic ideas and integrates them into a single, self-sustaining process. The steps may seem obvious (indeed they form the fundamental structure of marketing), but the formula can be easy to compromise. As such, it is important to take each step in order, treating each as important as the next, and ensuring you complete the entire strategy. As Aristotle put it: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
1. Attract strangers
Around 5% of your gross revenue should be spent on activities to attract new patients. Activities can include social media, print media adverts, billboards, signage, or networking.
2. Capture leads
Encourage new patients to visit your website or connect to your social media channels. The attrition rate between attracting strangers and capturing leads is huge, as very few potential patients will see your advert and immediately visit your website or practice.
3. Nurture prospects
One in 400 people respond to direct marketing, but the problem comes when you try to sell that one person something straight away. The attrition rate here is high as either people don’t want the treatment at this time, or they visit the practice to obtain a treatment plan and then don’t get around to starting it.
4. Convert sales
People will come back to the practice when the time is right for them to have the treatment they want (or need). It is crucial therefore that you keep your website up-to-date and keep sending newsletters, as you never know when those leads can be converted into sales.
5. Deliver and satisfy
Always provide a quality service.
Offer additional treatments whenever possible.
7. Generate referrals
Hand out business referral cards to patients at the end of appointments; don’t leave it to chance.
The power of seven
The marketing journey begins by attracting strangers (step one), perhaps with different types of interruption marketing such as billboards, posters and competitions in the local press, leading interested parties to your website. Once you have directed traffic to your website (step two), it’s important to capture those leads by encouraging them to sign up to receive notifications of new content. Once you have their contact information you will be able to nurture your relationships (step three) by creating campaigns to provide current and informative updates for potential patients, encouraging their continued interest and confidence in your business while raising awareness of your brand.
By keeping your messages targeted and relevant, you can really engage people and begin converting them into new patients (step four).
While initial sales may be routine check-ups or emergency dentistry, satisfied patients are likely to enquire about other services you promote. It is therefore important that you deliver on your commitments at every level, from your skill and professionalism in the surgery, to the punctuality of appointments and friendliness of reception staff (step five).
By providing extra value and a consistently high-quality service, you will be able to up-sell these additional services to patients (step six). Whether this involves the provision of adjunctive products to aid patients’ oral health routines, or further treatments to enhance their smile aesthetics, such as whitening or composite bonding, up-selling is a great way of increasing revenue while ensuring maximum patient satisfaction.
And this is, of course, crucial for the final step of the lifecycle marketing concept – happy patients are quick to tell their friends and family about the treatments and care they received, enhancing the practice reputation and significantly increasing business referrals (step seven). Arguably the most powerful form of marketing, word-of-mouth patient recommendations cost you nothing and can have a significant impact on the growth of your business.
Finding your beat
However, in order to utilise lifecycle marketing effectively, you need time and resources to plan and implement a successful strategy. For many busy dental practices, this can present difficulties, as staff members already have demanding workloads. By embracing solutions designed, customised and put together for you by experts, you can save precious time and money without compromising the results. Although the success of your practice isn’t measured by the number of patients you have, it is an important indicator for your long-term sustainability. By implementing an established, cost-effective marketing strategy, you can make the most of your resources and encourage effective business growth.
Chris Barrow is the founder of 7connections business coaching. An active consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession, Chris has spent more than 15 years witnessing first-hand the trials and tribulations faced by dentists today.