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When marketing fails to open doors

Four cases illustrate how to conduct marketing feasibility studies, regardless of whether you`re a rookie or a veteran, or whether you cater to country folks or city dwellers.

Four cases illustrate how to conduct marketing feasibility studies, regardless of whether you`re a rookie or a veteran, or whether you cater to country folks or city dwellers.

Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA

The need for reliable and predictable methods for attracting new patients is more acute than ever. Developing and implementing a well-thought out dentistry marketing plan offers the practice a way to assume greater control over its rate of growth and, in so doing, reduce stress in the office, all while adding a new and positive dimension to the career of both doctor and staff.

One of the best ways we know to move more rapidly along the marketing learning curve is by learning from other successes (and failures).

To that end, we present “real world” examples, taken from our client charts, of pitfalls, and how to avoid them. Only the names have been omitted to protect the innocent (and guilty).

Of course, it would be great to have a crystal ball to determine the optimum design of your marketing plan right from the start. The reality is that some mid-course correction is inevitable. By viewing the initial stages of your marketing program(s) as a kind of applied market research, you will make better, more informed marketing decisions, and gain a clearer picture of how and where to best allocate your scarce marketing resources.

Now let us elaborate on some specific cases so you can see just how various situations may be analyzed and evaluated. Even if you cannot directly identify with all of the cases presented, you should be able to apply the structure of the analysis to your specific practice situation.

Case I

New Practitioner

Background: A doctor who was one year out of dental school wanted to open a practice near Minneapolis. The doctor was primarily interested in attracting fee-for-service patients. As his was a new practice, his cash reserves and patient base were limited. Fortunately, he had grown up in the area, and so was able to draw upon personal connections (friends and family) to open with an existing patient base.

Analysis: A marketing feasibility study revealed that, among other things, there was a significant volume of resident turnover. A marketing feasibility study attempts to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with operating a dental practice in a given area. Inputs to the analysis can range from the doctor and staff`s own experiences and observations to demographic data procured from external sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau. Using data collected from a similar practice near his service area, it was estimated that the average annual value per new patient in his area was $585 (see inset titled, Measures of Marketing Effectiveness). The reason data from another practice was used is that, being new, this practice had an insufficient patient base for this purpose.

Approximately 300 individuals and families were moving into the doctor`s Service Area each month.

A good rule of thumb for young practices is to allocate a minimum of 5 percent of estimated first year collections to marketing. This practice`s first year fees were estimated to be $150,000. This meant an annual marketing budget of $7,500 and a monthly budget of $625.

Implementation: Being a new practice, a majority of the marketing budget was devoted to external marketing. External marketing means communicating with people who are not yet your patients.Two thirds or roughly $400 per month would be devoted to targeting new residents. This meant that $1.33 (400 divided by 300) could be spent on communicating with each new resident. For that amount, each new resident could receive two mailings. These mailings would be sent two months apart.

A reasonable expected response rate to a mailing of this sort is one to two percent. Local demographic factors can affect the actual response rate. This would mean that, using the more conservative expectation of 1 percent, the practice could expect three new patients from each mailing.

Results: The average monthly rate of program response proved to be 1.25 percent. Return on investment (ROI), therefore, was 548 percent (an average of 3.75 new patients per month times an annual average patient value of $585, divided by the $400 cost to attract these patients).

Case II

Mature Practice

Background: A practice in Florida was experiencing deterioration in its patient base owing to increased prevalence of managed care and high mobility of the population.

Analysis: The marketing feasibility study determined that an increase in the percentage of the population participating in managed care and an increase in the proportion of dentists to population were responsible for the shrinkage in the patient base. The Study identified a downward trend in the median age of the population. It also identified an increase in the number and size of families with children.

Implementation: It was recommended that the doctor embark on an internal marketing campaign to “immunize” his practice against the loss of patients to managed care providers.

Because the doctor was an elderly gentleman who enjoyed treating patients closer to his own age, a marketing program directed at senior citizens was initiated. This entailed four quarterly mailings to high net worth individuals having a minimum age of 50 years.

A monthly New Resident marketing program was initiated that consisted of three mailings to each new resident over a three-month period. Because he had brought in a younger associate who was eager to treat younger patients, it was agreed that these mailers would be designed with an eye toward attracting the younger families moving into the area.

The doctor distributed literature on the benefits of fee for service dentistry to his patients, and sent letters to all patients leaving the practice for a managed care provider, explaining that, should their dental care needs not be met by their new provider, they were welcome to return. A number of patients who left the practice for a managed care provider did eventually return to the doctor`s practice.

Results: The above strategy combined with the new resident and seniors marketing programs resulted in a net increase in active patients after only nine months.

Case III

Competitive Urban Area

Background: The client had sent mailings to new residents each month for five years. While initially profitable, results were becoming lackluster (roughly 0.2 percent), and he wondered what could be done. The doctor did a reasonable job of tracking program response, and related that a number of practitioners had moved into the area and were performing similar programs.

Analysis: The mailing consisted of a two-page letter of introduction with no patient incentive mailed to new residents each month. He had been mailing using Standard Mail Postage (formerly known as Bulk Rate) for the past three years. Because inaccurately addressed mail is not returned to the sender when standard mail postage is used, he had no idea of the accuracy of the list he was using.

Implementation: A first class mailing was performed, yielding an inaccuracy or “nixie rate”of 25 percent. The decision was made to switch list providers. Using first class postage for the first month determined an accuracy rate of 93percent. This was well within acceptable limits so, to save on expense, future mailings were performed using Standard Rate Postage. For esthetic reasons, stamps were used instead of a Standard Mail indicia (imprint).

A follow-up mailing was added to his program, and an RSVP (postage-paid reply) card was inserted in both the first and second mailings. The doctor agreed to include an offer of a free InterPlak system for new patients. As a third contact, a telephone follow-up call was added.

The doctor also procured a practice management software package permitting him to track long-term patient value i.e. he was able to include recall and patient referral in his valuation. Also, printouts of all prospective patients contacted were retained to more reliably track program response.

Results: The Outbound Telemarketing Service yielded a handsome 18 percent response rate and an 80 percent “Quality Ratio”, that is, for every ten respondents, eight kept their first appointment. The response rate to the doctor`s new resident mailing program increased 350 percent.

Case IV

Blended Practice

Background: A multi-specialty practice in central Florida saw a number of major employers within the practice`s service area sign on with a capitation plan. With assistance from an outside consulting firm, it was decided that the practice should have 75 percent of its revenue derived from fee-for-service patients and 25 percent from managed care.

Revenues from fee for service treatment averaged $32,400 per month. The practice group signed up with a plan that paid five dollars for each enrolled patient. Two of the largest employer groups participating in the plan were a teacher`s union and municipal employees. Approximately 1,000 patients were immediately enrolled with the practice.

Analysis: Based on the above information, desired monthly revenue from the capitation program was $10,800 ($32,400 divided by 75 percent = $43,200 times 25 percent). Initial monthly collections from the Plan were $5,000 (1,000 times $5). Because the practice was committed to selling dentistry to both fee-for-service and capitation patients, it was expected that average monthly per patient revenues from patient co-payments would be equal to half the capitation fee earned per patient. So the average expected revenue per capitation patient is $7.50 ($5 plus $2). Therefore, the number of desired capitation patients is 1,440 ($10,800 divided by $7.50). Since 1,000 capitation patients were immediately enrolled with the practice, the desired quantity of new capitation patients is 440 (1,440 minues 1,000).

Implementation: The group historically spent 6 percent of its annual revenue on marketing. It was agreed to allocate 25 percent of this budgeted amount to enrolling participants in the capitation plan. The total annual marketing budget of $23,328 ($32,400 monthly revenue times 12 months times 6 percent) would be allocated proportionally between the fee-for-service and capitation groups. In other words $5,832 (25 percent of total) would be devoted to enrolling participants in the capitation plan.

Enrolling capitation patients would be accomplished by targeting known participants in the plan. Three consecutive monthly mailings were sent to each of approximately 1,500 teachers, 1,000 municipal employees and 2,500 employees of other firms known to be participating in the plan. Employee benefits administrators were also contacted via telephone to introduce the practice and request that literature be posted in common areas to introduce the practice group to the employees. An InterPlak System was offered as an inducement for visiting the practice. To stem fee-for-service attrition, the practice implemented a new resident marketing program consisting of four mailings to each new resident over a four month period.

Results: Within one year of initiating the above programs, the practice added nearly 350 capitation patients. Fee-for-service patients increased 10 percent. While the number of new enrollees was 90 patients short of goal, the practice understood that this level of growth after only one year had positioned them to meet or even exceed their goal over the next year.

We have presented the foregoing material with two purposes in mind. First, it is hoped that, by illustrating the challenges and impediments to success, the reader will be able to anticipate and avoid them, and thereby realize a positive dentistry marketing experience. Second, we encourage the reader to apply the various tools of analysis discussed above to make sound marketing decisions. The savings in time, money and frustration, and the rewards that follow, are well worth the effort.

Snapshots of marketing solutions

What`s a patient worth?

A solo practitioner located in a rural community had no idea what the long-term value of a patient was to her practice. Consequently, she was unable to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of any new-patient acquisition system she employed. In another practice, the receptionist of a New Jersey dentist was concerned because their outbound call-handling telemarketing service was “only” yielding three new patients per month on a monthly investment of $200.

Both practices failed to take the time to calculate the average annual value of a patient, as well as the average “lifetime” of a patient (see related article on next page). When they performed the valuations, it was determined that the “average long-time value of a patient” (average annual patient value multiplied by average lifetime of a patient) was $3,200 and $6,100, respectively, for the two practices.

Armed with this new information, both practices were able to confirm that the performance of their programs was, in fact, quite impressive. Of course, it is also essential to be aware of the cash flow consequences of all marketing decisions.

Lesson: You need to know both the cost and the benefit to perform a cost-benefit analysis .

“Sorry, wrong number.”

A practice employed a receptionist whose attitude, to put it diplomatically, was not conducive to encouraging potential patients to join the practice. A receptionist at another practice was completely oblivious to the existence of a marketing plan.

Both practices were encouraged to perform “test calls” prior to initiating any future external marketing programs. A test call simply consists of someone calling your office posing as a prospective patient who is responding to a mailing they recently received.

Results of the test calls make a practice aware of any impediments to success before real damage is done.

Lesson: Prepare and educate your staff.

Missing the forest for the trees

A dentist in a rural part of a Midwestern state believed people would not be willing to travel more than 20 miles to see the dentist. This assumption was further bolstered by the fact that only a small percentage of his current patient base lived or worked beyond a 20-mile radius.

By marketing to new residents in a zip code nearly thirty miles away, this doctor discovered an under-served area. In so doing, he realized an impressive rate of return for himself. Also, because his office was on a road used by these residents to travel to work in the nearest main city, he made these people aware of a convenient location for their dental needs.

Lesson: Let your service area speak for itself.

Take the elevator up to the sixth floor…

A client located in a predominantly urban setting was having trouble attracting new patients. Her office was not visible from street level, and the residential population was insufficient to support marketing efforts directed to that group.

Employers and employees were targeted at their place of work, and a direct mail/telemarketing campaign was initiated. Within eight months, new patient flow increased markedly.

Lesson: Don`t be afraid to try different approaches.

Formula for determining “Active Patient Count”

– Count number of patient records in active files.

– Sample at least 150 to determine percentage who have been in during previous 18 months for any dental visit.

– Apply percentage of current patients from sample to total number of patient records. Add number of “Current Floating” records (records “in process” around the office).

– Total number is valid active patient count.

Example:

Active Charts = 1,445

Sample 134/155 = 86%

Current Floating = 41

Active Patient Count = 1,445 x .86 + 41 =1,283

Procedure for finding “Average Patient Lifetime”

– First, calculate “patient survivorship.” this requires that a measure of your active patient count be taken at two different points in time. Then, subtract new patients acquired since the preceding active patient count from your most recent active patient count.

– Subtract the patient survivorship from 1 and divide by the number of months between counts; multiply by 12 to determine the percentage lost per year.*

– Divide 100 by the percentage lost last year to arrive at the average lifetime of a patient in years*

* These are simplified formulas. Accuracy will decrease the greater the time between active patient counts using the above method. For most practical purposes, it will work with active patient counts taken within one to two years of each other.

Excerpted from The Life Time of a Patient. Reprinted with permission of Bill Rossi, Advanced Practice Management.

Measures of Marketing Effectiveness

The first question to ask when embarking on any patient acquisition or retention program is, “What do I stand to gain from my program?” To help you decide, first calculate the value to your practice of a typical patient. This is accomplished by calculating your Average Annual Patient Contribution to Overhead (AAPCO).

To calculate your AAPCO, randomly select 30 patients who have been with the practice for at least one year. Using a table, enter the Total Dental Production revenue generated by each patient in a column labeled Dental Production. Next, enter the Total Hygiene Production revenue in a column labeled Hygiene Production. Once you have 30 patients selected, add each production column and divide each by 30.

Next, multiply your total Dental Production times your Net Adjustment Factor. To calculate your Net Adjustment Factor, you subtract the following from 100 percent: 4% loss rate/bad debt expense + 7% universal variable expense + 10% lab fees = 21%. Therefore, your net Adjustment Factor is .79 (100% – 21%). Finally, to calculate your Average Net Dental Production, multiply your Total Dental Production times .79.

Also, you need to calculate your Average Net Hygiene Production. To determine it, you follow the same steps as above, but your Net Adjustment Factor is .89 (100 – (4% loss rate + 7% universal variable expense)). To calculate your Net Hygiene Production, multiply .89 times your Total Dental Production.

So, your AAPCO formula is (Total Hygiene Prod. / 30) x .89) + (Total Dental Prod. / 30) x .79). For a very enlightening article on Patient Lifetime Value, call The American Dental Company at (800) 723-6523 and request a reprint.

AIM MarketingWhen marketing fails to open doors
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Marketing Insider: Making a difference

If someone were to tell you they knew about a powerful practice building tool that involves no selling, costs little (or nothing) to implement, enhances patient loyalty, encourages referrals, attracts new patients, builds team morale, makes a positive difference for those in need, is repeatable, and lots of fun, would you want to learn more?

If someone were to tell you they knew about a powerful practice building tool that involves no selling, costs little (or nothing) to implement, enhances patient loyalty, encourages referrals, attracts new patients, builds team morale, makes a positive difference for those in need, is repeatable, and lots of fun, would you want to learn more?

There is hardly a dentist I know who has not already demonstrated a commitment to “giving back.” A free “Smile Makeover” for a deserving patient, volunteering at a dental clinic, participating in an overseas dental project, offering a scholarship to some deserving student, and sponsoring a Little League team, are but a few of the ways dentists and their staff have “put a human face” on their practice and the people who comprise the dental profession.

One of the most cost-effective and enjoyable ways I’ve found to grow your dental practice is to promote and stage an event, ideally in support of a non-profit, dental-related cause.

Cause-Related Event Marketing

Such events are called Cause-Related Event Marketing (C.R.E.M.) and, if your goal is to make an even bigger positive impact, C.R.E.M. could be the ticket.

I define Cause-Related Event Marketing as: The process by which an individual or organization seeks to achieve one or more business objectives as a consequence of its commitment to some form of philanthropy.

For some, the idea of doing anything of a philanthropic nature that results in some business or personal benefit evokes fear of being perceived as “feathering ones own nest.” That is why the above definition makes clear that any benefit to the practice follows from, and is a consequence of, the act of helping those in need. In other words, helping is paramount.

Some may wonder, “Why should I bother with all this? Why not just donate my own money and time and be done with it?” If doing what you do now satisfies you and you are not interested in growing your practice, the answer might well be that you should indeed keep on doing what you’re doing.

Just be aware that, by enlisting the support of others, you cannot help but leverage your “philanthropic portfolio,” that is, get more bang for your charity buck.  Put another way, which do you think your chosen charity would prefer to receive, $1,000 from your pocket, or, say, $10,000 because you chose not to keep your good works a secret?

Simple ways to have an impact

It is a curious irony that, by remaining “pure,” we actually deny an opportunity to do more good for our chosen cause.

If throwing a party places you and your practice in front of people through your local media and merchants, and your patients’ friends and families, it truly is a win-win proposition. You’ll receive newsworthy copy for the media; free advertising for merchants, good will and new patients for you and, most importantly, more benefit to the charity.

Also, the BBMG Conscious Consumer Report, reported that given a choice between similar offerings, a consumer will select the entity that demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility.1 Bear in mind too that, in challenging economic times, CREM is an even better bargain, because it can literally cost nothing to implement.

A night out on the town can, depending on where you live, quickly add up to $100, so why not invite people to have their night out with you and benefit a good cause, too? Having a party with your favorite people and their friends is fun, and people appreciate it, which makes it a repeatable event, which can then become part of your Annual Marketing Plan.

You and your team may feel ambivalent about asking your patients for money. The good news is that you don’t have to push your fundraiser on patients because you are offering them value in exchange for their support (i.e. a party) and, done correctly, it is your patients and the media who will be asking you the questions.

Getting started

If this is your first foray into C.R.E.M., it is probably a good idea to donate the funds you raise to an existing, reputable cause rather than attempting to set up your own non-profit foundation. You are then free to focus solely on promoting and staging a successful event, and leaving it to your chosen charity to put all that money and other resources to good use.

Before associating your name and reputation, and that of your practice, to any cause, a certain amount of due diligence is indicated.  For help with this send me an email. If you should wish to establish your own foundation, be sure to secure advice from legal professionals, both to get and keep your organization in regulatory compliance.

Assuming you have opted to raise funds for an established and reputable cause, your first step should be to hold a dental team meeting to gain ‘buy-in’ and valuable suggestions from your team. As this truly will be a team effort, it is important to request and receive consensus and commitment from them about why the practice is doing this, as well as when (give yourself and staff enough time to organize and promote your event to avoid unnecessary stress), where (your office, or possibly a local establishment whose owner is willing to donate the space), and how (what are the teams’ respective responsibilities) for your event to be a success.

Putting a plan in action

Explain to your team that you have a way to grow the practice requiring low or no cost and no selling, but simply a commitment to sharing with others what you are doing.  It is important to make this distinction at the outset, as many people are averse to being asked to sell even if it’s for a good cause.

Demonstrate your commitment to making your event a success by using in-office displays and other communications tools to generate interest among your patients.  Examples include: posters, brochures, patches or buttons on scrubs, promotional flyers for local area businesses to promote their involvement in your event, a link from your Web site home page to your fundraising page, direct mail, press releases, public service announcements, etc.

Armed with these tools, your team can easily incorporate information about the event into their regular communications with patients because your team will be responding to, instead of initiating, inquiries. Thanks to desktop publishing, much of the above mentioned communications material can be done in-house. Any additional expertise should be secured by networking with staff, patients, family, and friends. As most business people appreciate the value of free advertising as well as supporting a good cause, you’ll be surprised to find most, if not all, needed assistance will be provided gratis.

This first team meeting should facilitate an open exchange of ideas and feelings. Learn what your team’s interests and abilities are with respect to volunteering. All staff members’ views should be heard. Decisions made based on consensus of the group about the type of cause you wish to support will help ensure follow-through and a sense of ownership by every team member. Before the meeting adjourns, be sure you have established an action plan, complete with clear task assignments and timeframe for completion, and scheduled regular follow-up meetings.

Be sure to maintain the momentum you’ve established by adhering to your team meeting schedule, and by keeping positive and supportive, even when things do not occur according to schedule. For instance, instead of getting upset with a team member for not completing a task when or as promised, see what you and other members of the team can do to help them get it done, while gently reminding them of how important their task is to the success of the team’s agreed-upon objective.

Following the event, gather as much feedback as possible on its impact, as this is the best way to achieve the goal of making next year’s event better.

Annualizing your event

Remember, the goal of your event is to make it so much fun and rewarding for all who participate that, not only will people be glad they were invited to contribute or attend, they’ll want to know the date of your next event so they can add it to their calendar!

Indeed, an annual event may well become a regular part of your dental marketing plan. In so doing, you will have in place an ongoing strategy for keeping in front of, and showing your appreciation for, your patients, not to mention a great way to get to know their friends and family, and the public at large. After all, isn’t that what dentistry marketing is all about?

Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA, is president of American Dental Marketing, a Chicago-based Dentistry Marketing Consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Causetm. He may be reached at 1-800-723-6523.

REFERENCES
1. Bemporad, Raphael and Mitch Baranowski. “Conscious Consumers Are Changing the Rules of Marketing. Are You Ready?” BBMG Conscious Consumer Report. Nov. 2007.

AIM MarketingMarketing Insider: Making a difference
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Marketing Insider: Increase your ROI

Dental professionals, out of necessity, must pay close attention to detail. It is surprising, then, to learn how little attention is paid to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of dentistry marketing tactics.

Dental professionals, out of necessity, must pay close attention to detail. It is surprising, then, to learn how little attention is paid to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of dentistry marketing tactics.

The good news is, with a little planning and preparation, the process is simple and the benefits are huge. When it comes to marketing your practice, the more complete, timely and accurate the tracking, the better equipped you are to capitalize on opportunity and minimize cost.

Why anecdotal doesn’t work

Asking your patients “Who may we thank for referring you?” is an unreliable, risky way to assess marketing tactic efficacy. Here’s why:

  • The lag between exposure and response to a message means the new patient may not know or remember what prompted him or her to contact you
  • Because people often need to be exposed to multiple instances of the same message before they respond, it is likely you will only hear about the last thing they saw or heard that caused them to respond
  • It takes up team member time
  • It risks alienating prospective patients by interrogating them instead of selling them on practice benefits. People are contacting you to make an appointment, not to tell you about your marketing.

Monitoring quality, not just quantity, of response 

Automating your response tracking allows you to identify opportunities to improve the quality of your communication with prospective patients, as well as eliminate obstacles to success.  Because telephone calls can be recorded, you actually hear what scenarios are playing out at the front desk. This allows you and your team to work together to find better ways to field inquiries.

Perfection remains elusive

It is important to recognize it may never be possible to completely track the benefits of a marketing program. Do not expect your tracking system to monetize the benefits from increased name recognition and contribution to brand awareness. But remember it is possible to establish, implement and maintain a reliable tracking methodology (see, “Have a plan”).

Tracking with TTNs

Tracking most strategies is greatly enhanced by using tracking telephone numbers (TTN). TTNs make it possible to monitor and evaluate response quantity and quality. In choosing a TTN provider:

  • Make sure the area code and three digit prefixes are as close to the practice’s as possible. This helps reduce any confusion in the minds of prospective patients who may wonder why they are being asked to call a number that appears to be outside of the area.
  • Avoid using toll-free numbers, as any benefit from offering the caller toll-free service is overshadowed by the perception that yours may be a large, impersonal entity. Do everything you can to convey a local flavor to prospective patients.

Be sure the tracking telephone numbers are new or, if recycled, have been inactive for at least 60 days. Otherwise, you run the risk of being interrupted and distracted by (and paying for) wrong numbers.

Your TTN provider should have the ability to notify you via e-mail whenever someone uses your TTN. The provider should also have an online portal that enables you to access the quantity and quality of response, for instance:

  • Quantity of calls generated by each campaign
  • Day and time of calls
  • Ability to listen to the calls
  • Disposition of calls (hang up, voice mail, disconnect)

On more than one occasion, this monitoring has identified disconnects as a malfunction with the practice’s voice mail, or voice mail not picking up until the eighth ring.  These problems, left undetected, can be costly.

The outgoing message

In one case, a client discovered through her monitoring system that an inordinate number of callers were hanging up without leaving a message. It was subsequently discovered that the outgoing message was more than two minutes long. The solution was to provide callers with the option of bypassing the remainder of the message by pressing 0 or #, as well as shortening the message by omitting office hours and other extraneous information. Because nearly anyone who wants to make an appointment with your office needs to speak with you first, having office hours on your outgoing message is unnecessary, and only serves to try the caller’s patience.

Remember the purpose of your outgoing message is to convey sincere enthusiasm and appreciation that the caller is contacting you, your regret for not being able to speak with the caller personally, and your assurance that you will return the call as soon as possible.

Make it work for you

Now that your data gathering system is in place, what do you do with it?
Schedule weekly sessions to evaluate and discern any patterns such as hang ups, extended rings, one staff member converting more patients than another, etc. The interval between sessions can be extended to monthly, or even quarterly, once the practice is well along its learning curve.  Regular monitoring helps ensure inquiries are handled promptly and appropriately.

You should also calculate your Return on Investment (ROI), and to do so, it is helpful to streamline the data evaluation process. Here’s one approach:

Each month, print out or display an alphabetized list of all new patients who have enrolled in the practice in the month just ended. Include name, first visit date, zip code and e-mail address. Most practice management programs can easily do this.
Print or display on screen your master leads list.  Be certain to include all lead sources and to look for matches. You will be amazed at how this number differs from your subjective tracking system.

Do this each month and continually add leads to your master lead list.  Again, the reason for this is the time interval between when someone responds to your marketing tactic(s) and when her or she becomes a patient. You will be surprised at not only the time lag, but also the number of touch points some people need before they bite.

The benefits

While it may never be possible to completely identify and attribute the return on investment from a particular marketing tactic, a reliable tracking methodology offers the twin benefits of confirming much of the return, and early identification of mid-course corrections necessary to increase ROI. It also arms the practice with a reliable tool to test variables, which can further improve your ROI.

Your tracking may never be 100 percent, but a little knowledge goes a long way.  So stop flying blind and starting tracking. Knowledge is power, and accuracy means more profit.

Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA, is president of American Dental Marketing, a Chicago-based Dentistry Marketing Consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. He may be reached at 1-800-723-6523.

AIM MarketingMarketing Insider: Increase your ROI
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Marketing Insider: Let your humanity show

Successful case acceptance-especially among new patients-begins long before case presentation. When a new patient enters your office, his antenna is finely tuned for all messages-spoken and unspoken-that will help him form an impression of your practice. When that impression is positive, it increases your chances of treatment acceptance.

Successful case acceptance-especially among new patients-begins long before case presentation.

When a new patient enters your office, his antenna is finely tuned for all messages-spoken and unspoken-that will help him form an impression of your practice. When that impression is positive, it increases your chances of treatment acceptance.

So first, it is important to let your humanity show. This means letting the person know your interest in him extends beyond the basic dental appointment. After you welcome the patient, you can ask how he learned about your practice and then talk a bit about yourself and, later, your commitment to quality dentistry.

Bridge building

When you do this, you’re building a bridge between your practice and what’s important to your patients-namely, their desire for a caring, thoughtful health care provider. You’re also providing an opening for the patients to talk a little about themselves, their work and more. It may seem like a digression, but it is a great way to connect with your patients-that is, show them your sincere desire to understand, respect and like them.

Turning to dentistry, you might begin by discussing your goal to provide the best options for the patients, and to let them know their wishes will be respected. This has the positive effect of dissipating any stress the patients may feel about “being forced to make a decision.”

Anyone experiencing that kind of pressure is typically too distracted to concentrate on what you are saying. Assure your patients that you will provide them with everything they needs to make the best choice, and that a timely decision is in their best interest.

By this point, you’ve built positive communications with the patients and, ideally, achieved a level of trust. Your next task is to have the patients share with you what, in terms of dentistry, is important to them.

You can start by asking if they has any questions or concerns about their oral health, if they’re happy with his smile and if there’s anything they might want to change about the appearance of their teeth.

Then just listen. It’s important to remember that silence is your friend: When someone is silent, it usually means he is considering your point and wants the space to arrive at his own conclusion. So, when in doubt, remember: less is more.

Patients’ stories

In all likelihood, your patients will tell you their ‘story.’ Body language, eye contact and active listening will demonstrate to the patients you understand and care about what they are is saying.

Your reply is equally important. Depending on a patient’s response, you might say, “If I hear you correctly, you’re tired of being embarrassed about your smile, is that right?”  Concluding this question with, “is that right?” makes it a close-ended question (or closed probe).  A closed probe can only be answered by yes or no.

When you have the patient conclude the exchange with an unambiguous reply, he has have given you an opportunity to satisfy his need (with a treatment plan) or continue probing for more opportunities. For example, you might ask, “Is there anything else we might be able to help you with?” If the answer is yes, simply ask, “What is that?”

After your exam, the next step in getting to case acceptance is to show your patient how your proposed treatment will help him achieve his goals.

Continuing with the above example, let’s assume your probing determined that your patient has been interviewing, and his self-consciousness about the appearance of his teeth makes him feel anxious and lack confidence during the interview.

You might then say, “I can appreciate exactly what you’re saying. While people should judge us on our abilities, it’s often our appearance that tips the balance. Well, I’ve got good news. We can provide you with a choice of solutions to get you to where you’ll look forward to sharing your smile with everyone-friend, stranger, and prospective employer alike-and we’ll be able to do it in time for your next interview.”

If your patient responds with something like, “That would be great, doctor!” you’ve just confirmed a need, which is the impetus that drives someone to accept treatment.

The next step is to summarize your treatment recommendations, being sure to relate each procedure to how it will address the stated need of your patient.  Upon successful completion of this step, the patient is ready to be handed off to your scheduling coordinator to handle the “paperwork.”

Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA, is president of American Dental Marketing Company, a Chicago-Based dentistry marketing consultancy. Mr. Bobrow is available for a complimentary telephone consultation by calling 1-800-723-6523 or at Info@AmericanDentalCo.com.

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When patients know more than you

July 29, 2009 | dentalproductsreport.com web exclusiveWhen patients know more than you The Internet makes it easy to find details on dentistry and oral health, but does access to m

July 29, 2009 | dentalproductsreport.com
web exclusive

When patients know
more than you

The Internet makes it easy to find details on dentistry and oral health, but does access to more information make for better patients and better dental care?

by Noah Levine, Senior Editor

Photo: Getty Images

Dr. Bruce Murphy recalls an encounter with one extremely self-educated patient who came to his operatory with a hand drawn diagram “in quite elaborate detail” showing exactly what he thought was wrong with his tooth and the procedure he wanted performed to treat the problem. Unable to convince this patient that his diagnosis and proposed treatment were both incorrect, Dr. Murphy found himself ready to throw in the towel.

“His solution was the most cockamamie thing in the entire world. Eventually I pulled the highspeed handpiece out of the hanger and handed it to him and said ‘have at it,’” Dr. Murphy said.

While the general practitioner who works out of practices in Schaumburg and Bloomingdale, Illinois didn’t actually let his patient begin working on his own teeth, Dr. Murphy said the story illustrates one of his worst experiences dealing with patients in the age of the Internet.

Self-diagnosing
Between 75% and 80% of Internet users have used the Web to search for health information according to 2007 study by the Pew Internet Project. While much of the online information can be useful for patients, not everything on the Web is completely accurate or unbiased, and when it comes to health information sometimes the details can be too complex to be easily understood.

Dr. Murphy likens patients who come to his operatory with a self-diagnosis to criminal defendants who choose to act as their own attorneys. A little information can be a great thing for patients, but if they are not willing to approach their dentist as an expert who can bring the benefits of both knowledge and experience to a case, the appointment will not go well for anyone.

“The biggest problem is patients who read one little thing and then get emotionally attached to it,” Dr. Murphy Said. “They basically go off half-cocked. They get a little teeny bit of info a lot of times from some god awful source and then think it’s the truth.”

Those patients can be extremely frustrating to work with, and Dr. Murphy said he sees six or seven a year who will not accept that their preconceptions about their oral health are incorrect. In those cases he politely suggests they seek a second opinion or find a dentist with whom they are more comfortable, and most of the time the patients thank him for referring them to a dentist who can meet their needs. Sometimes they even refer new patients his way and, “strangely many of them turn out to be great patients.”

Information’s upside
Not every clinician sees the influx of self-educated and self-diagnosing patients as a bad thing. As one of the authors of Nothing Personal Doc, But I Hate Dentists! (ihatedentists.com), Dr. McHenry “Mac” Lee literally wrote the book on doctor-patient communications, and he believes that even the people who find incorrect dental health information online can still be great patients because their search for answers is a sign they are thinking about their oral health.

The key is to reach out to patients on their own level, said Dr. Lee who practices in Edna, Texas when he isn’t travelling to speak about improving communication between doctors and patients. Even patients who arrive with faulty information have taken a big step by showing an interest in the details of their health care. If a clinician is confident without being overbearing, patients are likely to come around to the correct conclusion after being presented with evidence from their own mouths.

“I just think it’s wonderful. You hear them out, and then you can use their radiographs and their oral pictures to guide them to the correct answer,” he said. It’s irrefutable. If you educate them in the correct way they can’t argue with you. It’s there in black and white on the radiograph and in living color with the digital pictures.”

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Questions and answers
As president of American Dental Marketing, Daniel A. “Danny” Bobrow, MBA, works with dental practices looking to improve patient relationships and case acceptance. One of his objectives is to help dentists be prepared to respond to patient inquiries in a way that turns their negative beliefs into positive truths.

“The key here is to understand the patient’s motivation and not prejudge it or them,” he said.

When Dr. Lee is treating a patient who comes armed with an incorrect self-diagnosis, he performs the exam, reaches his conclusion and then guides the patient to reach the correct diagnosis by asking his own questions. Dr. Lee said he is very comfortable explaining things in great detail because patients who show initiative by researching their oral health will choose the best course of treatment after the doctor explains things to them for a clinical perspective.

“A person that’s come in armed with information to me is a green light to have a very deep dialogue with them and tell them everything,” he said. “My whole deal is I’m going to educate a patient, but I’m going to let that next action be on them, not on me. I sleep better at night that way.”

Overcoming any preconceived notions and getting the patient to understand and agree to the proposed treatment can require different strategies depending on the patient. While some patients may be ready for a crash course in the intricacies of oral anatomy, Dr. Lee said others might require an easily understood analogy such as comparing a patient’s bone loss to trying to plant a fencepost in unstable ground before they are able to grasp the treatment their case requires.

The “best patients”
While Dr. Murphy often is frustrated by patients who show up thinking they already have all the answers, he too finds value in treating patients who arrive with some background knowledge about their oral health. When a self-educated patient remains open to having a dialogue with and learning from the dentist he or she becomes “the best patient in the world,” Dr. Murphy said. Those appointments might take some extra time, but patients who understand their oral problems are more likely to accept proposed treatments and follow through with follow-up instructions.

“I do think there is some benefit from some people knowing a little more about their health,” Dr. Murphy said. “I’m happy to answer their questions. Well informed patients are going to eat up more of your time, but once you’ve cleared up their concerns, they’re ready to go.”

Making time for dialogue
The time factor is one of the biggest considerations when seeing a patient who comes armed with an online dental education. Dr. Murphy said he now expects to spend a bit more time with his patients, so they can cover any details. He is happy to answer the questions his patients ask, and if they reference a Web site he often pulls it up on the computer in his office so he can review the same information as his patient. There are times he finds himself learning from his patients and others where reviewing the site gives him a chance to explain what the patient didn’t understand on his or her own.

Bobrow said this is exactly the approach that will work to win over patients. Patients who ask tough questions or bring new concepts, technologies or other information to a clinician’s attention should be appreciated and recognized for their contribution to caring for their own oral health.

“That’s often what the patient really wants anyway,” Bobrow said. “This way, instead of creating an adversary, you’ve formed an alliance or partnership of sorts, and isn’t building relationships based on common interests what growing your practice is all about?”

Taking this time to really talk with patients, answer questions and explain diagnoses and treatments is one of the most important things dentists can do, Dr. Lee said. Still it does take time that could be spent on treatment, so his practice employs a highly trained patient care coordinator who builds a rapport with patients, helps answer their questions and provides education while Dr. Lee is with other patients.

Dentists have gotten a bad reputation, and many patients who have had painful or unpleasant past experiences bring their fears and discomforts with them to their appointments. While technology and technique advancements are changing that paradigm and making dentistry far less invasive and uncomfortable for patients, dentists still need to inform patients of all the benefits of these advancements.

“They’re so impressed over all the modern stuff and when they find out what we can do, it’s just phenomenal,” Dr. Lee said. “It is extremely important that a dentist has a tremendous amount of continuing education and updates their office to all the modern technology.”

You can’t please everyone
While he advocates open communication and working with a patient to reach an understanding, Dr. Lee said the final decision about treatment is the patient’s to make. A clinician can advise the patient of the best course of treatment for long-term success, but a patient may choose to go another way for a number of reasons or no reason at all.

While he will never do anything that would be harmful or would not be in a patient’s bets interest, Dr. Lee said he will allow patients to choose materials for a procedure if, for example they are following holistic advice that decries certain materials. However, if a patient requests a material he does not normally use, he will have the patient purchase the material and then take home any unused material after he has concluded treatment.

Dr. Murphy said he too tries his best to work with patients who are very specific about treatments or materials. He said engineers tend to be especially picky patients because they are analytical by nature and ask endless streams of extremely detailed questions. Normally he will happily answer the questions to the best of his ability, but if he reaches a point where he can tell the patient is not open to his answers and is unwilling to work with him, he tries to shut things down, and that is when he recommends that particular patient seek another opinion. He said he is always game to try, but realizes he will never be able to please every patient who walks into his practice.

“You know you’re not going to be able to help them, and if you try it’s going to blow up in your face,” he said.

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Do you Google yourself?

Recommendations from friends are still a big part of how patients find a new dentist, but in a time when the whole world is much more closely connected through the Internet those “recommendations” and “friends” are available from a much wider array of sources, all of which are easily searchable.

Recommendations from friends are still a big part of how patients find a new dentist, but in a time when the whole world is much more closely connected through the Internet those “recommendations” and “friends” are available from a much wider array of sources, all of which are easily searchable.

Gone are the days when people would flip through a massive phone book to finds the pages of ads from dentists in their area. Those books still exist, but these days prospective patients are far more likely to conduct their search via a computer at home or at work, or even from the rapidly growing number of Internet-enabled cell phones.

They might start the search with the name of a specific dentist they heard about from a friend, or they might simply be searching for a dentist in a specific city, but either way they are likely to start at an Internet search engine such as Google, Yahoo or the newest to launch, Bing.

Search results

In the not too distant past, the results of such Web searches might turn up a practice’s Web site, or possibly a listing for the practice at an online “phone book” type site that lists contact information for different business categories. However, these days the search results are likely to include the practice Web site along with additional online outlets for the practice.

These can include practice controlled social media profiles on a site such as Facebook, a practice’s micro-blogging presence on a site such as Twitter, or content the practice does not control such as user reviews on a site such as Yelp!. Practices can either test the waters, or dive head first into the world of social media, depending on their comfort level and if they feel it’s a fit for their practice. But even those who are not yet up to setting up a blog should at least be up to date on what current and former patients are saying about them on the Web.

“Searches for a dentist that include the term ‘review’ are being conducted nearly as frequently as just the name and location of the dentist, so these review sites are clearly a force to be reckoned with,” said Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA, president of American Dental Marketing.

Watching yourself online

“These alerts, while not perfect, are a convenient way to keep up to date on what is being posted…”

-Danny Bobrow

Bobrow recommends that his clients set up Google Alerts, a free service that sends them an e-mail whenever keywords such as the practice’s or the doctor’s name appears in news articles or recently posted online reviews. “These alerts, while not perfect, are a convenient way to keep up to date on what is being posted, which is especially important if a patient posts a negative review,” he said.

Most review sites will not remove negative reviews, but they will allow the business to post a response. Bobrow recommends reaching out to the patient who posted the negative comments to address the concerns, and then posting the results of those efforts to accommodate the patient.

Rita Zamora, a consultant who blogs about relationship-focused dental marketing at dentalrelationshipmarketing.com agrees that dentists need to be actively policing their online reputation. Part of that is responding to negative comments, but another part of that effort can involve creating a more robust Web presence so positive information outranks a negative review when someone searches for your practice.

“When you’re actively participating in social marketing on the Web and have a lot of positive information out there, it will help to drown out some of those hopefully very sparse negative comments that exist out there,” she said.

Taking control

The fastest way to spread a lot of positive information online is to create practice profiles on the social media networks. However, practices will only see the full benefit of those networks if they are putting in the time to actively participate in the online communities, Zamora said. Because of this, social media marketing will not be for everyone.

For those practices that are comfortable online and willing to dedicate the minimum of an hour or so a week to social media efforts, Zamora believes these efforts can pay off by creating stronger bonds with existing patients and showing an inviting presence to new patients. A practice can use a Facebook profile to post updates and specials that only fans of the profile can receive, and the page can also be used to show off small bits about the personalities of the practice’s staff.

“I think one of the most challenging situations that’s going to come up for dentists using Facebook is that there is a fine line between being too salesy and really socializing in a community,” she said. “They do want to have that traditional type of information available, but when they’re researching who is going to be the best dentist for them, they want to see a little bit about your personality and how it’s going to feel to interact with and relate to you when they come into your office.”

Maintaining a profile on Facebook gives a practice the opportunity to interact with patients on a number of levels. Engaged patients might be more likely to post a nice online thank you after an appointment, and Bobrow said dentists should be active in asking new patients to post a review about their positive experience. However, Zamora cautions about soliciting positive reviews, as she believes savvy Web users will be able to tell if a review is not genuine. Both agree that the best approach is to be sure search engine results feature far more positive than negative reviews.

Reaching out

While Facebook and similar sites can provide a terrific place for patients to get a sense of both the practice and the people behind the practice, micro-blogging site Twitter can provide practices with an easy way to provide current and prospective patients with practice-related news and announcements. The site lets practices post short notes that other users who’ve signed up to follow that practice’s Twitter feed can view online or receive as text messages on their phone.

A Twitter account can be useful to dentists who want to follow the latest news from media users such as Dental Products Report, or by following the feed from a manufacturer using Twitter, a practice can stay up to date on the most recent information on products and services. However, the site can also be very useful in helping a practice grow its online presence.

“It’s just a different avenue of marketing. It’s nice to be on it because if somebody happens to be reading a post we put on it, they can communicate with us right there on Twitter,” said Melinda Baugh, office manager at Brazos Family Dentistry in Waco, Texas. “We want to have an online presence where people can find us, and just having a Web site sometimes doesn’t get you there.”

Baugh said her practice started using Twitter as a promotional tool in March and the practice’s feed (twitter.com/WacoDentist) quickly amassed more than 400 followers. She manages the practice’s posts and includes everything from specials for their patients to links to interesting dental news stories.

Thus far Baugh has used the site to communicate with people from around the world, and thinks it is a useful tool for connecting with a range of people. Still the focus of her efforts will remain on providing information for people in her community because, “local followers equal potential patients,” she said.

Keep it real

Keeping up with the Twitter feed and the practice’s recently created Facebook page does take a bit of time, but Baugh said it really only adds up to 15 to 30 minutes a day. A self-described, “computer person” Baugh said it is not difficult to stay current and keeping the practice feed populated with fresh posts, but she does occasionally make her posts from home after the workday is over.

It is that genuine interaction and the dedication to making sure the practice is active with their social media efforts that are going be beneficial to the practice, Zamora said. While being on the sites everyday is not necessarily a requirement, she said spending about an hour a week to manage a practice’s social media presence is probably a good idea.

Bobrow and Zamora both agree that any practice jumping into social media to expand its online presence should have one staff member as the point person for the efforts. It doesn’t need to be the doctor, but should be someone who understands how to use the systems and has the good sense to keep things on a professional level.

Baugh ended up handling it for her practice because of her role managing the office and her comfort with computers. If a practice does not have someone comfortable with personal interaction via the Internet, social media marketing may not be a good fit, Zamora said. While every practice should stay aware of reviews-both positive and negative-efforts to expand a practice’s visibility through social networking should only be undertaken by those who can be dedicated to the efforts.

“Social media amplifies a dentist and a practice’s patient relation skills,” Zamora said. “Someone who has natural people skills may find social media marketing much more enjoyable and a lot easier than someone who doesn’t really appreciate the nuances of networking.”

Noah Levine is a senior editor for DPR. Contact him at nlevine@advanstar.com.

AIM MarketingDo you Google yourself?
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Marketing Insider: The e-volution will not be televised

2009 was a year filled with opportunity and challenge (more of the latter than some may have preferred).  As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we should expect no shortage of challenge and opportunity in 2010. Much of this opportunity for growth will continue to be found online, specifically, in the area of reputation management. The challenge will lay largely in trying to keep up without being distracted from what you find fulfilling and profitable.

2009 was a year filled with opportunity and challenge (more of the latter than some may have preferred).  As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we should expect no shortage of challenge and opportunity in 2010.

Much of this opportunity for growth will continue to be found online, specifically, in the area of reputation management. The challenge will lay largely in trying to keep up without being distracted from what you find fulfilling and profitable.

My friend and mentor Bill Blatchford suggests that the decision to engage in any activity be made by answering two simple questions:

1. Will it contribute to my livelihood?

AND

2. Will it enrich my life?

If the answer to both questions is no, then don’t do it.  While that sounds simple, sometimes we don’t know the outcome of a given activity until we try it, and therein lay the challenge.

84%
of consumers said they were more likely to check online for reviews prior to making a purchase compared to twelve months ago, according to a recent survey by Brand Reputation

Source: Retail Bulletin, October 2009.

The E-volution will not be televised

I use E-volution to denote the Electronic Revolution sweeping over us. One area where growth and change are particularly great is the relatively new phenomenon called Online Reputation Management (ORM), which, according to Wikipedia (as of 1/2010) is: The practice of consistent research and analysis of one’s personal or professional business or industry reputation, as represented by the content across all types of online media.

I offer a slight refinement to that definition: Effective Online Reputation Management, or E-ORM, is the process by which an entity (or a representative of that entity) exerts control over how its perception is formed, maintained, and accessed via the Internet.

I feel this definition is more useful because it: Asserts that E-ORM is a process, which goes beyond the simple gathering and analysis of information and it’s an ongoing, ideally proactive, process of controlling how perceptions are formed and maintained.

The great divide

As noted above, there is an accelerating trend where people turn to online media to research and purchase local services (like dentistry).

Though 63% of consumers and small business owners turn to the internet first for information about local companies and 82% use search engines to do so, only 44% of small businesses have a website and half spend less than 10% of their marketing budget online, according to research from Webvisible and Nielsen.

This disparity between how business owners act as consumers, and how they market their own services, is termed The Great Divide.

The generosity of strangers

Another trend is the use of third party review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Health Grades, etc.

Manage Smarter’s 9/09 Issue reports that 83% of online shoppers said they were interested in sharing information about their purchases with people they know, while 74% are influenced by the opinions of others in their decision to buy the product in the first place.

Perhaps more surprising is the online role complete strangers can play in a web surfer’s purchasing decision. North American Internet users trust recommendations and opinions posted by unknown consumers online more than advertisements on television, on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, or in other traditional media*.

*A. C. Nielsen Online

70%
of Americans say they consult product reviews or consumer ratings before making a purchase, according to an October 2008 survey by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, a research and consulting firm.

Source: Business Week, October 2009

Priority one: Blogging

If you don’t yet have a blog, get one. It’s one of the easiest ways to get noticed by search engines.  And, be sure the blog is linked to your website so your efforts yield maximum SEO Benefit.  In general, limit your postings to 1200 characters or 200 words, and be consistent with your rate of postings.  Search engines prefer to see a steady stream of posts than they do a spate of postings followed by inactivity. A good way to prevent this is to ‘bank’ a series of articles so you don’t hit a ‘dry spell’ of inactivity.  Also be sure to use appropriate tags.

You will likely find the need to expend more effort initially to effectively set up both the look and feel, as well as content of your blog, then shift into ‘maintenance mode.’

Priority two: Encourage positive reviews from your patients

Make it easy for your patients to post reviews of their favorable experiences with your practice on Google Local, Yelp, Angies’s List, Merchant Circle, and Health Grades, or a number of other sites.

“From an SEO standpoint, Google Local is best” says Adam Spiel of Pro Host Management, a Boise, ID-based I.T. consultancy.  First encourage, and then demonstrate the process, of submitting reviews, so your patients will do it.
And, if you do receive a negative review, it’s most often best to ignore it.

“The key is to ensure that the majority of reviews interested parties find are positive. Then, you don’t need to sweat it if one or two are less than flattering. In fact, it may actually add to the credibility of the reviews if not all of them are glowing.” continues Spiel.

It’s also important to have the positive reviews rank above any negative.  While not easy, it is possible to accomplish this, in part, by working with a group which optimizes its own website, based on your practice name (such discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

You can also consider setting up accounts with Yelp and Angie’s list to advertise there, as well as permit more flexibility with respect to responding to any less than flattering reviews.

Priority three: Post articles, video and press releases

Regular posting to other sites, with reference to your website address, helps create back links, which, in turn helps increase your website’s position on the search engine results page (S.E.R.P.) when people are searching for you by name, practice name, or for a high quality dentist in your area.

Upload your articles, videos, and press releases to article and video directories and press release syndication websites.  Among the better known of these are: YouTube, Facebook, ArticlesBase, PRNewswire, and EZine Articles.

To derive maximum benefit, be sure you understand how to structure your message and where to use and properly place keyword tags and your website link.

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Priority four: Manage social networking sites

Most practices are well served by creating and maintaining accounts with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, but there may be additional sites to consider, depending on the characteristics of your target audience.  To help identify such sites, Google a phrase like “social networking site demographics.” Facebook also offers an advertising option which, depending on how it’s structured, and the demographics of your area, can be a profitable venture.

Set up your “Calendar of Events”

Pro Host’s Spiel suggests a ’30-30-30’ Plan, characterized by first identifying the thirty Top Questions your target audience would have and want answered about you and your practice. Next, provide answers in the form of thirty articles and thirty videos (don’t worry about a highly polished production, as too much quality can actually lower the perception of credibility).  Then distribute those articles and videos to those sharing sites, which most closely match your desired demographic.

Launch!
The final step is to update your chosen social networking sites which, as they are discovered by your target audience (and search engines), will allow their Top 30 Questions to be answered by linking back to your website.

Regular posting of content to various sites can be time-intensive. One way to minimize the time commitment is by using what are termed aggregator sites. Such sites e.g. www.Ping.fm permit you to submit the same posting to all your sites simultaneously.

Ongoing Priority: Keep Alert(s)
Success with E-ORM means knowing what’s happening online.  This is important because, as noted above, you are not the only one involved with forming your online reputation.

One such tool is Google Alerts, but there are many more.  To find these, use your browser for results for the term ‘free online monitoring tools.’

Effective scheduling and prioritizing of the tasks required to establish and maintain a positive online reputation can yield big results for your practice.  Just be realistic and don’t panic if you should, from time to time, fail to keep to your schedule.  As you become comfortable with the concepts and process, you’ll find that E-ORM can actually be a lot of fun!

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.

Sources
For another great article showing more local business stats – click here

And then these are a great websites with social media, user reviews, ecommerce and SEO stats – Bazaar Voice. Socialnomics.

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Marketing Insider: Emergent opportunity

With the economic prosperity of the eighties, and advances in esthetic dentistry and technology, many dentists became of the opinion that treating new patient emergencies was a waste of the dentist’s and team’s time. Symptomatic of this is what one heard when calling such a dental practice after hours: “If you are a patient of record with an extreme dental emergency you may call xxx-yyy-zzzz.” New patients were deliberately discouraged from calling.

With the economic prosperity of the eighties, and advances in esthetic dentistry and technology, many dentists became of the opinion that treating new patient emergencies was a waste of the dentist’s and team’s time.

Symptomatic of this is what one heard when calling such a dental practice after hours:

“If you are a patient of record with an extreme dental emergency you may call xxx-yyy-zzzz.”

New patients were deliberately discouraged from calling.

Today, many practitioners have been reminded and recognize that emergencies represent a singular opportunity to establish a solid, long term relationship with a new patient.

William McCune, whose practice Creekside Dental is located in Buffalo Grove, IL says: “When I started in ’87, I built my practice on needs, not wants, and the most commonly expressed need is a need to be relieved of pain.  I can think of no better way to win a patient’s trust than to relieve their discomfort. That’s all the more true if they already have a dentist, but that dentist will not or cannot see them.”

To illustrate the positive impact welcoming emergencies can have on a practice, McCune shares that, in one week in March of this year, he performed more root canals and other emergency treatment than he did in an entire quarter last year “…because I am not shy about letting my patients and my community know I am here to serve their immediate needs.”

Among the techniques McCune employs is adding variations of the term ‘dental emergency’ to his Google adwords campaign, and including a telephone number in the ad:

With the economic prosperity of the eighties, and advances in esthetic dentistry and technology, many dentists became of the opinion that treating new patient emergencies was a waste of the dentist’s and team’s time.

Symptomatic of this is what one heard when calling such a dental practice after hours:

“If you are a patient of record with an extreme dental emergency you may call xxx-yyy-zzzz.”

New patients were deliberately discouraged from calling.

Today, many practitioners have been reminded and recognize that emergencies represent a singular opportunity to establish a solid, long term relationship with a new patient.

William McCune, whose practice Creekside Dental is located in Buffalo Grove, IL says: “When I started in ’87, I built my practice on needs, not wants, and the most commonly expressed need is a need to be relieved of pain.  I can think of no better way to win a patient’s trust than to relieve their discomfort. That’s all the more true if they already have a dentist, but that dentist will not or cannot see them.”

To illustrate the positive impact welcoming emergencies can have on a practice, McCune shares that, in one week in March of this year, he performed more root canals and other emergency treatment than he did in an entire quarter last year “…because I am not shy about letting my patients and my community know I am here to serve their immediate needs.”

Among the techniques McCune employs is adding variations of the term ‘dental emergency’ to his Google adwords campaign, and including a telephone number in the ad:

The tactic entails bidding for the terms an emergency patient might use, and including a telephone number in the resulting ad, making it quick and convenient for the patient to reach the practice. This can have the added benefit of reducing your outlay for paid search because Google does not charge for impressions, but only clicks, to your website (hence the name pay per click). So, if someone calls, instead of clicking, no fee is assessed.

Emergency patients also represent an opportunity to diagnose and deliver complete as opposed to ‘patchwork’ dentistry.

Pain is not the only thing that can hurt

Dr. John Cranham, Clinical Director at The Dawson Academy, who practices in Chesapeake, VA, says: “Sometimes front desk people assume there must be pain for there to be an emergency. It can also be esthetic. Consider a patient who breaks a tooth just before her wedding. To her, that’s an emergency.”

According to Cranham “The emergency appointment is an opportunity to educate your patients about your philosophy and commitment to complete dentistry. Be sure to have, and promote, a policy which states your commitment to seeing patients with an emergency as soon as possible.”

Avoid tunnel vision

Not withstanding such innovations as CAD CAM dentistry, it’s important to recognize that, if the emergency is not a patient of record who you’ve seen regularly and, therefore, whose dental history you know, delivering a permanent restoration is probably inappropriate. Only a comprehensive exam will determine for example, if the tooth is compromised in other ways. You can do a quick, but effective, ‘fix’ using e.g. a composite resin, without a permanent restoration. Once you’ve addressed the immediate need, use the appointment as an opportunity to perform a general assessment.

Cranham continues “Dentists sometimes miss the boat when they do not recognize that an emergency represents a pivotal point during which the patient’s perceptions of the practice are formed.  If you want to establish yours as a practice focusing on comprehensive care as opposed to ‘patchwork dentistry,’ avoid tunnel vision: do not recommend a permanent solution without a thorough evaluation of the patient.”

Train the team

Your dental team will likely be the first to connect with the emergency patient, so they need to thoroughly understand, and be able to effectively communicate, the practice’s policy with respect to emergency appointments.  They also need to be adept at conveying empathy and determining what constitutes a true emergency.

Dentists have lives too

The extent to which a doctor is willing to meet a patient after hours depends, of course, on a sometimes ‘gut’ assessment of the patient’s situation, as well as desire to grow the practice.

Dan Marut, DMD owner of Today’s Dentistry, a private practice based in Ashland, OR, and Founder of Complete Dental Plan says “Balancing ones professional and personal lives can be a challenge. Establishing an emergency protocol helps when the inevitable emergency calls. I always ask myself, ‘If it were me or my family, what would I do, and what would I want done?’.”

If the emergency is not a patient of record, a decision should be made on a case by case basis. Active listening is a key skill in helping identify the true extent of emergency.

Emergencies welcome

To attract emergency patients, you’ll want to include reference to them in your promotional strategy. Consider the following:

  • As part of your referral marketing protocol, suggest your team use the following verbiage when checking out a new patient, whether or not it was an emergency visit: “We’re glad we were able to help you today.  Relieving pain is obviously an important part of what we do.  But even more gratifying is when we’re able to help people avoid discomfort before it arises.  So if you know anyone who is not currently under the regular care of a dentist, I hope you’ll give them my card and share with them how we helped you today.  Prevention is always preferable to, and less costly than, treatment.”
  • Emphasize the importance of prevention, but also your willingness to treat emergencies in your newsletter (both print and Email-based)
  • Your on-hold message should convey your readiness to treat patient emergencies, as should your outgoing message (unlike the example referenced above)?
  • If you know that a patient is planning to travel in the near future, encourage them to receive an examination prior to their departure.  Of course, not all patients will come in for a check-up prior to an extended trip, so consider incorporating this suggestion into your printed and electronic communications.  You can even include tips for what to do in the unfortunate event your patient needs dental care while out of town.

Remember too that, even if the patient you treat does not become a permanent part of your practice, as might happen if the patient is only visiting the area, if you deliver great service, that news could well travel around town (to the limo driver, concierge, restaurateur, meeting planner, the visitor’s host(s), etc.). Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool too. You never know whom an out-of-towner will tell about their positive experience with your practice in their time of need.
About the author

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.

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Want to increase your net? Cast a broader one!

As the distinction between oral and overall health continues to blur, the opportunity to develop patient referral sources from both within and outside of dentistry continues to expand. Referrals from health professionals outside dentistry

As the distinction between oral and overall health continues to blur, the opportunity to develop patient referral sources from both within and outside of dentistry continues to expand.

Referrals from health professionals outside dentistry

Dental specialists have long known the value of cultivating relationships with their general practitioner colleagues.  G.P.s have similar opportunities to connect with colleagues outside of dentistry, the public at large, and even fellow dentists if they offer a service their colleagues are unable or unwilling to offer, or in other ways demonstrate ‘added value.’

Dr. Allan Gross, president of bizcentsfordocs says “Most dental specialists are not comfortable referring potential new patients to just one general dentist considering the relationship he/she has with others.  There is (however, potential) within the medical community.”

Gross relates one example where a dentist noticed a local physician offering alternative medicine.  “The dentist had not placed amalgams for years and thought this doctor might be interested in meeting him.  The doctor was so excited…not only did he become a patient, he sent over 80 patients to his office in a period of less than one year….and how much did that cost in marketing? About 2 hours of his time.”

Other ways to encourage physician referrals is to contact each patient’s physician to receive additional information about anything revealed during the initial medical history, or if any change in status is observed.   In this way, the practice becomes known for its thoroughness and concern for the patient’s health.  This message is not lost on the physician’s team either.

Sleep Apnea care wakes up your referrals?

Treatment of sleep apnea and related conditions is one of the fastest growing areas of oral health care.  According to Philip Goduco, DDS of Goduco Smiles, “I set up lunches with both physicians and dentists, the latter starting with my list of dental school classmates, and continuing with those I know who do not care to affix the oral appliance. I also contact the sleep labs, either directly, or by calling my physician friends and acquaintances. It’s also possible to search the Internet for ‘sleep centers, sleep laboratories’, and so forth.”  Goduco then sets a time to meet, not only with the doctors, but their technicians too, to let them know he is “…looking for a center to which to send my patients to have two studies done; one to establish a base line, and one for titrating the oral appliance.”   Goduco also lectures on the topic, which is another valuable way to create awareness and enthusiasm about his service.

While there is an investment of time and money required to become proficient, Dr. Goduco considers it to be one that has already paid off, and whose return will only increase over time:

Do well by doing good?

Dr. Gross says “There are many ways to be embraced by your community.  A food drive at Thanksgiving, a toy drive at Christmas, a blood drive (have the van in your parking lot), a walk/run charity event that can be co-sponsored are just a few ideas and opportunities that can build your reputation as one who is committed to your community on many levels.”
Promotion is accomplished both inside and outside your practice. Internal promotion channels include:

  • On Hold Message
  • In-Office Display Items e.g. Posters, Lapel Buttons, etc.
  • Fund raising web page
  • Social networking sites
  • External tools include:
  • Press Releases
  • Personal Networking
  • Social networking sites
  • Fund raising web page

For an example, visit smiletree.org

Rally the troops?

Consider a team meeting whose topic is identifying ways to communicate to the health community how your practice demonstrates its commitment to collaborative care (and why, therefore, your referrals will be made to look good in the eyes of those they refer).

Seek out opportunities to exchange information with fellow health care providers and act in a collaborative way to better and more efficiently deliver care to those patients you have in common.  Once that bond is established, just watch the referrals build.

Strength in numbers

While you might ‘get lucky’ and receive as many referrals as you can handle from a single source, it’s more likely you’ll need to develop and cultivate several sources.  I built my dental marketing practice largely by networking over the years to where now hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a referral from one of dozens of sources.  Did every attempt at establishing a referral source result in success?  No way!  Were I to venture a guess, I’d say that one of every 25 to 50 attempts bore some sort of fruit.  And sometimes, it took many years for that to occur.

The medium IS the message?

Realize that it’s not always what you say; it’s how frequently you say it, and that you say anything at all.  For example: if you regularly communicate with your patients, referral sources, the media, etc., the very fact you are reaching out to them reminds them of your existence and, with hope, reinforces your brand identity (just don’t overdo it or you’ll be perceived as a nuisance – in my experience, dentists more often err on the side of too little, as opposed to too much contact, however).  What you are sending to them becomes almost incidental.  How often has someone responded to a letter or telephone call asking you about something completely unrelated to what you sent or said?  It’s happens to us almost daily, and you can bet we don’t care why they’ve called, only that they’ve called!

Cultivation keys?

Gross recommends sending flowers or candy throughout the year as a “…thank you for everybody in the office to see.”  This is a small expense to pay to be noticed and appreciated, not only by the referral source, but quite possibly by its patients.

In general, the successful referral program:
1.     Develops over time
2.     Is a ‘numbers game’ in that the more you attempt, the more successes you have
3.     Involves a learning curve in that the more you attempt, the more proficient you become
4.     Draws from a number of varied sources
5.     Makes your referral sources look good in the eyes of its patients
6.     Makes your referral source’s job easier by e.g. providing timely and complete feedback on the status and treatment of the referred patient
7.     Automates the process to the extent possible e.g. through social networking sites, without ever losing its ‘personal touch’
8.     Is reciprocal

The sooner you begin reaching out beyond your patient base, and perhaps your comfort zone, the sooner you and your practice will reap the benefits.

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.

AIM MarketingWant to increase your net? Cast a broader one!
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