Inside Dentistry
November 2012
Volume 8, Issue 11

Don’t Be a Marketing Procrastinator

Set S.M.A.R.T. goals for a successful marketing plan.

By Naomi Cooper

Here’s a familiar scene. Someone in the dental practice—likely the doctor—attends a CE course or reads an article and gets a brilliant marketing idea. It’s clear that this new plan is sure to help the practice grow. Then the first patient arrives on Monday morning, and suddenly the practice starts buzzing with the normal daily routines—answering phones, scheduling appointments, exams, x-rays, billing, patient follow-up—and the brilliant idea fades into the background. Before you know it, a week or even a month has gone by, and that marketing idea that had so much potential has been postponed or, worse, forgotten altogether.

This story is all too common in busy dental practices, and not surprisingly. After all, a dentist has to simultaneously play the role of clinician, business owner, marketer, and employer. On the list of daily priorities, implementing new marketing ideas—or even beginning to market in the first place—probably ranks fairly low. For many dentists, this means that tasks like “create a practice Facebook page,” “redesign my website” or “start a practice e-newsletter” routinely get set aside and never fully executed, if they get attempted at all. So what to do?

To break the cycle of marketing procrastination, it’s important to form a strategic marketing plan instead of trying to just fit individual tasks into an already busy day. This can help keep new practice-building projects moving forward without getting in the way of the day-to-day operations of the practice or patient care. The good news is that creating a marketing plan doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. As with many things in dentistry, it’s all about charting a course and forming good habits.

The key to creating a successful comprehensive marketing plan is to build it around the practice’s true goals and objectives. One time-tested and highly effective method of goal setting is a technique called “S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting.”

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Meas­urable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-specific. Framing practice goals in this context will help ensure that the marketing plan is achievable from the outset, and that the dental team is able to maintain momentum throughout the planning and implementation process.

First, make sure your goal is as Specific as possible. This means that it answers several key questions, including what is to be accomplished, how, and why. And what are the motivators for and benefits of accomplishing the goal? It’s also important to ask who is going to be involved in the process of reaching this goal as well as who will be accountable for its success or failure. The more precise, the better the goal.

Next, make sure the goal is Measurable—otherwise, how will anyone know that the goal has been met? The metric might be a dollar increase in hourly production, a reduction in average recall time, an increase in the number of active patients in the practice, reaching a specific number of Facebook followers, etc. It may sound obvious, but without creating specific measurements of success, it’s easy to lose sight of when (and whether) the practice has reached the goals that it set out to achieve. So, rather than saying, “I want more new patients,” try to spell it out: “I want my website to bring in 10 new patients each month so we can fill the holes in the hygiene schedule.”

Goals should also be Achievable. Make sure that it’s actually physically possible for someone on the team to accomplish and that it’s a reasonable expectation given the time allowed. This can help refine a goal from something like “Call every patient of record this week and get one referral from each” to the more realistic, “Ask every patient who completes major treatment and compliments us on our quality of care to consider referring friends and family to our practice.”

Next, make sure the goals set for the practice are Relevant. The goals have to make sense for the practice. Setting a goal to increase new patient flow might sound like a universally good idea. However, if the doctor is actually looking to reduce stress and work fewer days per week, an aggressive new patient goal might not actually be right for the practice.

Finally, make goals Time-specific. If the goal is to create a practice blog, set a deadline. If hourly production is the metric to improve upon, by when it is expected that increase would be achieve? Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals creates a system ensures the team can actually meet (or exceed) stated expectations. It creates a checklist to use to make sure the marketing plan is set up for success and forward momentum, rather than frustration, stagnation, and inertia.

A quintessential S.M.A.R.T. goal was the one set on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress on the importance of space exploration. His stated goal was that “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

This goal is an almost perfect example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It was specific in that it stated exactly what was required: landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. It was measurable because would be incredibly clear to the whole world when and whether it was achieved—or not. It was achievable; Kennedy knew that with hard work and determination, the goal had a good chance of happening. It was highly relevant, as the nation was fixated on this race to outer space. And by inserting the phrase, “before this decade is out,” Kennedy made it very time-specific.

Once a dental practice’s S.M.A.R.T. goals are set, key project details should be outlined. Namely, who is accountable for this goal and what time and resources are they allowed? Making one person the primary owner of each project is perhaps the most important factor in actually crossing marketing ideas off your to-do list. For example, rather than asking the whole staff each morning, “Is patient loyalty improving?” one person on the team should be responsible for ensuring the practice meets the goal for tightening recall that had been previously agreed upon. He or she can monitor the progress of the specific tasks involved, and suggest new tactics to help reach the goal. Sometimes simply having a degree of personal accountability is what keeps everyone on track and working toward the common goal.

It’s also crucial to specify the timeline and budget for the project up front. This creates structure, as well as a sense of urgency around completing important marketing tactics. In addition, it keeps the team focused on the plan, what is part of that plan, and what is beyond its scope. The alternative is the chaos that many practices are used to—constantly running down new ideas that may exceed the allocated budget and aren’t goal-oriented, or taking on more than the practice’s resources allow.

Dentists rile against procrastination when it comes to patients deprioritizing oral health and blowing off regular dental office visits. But just as it’s crucial for patients to stay current on their hygiene, it’s important for dentists to form good marketing habits in order to keep the practice’s goals focused, to keep the team accountable, and to ensure that the marketing plan is constantly moving forward. After all, momentum means reaching your marketing goals sooner rather than later.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper | Ms. Cooper is Chief Marketing Consultant for Pride Institute and President of Minoa Marketing. A respected industry opinion leader who co-teaches Pride Institute’s marketing course, The Complete Dental Marketing Plan, Naomi also works one-on-one with dentists who are looking to develop a cohesive marketing approach. For information about Minoa Marketing, visit www.minoamarketing.com or www.fb.com/minoamarketing. To find out more about Pride Institute’s seminars and marketing consulting services, call 800-925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com. Naomi can be reached at naomi@minoamarketing.com or naomic@prideinstitute.com.

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