Show Your Worth
Offer greater value to dentists by prioritizing their success
Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT
In the ever-competitive dental laboratory market, differentiating oneself on price alone is not a sustainable strategy for most laboratories. And while quality work is certainly important, offering added value to the dentist beyond just fulfilling prescriptions is critical and can provide a catalyst for the laboratory's growth and success. How can one offer such a value-add proposition to their dentist clientele? And how can that kind of business model be implemented? The best approach is a mindset and business model shift that acknowledges that the value a laboratory can bring to its dentists is tremendous. The laboratory can propel all aspects of clinical businesses and workflows to a new level, allowing them to run better, more efficiently, and more profitably.
Value-Add Consultative Mindset
Building a culture in the laboratory which focuses on the success of dentists leads to greater dentist engagement, loyalty, profitability, and supportable success. The culture, mindset, and business model shift that prioritizes client success and communication is referred to as the consultative approach. When a laboratory employs this approach, the primary goal is a satisfied and successful client and a strong business relationship, rather than more sales or greater profit, based on the philosophy that profit will naturally follow.
"Competing on price is very difficult because you can find yourself quickly outpriced and therefore lose market share, which is really a slippery slope for any business," says Bob Savage, Vice President/CFO of Drake Precision Dental Laboratory. "We approach our customers from this vantage point: How can we support our clientele? We then go above and beyond that, so that they feel confident that they can call the laboratory and we will have their solutions. Whether it is supporting them in conversions, purchasing implant components, or simply rushing a crown because that is what their patient needs—and therefore that becomes their need—we are there to make that happen for them."
Conrad Rensburg, owner of Absolute Dental Services, concurs with the value-add consultative mindset and business model shift. "The services you provide beyond just making teeth are where you create real value for your clinicians," Rensburg says. "The days of only making posterior crowns are over. There is too much competition—they can outsource or engage in the race to the bottom with price; you need to offer diagnostically driven solutions and confidence to attain success."
The best way to build trust and partnership between the laboratory and its clients is by providing more efficient, sustainable, and successful outcomes to the end client—the patient.
"The greatest value add we provide to our clients is the breadth of expertise in our management team," Savage says. "When they have a case or are working on a treatment plan, they know that our management team can get them to the finish line successfully."
Dentists and technicians each have very different yet complimentary areas of expertise, and viewing the business through this lens is an approach for which Jessica Birrell, CDT, Owner of Capture Dental Arts, advocates passionately. "What can we do as partners to better support each other and increase success on both sides?" Birrell says. "When you look at it as a true partnership, there are huge opportunities to grow together with your clientele. This is the benefit that small to medium-size laboratories have, offering a level of relationship and service that larger laboratories struggle to achieve." Birrell advises laboratories to get to know their customers and ascertain what they need in order to be successful, since their success is ultimately the laboratory's success as well.
Rensburg also advocates for a true business partnership. "Laboratories need learn how to become a partner to their clinicians," he says. "The days of simply fulfilling a prescription are coming to an end because our clinical partners need so much more than they did 20 years ago, and much of that is driven by technology. A business model and mindset shift is necessary to stay relevant and thrive, now and going forward."
The biggest business drivers for Absolute Dental Services have actually been value propositions to surgeons—study clubs, surgical solutions, or conversion consultations—that ensured those surgeons felt comfortable and confident driving their referral base to the laboratory. "We found that if we become a trusted partner to our surgeons, they will be much more likely to refer our laboratory to others. Additionally, this model drives customer loyalty by simply making us a trusted reference on materials," Rensburg says. "My clinicians know that I would never provide something that I would not put into my own mouth. That is the approach on which I have been able to build my reputation for the past 20 years."
Cultivating Expertise in the Laboratory
If a laboratory plans to shift its mindset to become a trusted partner to its dentist clientele, building up its own knowledge base and areas of expertise is essential. Educating the laboratory's technicians through conventions or courses—and making sure to cross-educate—is the best way to cultivate a team of experts, according to Savage. It is important for everyone to work as a team and share knowledge.
"Our management team sits together in an open room, which allows them to communicate with one another easily, listen to other conversations, and therefore learn together the process of arriving at the best solution," Savage says. "We have a select few who get on the phone with our dentists, and we work as a team internally. We try not to have situations where, for instance, one person is the contact for removables and another person handles fixed. We are all one team and, therefore, when a dentist calls one of us, we can confidently and with great expertise guide them to success. We look for solutions, not just to complete the case, but to make it truly succeed."
When a laboratory has established a team of experts, it can become a greater resource to dentists. From new materials to new processes, new technology, and more, laboratories can examine what clinicians struggle with and provide them with solutions. Rensburg enjoys this part of the job and relishes predicting his clients' questions before they even ask. For example, Rensburg admits he was not sold on digital dentures until he realized that the workflow is an important solution, allowing the clinician to eliminate the bite rim step and decrease clinical chair time. "There," he proclaims, "is your value add."
As younger generations of dentists come out of school, they will have different needs, and laboratories must continuously educate themselves to successfully meet those needs. "If you are a laboratory that only fabricates porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns, that may be fine now," Rensburg says, "but the demand for PFMs is decreasing, and new graduates have scanners and experience using zirconia. If you are not aligned with industry progress, you will not continue to thrive."
A prudent laboratory knows it needs to stay current on new products, technology, and innovations. "It is not about your ego," Rensburg says. "You must recognize that technology has changed the industry, and if you cannot adapt to that, you will find yourself in trouble very soon."
Honesty and integrity reinforce the laboratory's expertise, leading to a greater sense of confidence for its dentists. "Being known as the person who will always tell the truth, good or bad, builds confidence in you as a trusted source of reference," Rensburg says. "If dentists attend a course or conference, you should be the person they ask whether it will be beneficial for them or not. A laboratory cannot feel like they must say yes to everything. If you do not believe in something, then say so; when you do, the clinician will trust your opinion, and most of the time, they proceed with your advice." However, it is important to remember that in order for an opinion to carry weight, it must be well researched or based upon personal experience, not upon the opinions of others.
In the end, knowledge is useless if it isn't properly focused and utilized. Any business owner must decide which tasks they enjoy most and are best at, and then delegate the other tasks to those who are better at them. Birrell says her laboratory focuses on what they are the best at, and she advises others to not dilute their functions to the point where they are doing too many things, and yet accomplishing none at the highest level.
"If we focus on three things we are really good at, rather than 20, we can master them and feel personal satisfaction in our accomplishments, leaving extra time for life and creativity. Focusing on too many things at once does not allow individual mastery and often spreads us too thin with an overfilled schedule," Birrell says. Most laboratory owners feel they should be the very best at everything, but that is typically not a good business strategy. If the laboratory owner focuses on improving personal strengths and allows others to shine where they do not, it empowers the laboratory to provide the highest-quality service to its clientele.
Evaluation and Communication
Forming an evaluation process for your clients is a great way to assess their needs. Sitting down and asking questions to determine their needs and satisfaction is invaluable, according to Birrell. Once you have this information, you can strategize to meet both their business needs and goals and your own, prioritize objectives, and then create a plan of action. "Identify and address only one or two needs at a time and really focus on perfecting these processes before moving to the next," Birrell says. Trying to tackle everything at once can become unmanageable and make it easier to disappoint.
Phone calls remain important when assessing client satisfaction, according to Savage. "We feel the art of communication is still best practiced vocally," he says. "Still, we are also flexible to the dentist's needs, and if they prefer texting, then that is how we respond. We are trying to complete the circle for them and provide them with the best possible solutions, and that drives the communication regardless of the means."
Communication has become a 24/7 proposition, however, and immediate responses can be difficult to manage. It is just as important to create processes that respect boundaries and do not overburden your team as it is to respond to every client. Birrell suggests adding a number that multiple team members can see, housed centrally in the laboratory, that allows the team to track and address these very important communications.
When communications are handled with expertise and in a timely fashion, they build trust and partnership between the dentist and the laboratory. "The greatest value we at Drake provide is a responsive partnership that can deliver the highest quality solutions to dentists and live up to its promises," Savage says. "That culture has been established for many years, based on the premise of ‘being there for our clients.'" That has been the driving force behind Drake's growth and success. "Everything we do is because we are there and present every time for our clients," Savage says.
Being presented with a problem is the best opportunity to create value, Rensburg says. "When a customer complains to me," he says, "that is my time to shine and prove that I can fix the problem. Laboratory owners should not be shy about conflict; although we all like phone calls saying that things are great, the calls when things are not great are the true opportunities to improve your processes. Share with your dentist that you will research, find out the problem and the solution, and then fix it. That is how you garner better relationships, and my team knows that. If you know how to deal with conflict and build relationships through resolution, you can build a powerful laboratory. It can also be dangerous because if you tell someone you will fix something and do not, you are dead in the water, and your reputation is gone. However, when you can deliver, this is the best business driver you can have."
The Cutting Edge
As dental technology continues to advance, a laboratory that stays on the cutting edge exhibits its expertise to its clients and provides them with greater confidence in its knowledge and products. "We need our clients to know that we are on the cutting edge, not on the bleeding edge, where it can become a detriment," Savage says. This helps the laboratory establish a reputation for considering the advantages and disadvantages of new and innovative technologies and materials. New additions must be examined very closely and evaluated quickly—and only offered to clients if the laboratory determines it will benefit them. "Know where your capabilities are, know where to push your capabilities, and stay true and in your lane so that you do not get involved in something that will have poor outcomes," Savage says.
"The most important thing is to put your money where your mouth is," Rensburg says. "You need to deliver what you promise, or else you will not succeed. You need to produce a product with the right material, technology, and process. I never ask the price of raw materials. I am more concerned with providing my dentists first-in-class products; otherwise, I would rather not provide it with my name behind it. If you live by that philosophy, share that with your clients, and then deliver on it, that is the biggest value proposition you can provide."