There really is no magic to running a financially successful dental practice, as the majority of our clients know. There are many different skills required, and a certain entrepreneurial mindset, but even these do not necessarily guarantee success.
To ensure rising profits, however, you do need to focus on five key areas:
1. Converting as many new enquiries as possible into appointments
2. Educating all your patients about your services, focusing on the benefits to them, stimulating their interest in doing so
3. Turning that initial interest into new treatments
4. Ensuring that each patient values you and your services, and keeps returning to see you regularly
5. Optimising the number of new referrals that existing patients provide.
These points may appear obvious to many dentists, but the difficulty lies in knowing how to put them into action. However, there is a relatively simple answer – marketing. By investing in a core set of marketing principles, you can achieve all these goals and start to reap the rewards of having a successful and profitable dental practice.
Converting enquiries into business
Often when people want to join a new dental practice, they will call several in the area to see which they feel best suits their needs, so it is vital to make the best possible first impression on them. Usually the only resources potential customers have when deciding whether to join your practice is the way in which their call was handled, together with any information they may have subsequently received in the post.
To win them over, you need to have a welcome pack, and one that is more appealing than any others they may receive. This pack should establish the perception you want people to have of your practice. In terms of content, it should cover all the mandatory requirements – the team’s qualifications and the services you offer, but also why your practice is the obvious choice. Your pack must look professional and appealing, with lots of gorgeous photos (definitely no gory or clinical ones) and not too much text. It is unlikely you will be able to achieve the best results by producing the pack in-house, so call in specialists to produce it for you.
For example, if you wanted to join a gym, and contacted both the local recreation centre and a high-end commercial enterprise such as David Lloyd Leisure or Virgin Active, you would notice a huge difference in the way they marketed themselves. The recreation centre would give you the information you needed on the phone, and possibly (though not always) send a low-budget, probably computer-generated leaflet to you. The commercial gym would almost certainly send you a glossy and attractive brochure, with lots of appealing lifestyle photos and emphasis on benefits for members. While the end result – being fitter – would be the same, many people would be prepared to pay extra for what they perceive to be a higher standard of service and better benefits.
Everyone knows that if you go to a dentist you can have basic examinations and restorative work carried out. But unless you tell them otherwise, current and potential patients will not know the many other ways in which you can help them.
You need to keep them well informed about your practice and the treatments on offer, with emphasis firmly placed on the benefits to them rather than the features of a treatment. And you need to keep telling them regularly to keep the idea in the forefront of their minds until they are ready to enquire about it.
This is a well-used marketing technique. Owners of Audi cars, for example, receive a high-quality brochure every few months, showing their readers all the wonderful new models that are being launched. And because it comes regularly, it is likely that you’ll get a copy close to the time when you want a new vehicle.
The best way of keeping your patients informed is with a patient newsletter. This should be interesting and informative without any sales pitches, and should look attractive so people will want to read it. The best time to send a newsletter to a patient is a week or two before their next visit, as part of your recall process. That way they have time to read it, and its contents will still be fresh in their minds when they see you, making it more likely that they will mention the articles they were interested in.
Capitalising on interest
Turning a patient’s interest in a treatment into actually going ahead with it is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of running a successful dental practice. Generally, dentists do not like the process of selling products or services. Most people tend to shy away from hard-nosed salesmen, preferring to make up their mind in their own time.
Unlike selling, marketing is more subtle – it’s about giving people the information they need so that they can make an informed decision. This means working with the patient to establish exactly what their needs are and explaining how you can best meet them. A dental menu (often referred to as a dental wish list) is an ideal way of doing this. It is a short questionnaire which asks patients how they feel about various aspects of their smile, and the answers help you start a discussion about the best way of making them feel happier about it. You should emphasise to patients that the menu is not mandatory but is for their benefit.
Some practices encourage patients to complete dental menus via competitions. One of our clients has just run a very successful competition which offered four people a free smile makeover. This has generated a lot of interest in the practice and its cosmetic treatments.
Other practices are choosing one client every couple of months from those who have completed the questionnaires, and making their dental wishes come true. Again, this stimulates enormous interest and gives the dentist a great opportunity to open a discussion about smile enhancements.
Showing patients before and after photographs and talking them through case studies similar to their own helps too – it shows that ‘ordinary’ people just like them are suitable for the treatment. Cost can often be an issue, so make it easier for your patients by offering a range of options including monthly payment schemes. Often this can make all the difference between a patient going ahead with a treatment or reluctantly deciding not to.
Ensuring your patients return
Regular communication with patients is vital to the future success of your practice. You need your patients to keep thinking that your practice is undoubtedly the best one for them – and to do that you need to keep reminding them that you are.
One way of doing this is to keep them informed about changes you make at the practice. For example, if you have just bought an intra-oral camera or a digital X-ray, invested in a new whitening system, refurbished the patient lounge or completed a post-graduate training course, you need to let your patients know.
Let them know about the benefits to them rather than to the practice – a digital X-ray therefore keeps them safer, a new qualification further assures them of being in the best possible hands, a new computer system means a more efficient service when they book appointments.
Information about the practice team is always well received – it makes patients feel more involved with the practice. This can include snippets of news about staff who are joining or leaving, who have earned a new qualification, who have done well in a hobby or past-time or who are getting married or having a baby.
Many patients don’t realise that their dental practice is happy to take on new patients – they tend to assume that the media stories featuring long queues for NHS dentists applies across the board.
So, again, you need to let them know, and remind them regularly too. Some of our clients have a referral card – a little like a large business card – and ask patients to pass it on to anyone they think may be interested. You should take the time to thank anyone who provides a referral – such little gestures can make a huge difference, and will encourage the patient to continue referring.