By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
In many areas of the Middle East, it’s simply not enough to be a well-trained and skilled dentist. It also means being savvy about business and marketing to grow the practice and to achieve your personal and financial goals. Our previous article discussed how an ethical dental marketing programe is an opportunity to take advantage of the current void in the marketplace and establish your practice ahead of the competition. But you may now be asking yourself: ‘What should I do next?’
The answer is create a serious plan-a marketing plan that becomes your roadmap for growth. Here are some of the important basics for a good start; plus some dangerous pitfalls to avoid.
Dressed for success
There are many definitions of marketing, and here’s a good one: “Marketing is the process of making prospective and current patients aware of your services, attracting new patients, and building and maintaining a patient base.”
Even under the best of circumstances, marketing a dental practice is rarely easy. Resources are precious and you want them to produce results. It’s a complex process, and we can only highlight the essential ingredients.
A dental marketing plan is an integrated system. You will have short-term tasks (next week, next month) and long-range goals (one, three and five years), but build your plan around a 12-month calendar. Carefully consider and define your target audience, your competition, the services you want to promote, the cases you want to attract and the image you want to portray. Your marketing plan will include a blend of some or all of the following strategic categories:
– Internal marketing
This builds and maintains the systems that speak to your existing patient base, to ensure patients are aware of all that you can do for them and their family, friends and associates. This is marketing to your closest and best ‘customers’ first, encouraging additional services, and making self-and patient referrals easy.
This is actively shaping the message about you and your practice to differentiate what you do and to clearly stand out from the competition. Branding is less about what you do, but about communicating how your practice is different, more valuable and more desirable in the values of the patient. It is how you practise and the entire ‘patient experience’ you deliver.
– External advertising
Consider all the available options that can connect you to your target audience. These will include print and broadcast media, as well as internet advertising, direct mail, circulars, posters and billboards. Some media is expensive, but ineffective, while others are highly effective and inexpensive. Careful planning, testing and tracking are important in making external efforts work right from the start.
– Internet marketing
An effective website can help attract new patients and give them a reason to choose you. It supports your branding and the overall practice image and patient experience. It also informs existing patients and reinforces their decision, reminding them that you are their dentist of choice.
– Professional referral strategies
For specialty practices, or for practices that provide specialised care for specific cases, the process of gaining referrals from other professionals is highly important. First and foremost, you’ve got to identify the source of new patients. Have an effective tracking system in place and working daily. Tracking your referral sources is absolutely vital to successful practice growth because it is your means of calculating your return-on-investment (ROI) from various marketing strategies. From the first phone call or earliest contact, ask each new patient exactly how he or she heard of your practice. Prep staff to ask; “Who can we thank for referring you?”
Keep this list live, current, daily and not in the patient chart. Review the tracking information at least weekly for constant feedback, and cross-reference new patients to individual promotional tactics.
– Strategy success
Test, track and make ongoing adjustments to your marketing strategies. Increased success and profitability comes from constant adjustments in the plan, based on pushing your marketing ‘winners’ and cutting your marketing ‘losers’. Typically, you will initially test a variety of marketing tactics on a smaller, risk-controlled basis, and then roll out the winners in a larger way.
A review of marketing plan performance should be conducted at least quarterly. Marketing results may be reviewed even more frequently for decisions that may require a more real-time evaluation, such as allocating a monthly advertising budget.
Entire textbooks have been written about the art and science of marketing budgets. It is key to plan your budget specifically for each month, and to include return-on-investment goals for each individual tactic. Plan to invest a sufficient amount to produce results from each of the planned strategies on your marketing proposal.
For first-time marketers, a simple formula can help in structuring a budget, or in tailoring an existing budget that is no longer accurate.
1. Define your goal
Write down your incremental growth goal in a specific amount. Beyond your current annual revenue, how much added gross profit do you hope to make in the next 12 months? For this example, let’s say US$100,000 is your annual growth goal.
2. Divide your goal by an ROI factor of four
The ROI goal for your overall marketing programme should be between 3:1 and 5:1. This means that for every $1 spent on marketing, you should make between $3 and $5 back. Some strategies and tactics produce a better return, while others will produce softer results. Let’s assume an ROI middle ground of 4:1. $100,000 divided by 4 is $25,000, meaning you would need to spend $25,000 annually in marketing to meet the growth goal.
3. Divide the total annual budget by 12 months
In this example, the monthly budget becomes $2,084 per month ($25,000 divided by 12). This amount is a monthly guide. Be aware, however, that this allowance is not likely to be spent in a conveniently flat pattern of the same amount each month. There will be larger and non-repeating costs for start-up in the beginning and less in later months.
4. Keep the goal and budget aligned with reality
Maintain the ratio between your goal and your budget if you need to make adjustments up or down. If you pull up on the goal, or pull down on the budget (or vice versa), you should expect the other end of the equation to change accordingly.
The objective is to budget wisely, effectively and realistically. It would not be wise to increase your budget without ensuring you include high ROI activities, else you’ll find yourself throwing more money away faster. And at the other end, practices with a wholly inadequate marketing budget universally produce zero results.
A good analogy to consider is the thrust it takes for an aircraft to get off the ground. Jet planes need far more energy to get into the air than to stay there. The marketing ‘flight’ to achieving your practice goals will require a stronger budget at the outset, and your budget will reduce as you gain and sustain momentum.
Words of caution
Practices without a solid plan and budget can fall foul of common pitfalls. These pitfalls have little to do with geography or culture; they are primarily business issues. Before you begin drafting a marketing plan, consider the most important things NOT to do-and avoid the most widespread and dangerous mistakes in dental marketing.
– Spaghetti marketing
Effective marketing is about carefully planned communication. When frustration grows and the pressure to act is strong, it is a common trap is to try many things in the hope that something will work. Marketing without a plan is like throwing a handful of spaghetti against the wall to ‘see what sticks’. It’s inefficient, and it can be truly brutal on your budget.
– Analysis paralysis
To their credit, dentists are often scientific and analytical thinkers. However, some intelligent people find themselves thinking so long and hard about what course of action to take, that they confuse thinking with action. Give yourself a reasonable time allowance for making your decision, and then do something. If this is difficult for you, remember that you can revise your approach. Analysis paralysis is also dangerously similar to…
There are two likely rewards to this ‘do-nothing’ approach, and both are negatives. Firstly, the return-on-investment for doing nothing is always nothing. And further, inaction usually means lost opportunity-allowing the competition to increase or the market to shrink. This is not to say that any action is better than none -refrain from spaghetti marketing. But a well-considered, even modest, plan of action will always outperform a wait-and-see approach.
– Effective investing
Successful dentists know that marketing is an investment in themselves. A critical mistake is to treat marketing as an expense. Done properly, it is truly one of your best revenue centers. Your marketing plan needs sufficient budget and time to succeed. And when your marketing effort produces a 3:1 or 5:1 return, what better choice of investment than yourself?
– Inadequate staff training
Getting the phone to ring is only the first step. Help your staff understand how to welcome new patients with open arms. An individual will judge you and your practice, and will decide whether to return in the future, on the basis of his or her entire experience.
As said in the previous article in this series, the course that you diligently follow over the next few months is a rare opportunity to put yourself ahead of the competition and achieve your objectives. It begins with a solid plan.