It’s a Small World
In what areas should you focus your marketing efforts?
Marketing gurus have always suggested that a business saturate its own territory before it branches out into other geographic areas. In many respects, that is still the best advice. However, laboratory owners need to have a good understanding of what is best for their laboratory.
I grew up in our family laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan. We were well known for our high-end Swissedent dentures, continuing education courses, and customer service. During the recessions that would hit because of downturns in the automotive sector, there was always the temptation to concentrate on other geographic areas to land new accounts. Realistically, when you go into a new area, you are the “new kid” on the block unless you have already been building a customer service relationship with them. It takes time to build a good reputation, and you may be better off looking for new customers in areas where you are already known. When I say that to a client, the usual response is that practices in their community are strictly price-shopping. It is human nature to look at the price. They have to get their laboratory work from someone. Saying that the lowest-priced laboratory is getting all of the work may not be the actual reason for some laboratories to have a higher volume.
To be successful in sales or marketing, you should possess a thick skin and always remain positive. You may stop calling on someone only after they have told you “no” seven times; but when you have something new, you should visit them again. Keep good relations with them and always be professional. Sometimes their perception of your laboratory may not be correct, and it is your job to show them the benefits of working with you. If they complain about your laboratory, you have an opportunity to fix their complaint. The dental office usually will not tell you what the problem is, and the author does not recommend that you ask them what is wrong. The question puts them in a defensive position. Rather, show them what solutions you have that can solve some of their challenges. During this process they may share with you what they heard about your laboratory. With this information you can then move them to a more positive position.
One of the things I like to suggest to laboratory salespeople is to size up the practice when you are there. Look at the signs that they have on their wall and in the lobby. Do they convey a positive or negative mood? It is not easy to deal with an office that displays negative messages for their patients. Look at the magazines. Are they current or old issues of Readers Digest and Better Homes and Gardens? When you see old magazines you might think it is a frugal office. If you get into the doctor’s office, look at the certificates on display of the courses they have taken. Are they keeping abreast of the times or are they behind? Do they use nice frames or just tape up homemade signs? Pictures of their hobbies, cars, boats, and homes can all indicate if they buy the finest things. If they have monogrammed shirts, it indicates a lot as well. Again, if they appear frugal in these respects, you may have a difficult time getting them to see the value in your services. Avoid getting caught in the war of words on pricing.
Make certain that each practice in your community knows about the benefits of your laboratory. Have a route and make certain you visit them at least six or seven times every year. Again, always show them something new or a technique that solves one of their challenges. You must see yourself as their goodwill ambassador, their problem-solver. You must be positive with each visit. If you are not, ask yourself what you can do to make yourself more enthusiastic.
When should you go out of your area? Once you have as much of the work from your community that you are going to get, then you can leave your area. Hopefully, you have been targeting other areas with newsletters, e-technical tips, links to your website, etc. You have to develop a carefully planned marketing program with a built-in budget. If you have an account in another community that you are targeting, try to get invited to one of their society meetings or study clubs. Ask them if you can use their name as a reference. Have something that you are really proficient in and know when the perfect time will be to bring this to them. Try to avoid the trap of sending out thousands of direct-mail pieces. You will most likely not have the proper time to contact each of them to set up an appointment. Avoid giving a potential new customer the first restoration free. It makes you look desperate for work; there are dentists who brag about using these offers and rarely going beyond that first case. Put a value on your work and stand behind it.
In the digital world we live in, you have a better chance e-mailing the younger doctors who are online regularly. Emphasize your digital skills and make certain you tell them about your quick turnaround time. Some laboratory owners have said that if the fit and turnaround time on digital services is fast and dependable, the price is far less of a determining factor than you would think.
It all comes down to going outside of your area when you have something that is better than they are currently getting. If you are not involved in digital dentistry, you may be too late. Look at your options, and act on them appropriately.
Alan Barnes is the president of Coaching For Service, Inc.; the facilitator of The Barnes Group; and the facilitator of the Detroit Dental Sleep Network.