By Bob Leonard.
Before becoming an executive coach for dental practices, I spent several decades as an advertising executive at a few of the world’s leading advertising agencies. During my tenure I was responsible for managing the marketing of a diverse range of goods and services, from fast food restaurants to luxury European cars. The principles of marketing these large companies use to be successful can also be practically applied to the solo dental office, but with one primary difference – your marketing efforts should first focus on what’s happening inside your practice.
1. It’s What’s Inside that Matters
Patients are not really able to judge your clinical skills. But they will be self-appointed experts when it comes to judging what they experienced inside your practice. Do you know – for a fact, not based on a feeling – what your current patients think about the experience you provide? If you don’t, it’s time to ask your patients for honest and direct feedback. One way to do this is to send a post-appointment survey to all patients by email. There are many easy-to-use online surveys available to capture customer feedback, such as Survey Monkey®. Use this feedback to improve areas that don’t exceed patient expectations so that the experience every patient has is so positive they are happy to come back and happy to refer friends and family.
2. Mobilize an Army of Advocates
Once you are consistently delivering an exceptional experience patients can’t help but rave about, it’s time to enlist your best patients to bring you more “best” patients. Start by identifying your Most Valuable Patients (MVPs) – those who have:
Once you have this list, give them the information and tools they need to refer friends and family. Often, the simplest way to get a referral is to simply ask. Make it part of your practice’s processes to look these MVP patients in the eye and say,
“Mrs. Jones, you are one of our very best patients and we thank you for your loyalty and trust. We have found that our best patients are our best source for new patients and we want you to know that we welcome and appreciate your referrals.”
And, when patients do refer friends and family, make sure you thank them. A great idea is to send a gift – flowers, a plant, chocolates – to their workplace. That way when their colleagues ask, “Who sent those?” they have yet another opportunity to sing your praises. Another way to say “thanks for the referrals” is to consider hosting a patient appreciation event each year to celebrate your MVPs.
3. Go to the Source
When it’s time to go outside of your practice to attract new patients, the best places to go are where your existing patients are coming from. To identify the source of your patient base, create a map with your practice in the middle of a 10-mile radius. Now, mark on the map where your MVPs live and work. If there are areas of density, then you have found the areas you should concentrate on first. Look for community-based opportunities to make your practice visible to other potential patients in these areas. You can support community events, local sports teams, schools and clubs like MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). Seek out geographic specific advertising opportunities. You can target new families moving into the community by purchasing a list of new home sales and working with larger apartment communities. Create a “welcome to the neighborhood” letter to send to these prospective patients, inviting them to the practice for a complimentary tour or service.
Internal and external marketing are both important to the health of your practice and require focus, attention, time and resources. So, before you begin, determine a budget and appoint a champion on the team responsible for developing and executing the marketing activities. And remember, try new things. But always measure and monitor the results and adjust as needed. Marketing is as much an art as it is a science.