We are back to discussing how to not be the uninformed doctor that hires the incompetent marketing company. Just kidding. Not really. Sometimes it feels like marketing companies and dentists are the blind leading the blind. Last week we started with the discussion from the dentist’s perspective. I would like to add one more bullet point that applies to the dentist, but also could apply to any marketing company before I finish next week discussing the marketing company’s side of the equation.
What are your expectations? In almost every relationship, having unrealistic expectations can be the number one reason for a poor outcome. If you, the dentist, decided to go in-network to bolster your new patient numbers, what would you expect? As crazy as this might seem, I have doctors tell me that they were not sure they wanted to do this (even if they only had a dozen new patients and could not pay their bills) because they did not want to be swamped with new patients. This is where you see me trying not to laugh. Instead, I try to explain the reality of this choice and the real expectations they might find. For most areas, being in-network might be the one thing that is left to save a practice. But being the new kid on the block where you just signed up is no guarantee that you will get any patients. Consider that the employees of the corporation that you are now in-network for already have their own dentists. The only new patients you would have a possibility of getting would be those new hires or someone that was upset with their current choice. If your name was anything but Abbott or Abernathy, there is a good chance that you would be on the 5th page for the in-network providers where no one even gets past the “A’s” when looking for a dentist. The reality (and a suitable expectation) would be that it might take a year or two to affect your new patient base to the point of altering your balance sheet. The last problem is that if you treat these newly acquired marketed patients the way you treat your current new patients, I guarantee that none of them will come back. If you had been doing what it takes to attract, inspire, and keep patients in the first place, you might not even need to market because your direct referral rate would have been so high.
Final point: Hiring a marketing company creates a partnership between two parties. We need to make sure that both of you are on the same page. A marketing company is not there to fix you. They can come along beside you, measure your current outreach, discuss a budget, your wishes, any unique selling proposition you might have, etc. But both parties have responsibilities for this to actually work out. If they are great, all a marketing company can do is to make the phone ring. This only happens if they are good at what they do and continue to improve on.
Take post cards. If you sent out 5,000 cards how many calls do you think you might get? Wrong. You will be lucky to get one call per 200 cards and that is if it were a great card, with a valuable offer, sent at the right time, to the right demographic. Add to this, that you would have to repeat this month after month to even get that type of response. The final kicker is that this only gets you a call, so you need to measure the performance of your front desk. The average conversion from call to appointment is less than 50% in the average office and of the 50% that call and make an appointment; only about 60% show up. I hope you are seeing that this is a numbers game. Each number represents the quality of systems and staff members that perform this duty. Far too many of us fall short on even tracking these numbers much less performing at a high level of efficiency.
For marketing to work effectively for most offices, you have to be willing to move away from the status quo and do everything differently. Failing this will only secure your future to a mediocre result because you continue to do the same thing over and over yet expect a different result.
This is where is gets hard. Let’s assume you have assembled the numbers: Overhead, production per new patient, per op, per employee, percentage of direct referrals, hygiene production, case acceptance percentage, etc. Like it or not, these numbers reflect where you are and you have to realize that you are where you deserve to be, not where you would like to be. Next week I will tie this all together by discussing the marketing company’s perspective.
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. My book Marketing the Super General Dental Practice is still available. If you want/need more new patients, this will show you how to get them. Just click here for more info and to order.