This may be one of the foundational myths that doctors chase: If I just spend more money on marketing, my practice will finally turn around. I tend to hear this in a phone call with a doctor under the guise of “I have a great office and staff; I just need more new patients”. A cursory glance at this statement really reveals nothing wrong. Stare a bit longer and knowing that this is not a start-up practice but one that has been in the same location for years, and it should seem a little “short-sighted”. As with most of the myths we have discussed, dentists seem to focus on problems in the practice without realizing that the supposed cause they would like to work on isn’t actually the real problem. In marketing, we are doing everything we can to exceed the patient’s expectations while attracting a wider range and larger number of new patients. While marketing really is everything you do, most dentists think of it as some campaign or online strategy to attract and increase the volume of new patients. Herein lies the problem. A lack of new patients is not the problem. It is a symptom of a problem. Not having enough new patients might be caused by not having consumer hours, not taking their insurance, not having the services your demographic wants, or you hurt them or the staff was rude. Maybe people you treat don’t like you or don’t like the office. It literally could be anything. The trick is to look at your percentage of new patients that come to you from as a direct referral from happy existing patients and what percentage of existing patients have appointments in the future. You should have a minimum of 50% direct referrals or you are wasting your money on marketing. You are looking for an external solution to an internal problem. Secondly, if you don’t have over an 85% plus recall percentage, you are doing something wrong. The cost of a new patient is hundreds of times greater than the cost of perfecting your systems and keeping the patients you have.
Sorry, I got a little long-winded and off the track. Let’s get back to the myth that marketing is a cure all for few new patients. As a general statement, most dentists tend to want to throw money at a perceived problem rather than take a deep assessment of the “why” of the problem, and then invest the time and engagement to fix it. Simply put, most doctors (when it comes to new patient acquisition) prefer to call someone to fix their shortcomings. Who has time to learn what the real problem is? You should take the time. Far too often we fall victim to the sirens call of whoever shouts louder or has the better platform to sell us something we never knew we needed. In marketing, more than any other place, there are a lot of posers. Recent graduates that were sheet rockers yesterday, magically now have the marketing solutions to all of your problems.
Marketing should to start with these questions: Am I marketable in my demographic, with the competition I face, and the demands of a fickle consumer market? Is my practice poised to embrace the changes that accompany this small, consumer driven business we call a dental practice? Have I assembled a team that consistently compensates for my shortcomings while complementing our culture? Is the “why” we do this highlighted in the culture we would like to project? Am I ready to be totally engaged and committed in creating the practice I always thought I would have?
Pretty demanding set of questions and it all starts with assessing where you are now. The biggest mistake I see in practices is that they fail to accept the fact that everything they do is precisely designed to give them the results they are getting. If you are not satisfied with today’s scorecard for your practice, you need to do something different. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is one form of insanity. While I am on a role of being a “Debbie downer” let me say this: If you are not consistently growing by 10%-20% a year, you are not meeting your patient’s needs. Growth is the natural result of delivering on the fundamentals of practice management and clinical excellence. It is time for a serious look at your practice performance followed closely by the actions required to do something about it. Too often doctors justify their actions and practice culture by thinking that patients want what you have to sell them. This could not be further from the truth. Consumers vote with their feet and their wallets. If you keep seeing the backs of heads of those you treat as they leave the office, never to return, you just got voted off the island. Your current results, are the best indicator of your future progress. If you have plateaued or have been slowly going down hill, it is time to wake up and smell the roses. It’s time for a change and marketing alone will not get you to where you would like to go. Chasing the myth that marketing will salvage a poor strategy and lackluster execution in a demanding consumer marketplace will only fail and add insult to injury, PLUS you will have wasted your marketing dollars. You have to become “remarkable” in the eyes of your potential clients.
Now let me speak to the minority of doctors who “don’t market” or the slightly larger group of those who “don’t invest enough in marketing”. Before I tick down the list of myths of not marketing at all, let’s assess what your marketing dollars actually give you. To do this, you need to know what your collection or net adjusted production per new patient actually is. Dividing your monthly new patient total into your collections total for the month does this. An average practice will be in the $1,100 to $1,300 per new patient (this is not a good number). A well-run general practice will be around $2,500 to $3,500 per new patient (the Super General Dental Practice), and a boutique practice will be over that average.
Secondly, lets look at where you are and where your new patients are coming from. An average practice sees in the range of 25 to 30 new patients per month (that would be a one doctor office and probably only one hygienist). Let’s say this month was 30 new patients. Now, where did they come from? If you are in-network, about 60% to 75% of your new patients would come from in-network insurance. Ideally 50% should come from direct referrals (internal marketing) but most offices fall far short of that (No Bueno). The rest would come from external marketing. In our example, there were 30 new patients. Let’s assume a 30% direct referral rate or in this case 9 new patients. Your marketing dollars were not used for these because they are there from the referral of a friend. Let’s assume 60% (18) come from managed care, which again are not coming from your marketing dollars but from the fact that they simply picked you from a list. The remaining 3 patients are the direct result of paid for marketing. So how much did each new patient cost you? (Remember that your budget for marketing should be about 3% to 5% of your monthly collections.) Start looking at marketing through the loupes of this breakdown and see if you marketing dollars are actually getting you what you thought you were paying for. Finally, take the collections/net adjusted production per month and multiply the actual number of external marketing patients you get from it. Is it an investment with a great return, or an expense with uncertain results?
Here are the marketing myths for those who don’t, won’t, or can’t market.
MYTH – I tried marketing. It doesn’t work. (Or, it doesn’t work in my area)
REALITY – Everything you do IS marketing and it IS working. You just don’t like the results. Learn the why, what, and how of tapping into sources of unlimited new patients. (Get copy of my book: Marketing the Super General Dental Practice by calling Summit Practice Solutions at 800.252.0955 OR online by clicking here.)
MYTH – Marketing only brings in the “wrong kind” of patients.
REALITY – There are no “wrong kind” of patients, only poor systems or misplaced expectations. Learn why your practice is no longer inspiring new patients to seek you out.
MYTH – Marketing will make me appear desperate.
REALITY – There is not one thing you own that has not been marketed to you prior to a purchase. Marketing has become the information highway for seeking out and qualifying a purchase. Like it or not, your practice is a small consumer driven business that operates within very specific guidelines dictated by the consumer. Learn how to use “consumer speak”. Consider that we all may become “desperate”: No patients = No income = No business.
MYTH – Marketing costs too much. I can’t afford to market.
REALITY – Marketing is just a “great story, well told”. Listen to your potential patients, and learn how to give them more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Great marketing taps into the consumer’s spending habits and directs them to you. Marketing that works isn’t expensive, it’s priceless.
MYTH – Discounts and write-offs hurt production. We can’t reach our goals.
REALITY – Marketing doesn’t necessarily mean discounting your fees. Empty chairs, out of control overhead, poor systems, and marginal staff keep you from meeting your goals and hurting your production. We expect all of our practices to operate based on the philosophy of “Produce More, Collect All, Keep Half”.
MYTH – My current patients will see it and want the same deal.
REALITY – Most marketing is directed toward new patients only. There are specific ways to handle any situation that arises. The trouble is that most dentists are “exceptional” thinkers. They think of the one exception to any rule and live their lives in fear that they may have to resolve an anomaly.
MYTH – Marketing isn’t legal in my state.
REALITY – NOT! Going bankrupt should be illegal in your state. Marketing is legal and necessary.
MYTH – I feel that marketing, especially discounts, cheapens the value of my dentistry.
REALITY – The value of your dentistry is in the mind and actions of your patients. Let them, and not you, decide how they consider your practice. As we said, everything is marketing. You get to decide on the message and response to it.
This is how you avoid the myth that marketing will solve all your problems. This is how you Summit.