Inside Dentistry
May 2010
Volume 6, Issue 5

The Advertising Funnel

How not to pinch off the revenue flow.

Fred Joyal

The process of advertising requires a series of steps: You cast a wide net, manage to grab the attention of certain people, some of them respond, a handful may become customers (patients), and a few might spend a good deal of money in your office. You may notice that each step involves a smaller group than the one before. Whether it’s the Internet, a direct mail piece, the Yellow Pages™ or 1-800-DENTIST®, this is how it goes. As the process progresses, the focus becomes narrower.

In fact, you can look at the course of advertising as a giant funnel—lots of people going in at the top and a few patients coming out the bottom. You can’t eliminate this reduction, but you can do things at each step to affect the shape and final output of this funnel.

Think About Your Target

Where are you casting your advertising net? Who have you chosen as your audience? Did you target residents within a few miles of your practice or did you send a direct mail piece to the affluent neighborhood 10 miles from your office? If you did the latter, you’ve already narrowed your funnel and you’ve done it at the place where it should be the widest—the top. If you’re targeting only “desirable” neighborhoods, you’re almost certainly targeting fewer people than you should and you’re hoping that those people don’t already have a dentist. And then you want them to drive 10 miles to your practice on top of all that. That’s a very tight funnel.

Some dentists pay for a mailing list that targets only new movers. This may seem like a smart strategy (and you should certainly include new movers in your area in your direct mail campaigns), but you don’t want to target only them. After all, there are only so many movers in any given month, and once again, you’re making the top of the funnel too small.

You can also make the opposite mistake. You could pay for television ads in a large city, like Chicago or Seattle. This will give you a huge funnel opening, but it’s going to get tight pretty fast because people won’t travel that far in a big city. You’ll have a lot of waste, and even worse, it’ll be costly waste because you will have paid to advertise to the whole city. You’ll end up answering a lot of phone calls just to get one or two patients.

On the Internet, the equivalent of casting a wide net is buying a lot of keywords or paying a lot so that you appear on the first page of a Web search. You might get a lot of clicks, but if you’re paying per click and it takes dozens or even hundreds of them to get a patient, your funnel gets tight pretty fast.

Choose the Right Message

Your second step in the process is making sure your ads capture people’s attention. People may see or hear your ad, but if they don’t understand it or don’t find it appealing, they’re not going to respond—and once again, your funnel gets cinched up near the top. Be clear, be memorable, and don’t try to cram too much into your advertising. The best ads are always concise. When people are overwhelmed with too much information, they tend to just tune out.

Promotions also affect the funnel. Discounts and specials will generally increase the response you receive, so at first they may seem like they’re really helping. But be aware that a good percentage will not turn into patients unless your practice is very appealing (which it should be). It’s another part of the funnel. There will be some no-shows and some people whom you will never see again after the first visit. And the patient who came to you for a discount is the one most likely to leave you for a discount somewhere else. In short, promotions can work, but all by themselves they are not going to build a loyal, productive patient base.

When choosing your message, it’s important to look further down the advertising funnel and think about who’s likely to respond. Many practices say that they don’t want to attract shoppers, but that’s like saying that you don’t want to attract patients. The reality is that everyone is a shopper until they buy something. Patients are shoppers not only until they come into your office, but through their exams and cleanings, and right up to the point when they accept treatment. That’s when you start to see the real value of that relationship. An exam and prophy? You probably made $30. That doesn’t even pay for the advertising to get the patient in.

So target shoppers with your message. Target neglecters, avoiders, and procrastinators. That’s where the production is. Open the top of the funnel wide to them, and the profitable part of the funnel—the actual production—will also remain nice and wide.

Handle Responses with Care

What’s next? Now you need to make sure you’re prepared for the responses. For many practices, it’s the phone that’s responsible for squeezing the advertising funnel. Perhaps you’re not open when they call. Squeeze. Or you let it go to voicemail when you’re open (as happens with a whopping 25% of the calls to most practices). Squeeze again. You might try to screen them out based on their ability to pay. Squeeze. Maybe your front desk person is in a lousy mood and turns them off. Squeeze again.

The front desk is where an amazing number of really good patients get pinched off as they travel through the funnel. Think about how little training most front desk people actually have in converting calls into patients. This is a skill, a challenge, an art. Help them get good at it and the funnel widens greatly.

There are many places where your front desk can get the training they need over the phone. Another thing that could help is a referral service like 1-800-DENTIST. We cast a net that’s very wide, answer the phone 24 hours a day and then direct the patient to the appropriate practice. A referral service can maximize the funnel right up until the appointment.

Patients Pay Off Over Time

Even if you’ve handled each of the preceding steps perfectly, the bottom of the funnel is always going to be considerably narrower than the top. This is normal, but it also means that if you’re not careful you can squeeze the funnel so tight that you stop the flow of new patients entirely. You’ve gotten some of the people responding to your ads to appoint. What is their experience when they come in? How are they greeted? What do they see in terms of décor and technology? How nice is everybody? It all matters. If their first trip to your office turns them off or makes them uncomfortable in any way, you can rest assured that there won’t be a second.

Finally, case presentation. This is where your advertising investment begins to pay off, but that return isn’t going to happen right away. If the patient is an avoider who needs $10,000 worth of restorative treatment, they’re not ready to hear that on their first appointment. You need to ease them into it. Begin with the immediate problems. If they’re in pain, get them out of it. Then build from there over time. Remember, the average patient won’t agree to significant treatment until they’ve been with your practice for at least 18 months. Until then, keep them out of pain and keep their problems from progressing, and at the same time, show them that the practice’s main concern is for their oral health and the quality of their life. Once they’ve come to realize how much you care about them, they’ll start to accept treatment and even refer new patients to you.

Whenever you’re starting a new advertising campaign, always keep the funnel in mind and carefully consider each step. Don’t expect your advertising to do all the work. Your ads are simply the top of the funnel—you’re responsible for the rest. And it’s all within your control. You can take a small ad budget and get great results, or you can spend a fortune and barely move the production needle. It depends on you and your team. It may start with a great ad, but it ends with great service.

About the Author

Mr. Joyal is the CEO and co-founder of 1-800-DENTIST and one of the industry’s leading experts in dental consumer marketing. His recently published book, Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth, is available at https://www.goaskfred.com.

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