Making Dollars and Sense of Dental Marketing
Five questions to determine the effectiveness of your external marketing efforts
While working in the field of dental marketing for the past 15 years, I’ve heard a variety of reasons for why marketing “doesn’t work.” It’s expensive. It’s a challenge to execute. It’s hard to measure. While these statements may sometimes apply, they certainly don’t have to represent the reality at your practice. By creating a plan ahead of time and sticking to it, dental marketing can actually be a fun and engaging way to grow your practice with a steady stream of new patients, making it a truly worthy investment of your hard-earned dollars. However, the success of a marketing campaign is never a given, so here are five questions to ask ahead of time to help ensure your future marketing efforts will bring the results you’re looking for.
1. Why Are You Investing in Marketing?
It’s nearly impossible to develop a strategy without having a goal in mind, so first, decide what it is that you hope to accomplish through external marketing. For example, a strategy to increase brand awareness will look different than one aimed at boosting new patient numbers, so it’s critical to have a clear idea of what your practice needs to gain from external marketing before setting any plans into motion.
Failing to set objectives and establish measures of success from the beginning leaves you and your practice vulnerable to subjective analysis based on anecdotal evidence and “gut-based” decision-making. After all, there are plenty of vendors calling your practice, each one promising better results than the last, and usually for a sizable amount of money. Rather than wasting time, money, and effort on starting, implementing, and eventually cancelling a series of campaigns that fail to generate real results for your bottom line, do yourself a favor and take the time to chart your marketing course before ever spending a dime.
2. Is Your Staff Involved?
Collectively, the dental office team often interacts with patients more than the doctor, so everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to new marketing initiatives. In particular, the front desk staff plays an important role by handling all new patient phone calls and website inquiries. By tightening recall intervals and recognizing opportunities for co-diagnosis, the hygiene department is critical in boosting production among patients of record, and the entire team can help remind patients to check in via social media, post online reviews, and of course, refer friends and family.
Although the dentist should always be aware of the overall success of each marketing campaign, he or she should not expect to be involved in each daily marketing task. Marketing presents a great opportunity for delegation. Identify someone on staff who has the time, knowledge, and desire to take on the added responsibility of managing marketing vendors, tracking results, and keeping marketing campaigns running smoothly. This individual should report back to the dentist on a regular basis.
3. Are New Patient Phone Calls Being Prioritized?
The front desk fields dozens of calls in a day, but when there are external marketing campaigns running, it’s absolutely critical that the front desk prioritizes new patient phone calls above all others; otherwise, it’s impossible to measure the effectiveness of the practice’s marketing. Those who answer the phones should also get into the habit of asking all new patient callers how they heard about the practice and recording their answer.
If a new patient request comes via email or a form submitted on your practice website, it needs to be responded to immediately. If a call or online inquiry comes in overnight, the response should happen first thing the next morning. Remember, new prospective patients who come to you from external marketing are inherently fragile; they are patient opportunities, not patients. In other words, they’ve heard of you, but that doesn’t mean that they’re committed to your practice yet. They may simply be looking for a dentist who can get them in as quickly as possible. Make sure the front desk team demonstrates your commitment to helping these new prospective patients by scheduling new patient consultations within 1 to 3 days of initial contact. This will dramatically increase your conversion rate from patient callers to actual patients in the chair.
4. How Will You Measure Results?
One of the most common marketing missteps made by dentists is failing to effectively track the return on investment from external efforts. After all, how can you know if marketing is successful if you’re not measuring results? When the front desk team asks every new patient caller how he or she heard about the practice, the responses should be saved in an Excel spreadsheet. Remember, responses should be recorded for all new patient callers, not just those who actually decide to make an appointment, so practice management software won’t contain this information. From there, record whether or not each caller actually appoints as well as whether or not each caller actually presents for his or her exam. This will help quantify results and tell you if it really is your marketing efforts that are making the phone ring, instead of merely judging the success of your marketing based solely on how often your front desk is able to convert callers into patient appointments.
Measuring the marketing response removes the guessing game from external marketing. Now you’ll have real numbers to help you determine which marketing activities are worth continuing and which are in need of tweaking or even canceling altogether.
5. What Role Will Your Website Play?
Designing and maintaining an effective dental practice website is not inexpensive, but when well executed, a website can be your most powerful external marketing tool. In addition to providing new and existing patients with valuable information about the practice, the site can also be designed to include mechanisms that help measure the levels of traffic and engagement. However, it’s up to the dentist to utilize this information.
Google Analytics is perhaps the most widely used software for tracking website traffic, and best of all, it’s free. It will tell you how many people visit the site, how long they are on the site, and what pages are the most popular. Information like this is valuable in helping determine what other online efforts (eg, search engines, social media, third party sites) drive patients to your site. If you find that the time spent on your site is brief or that a significant percentage of users immediately exit your site (ie, high bounce rate), it could be an indication that you’re attracting the wrong kind of patient, or that your pages aren’t providing the information that patients are looking for. Having access to this type of empirical data can be very helpful in keeping your website as effective, resonant, and relevant as possible.
Regardless of whether you haven’t marketed in a while or you’re in the midst of a campaign that just doesn’t seem to be working, the good news is that you can develop a more structured plan for the future. Just be prepared to evaluate, measure, and adapt your marketing strategy to keep your practice growth moving in a positive direction—no headaches or frustrations required.
About the Author
Naomi Cooper is the president of Minoa Marketing and the CEO and co-founder of Doctor Distillery.