In the past, dental practices accepted any type of patient. There were always more new patients than patients leaving, and it wasn’t unusual for dentists to experience practice growth every year until retirement. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. There are now fewer new patients available relative to the number of dental practices, and retaining patients is critical for practice success. However, scheduling as many new patients as possible should not be your end goal. The real dilemma facing practices seeking growth is not simply how to acquire new patients, but what type of patients should your practice try to attract?
Target Your Patients
Marketing, word-of-mouth in particular, attracts all types of patients to your practice. There are affluent, middle-income, and lower-income patients … patients with and without insurance … and patients that may or may not have the ability to pay for more than basic treatment. Most practices are just happy to have any patients in their office, but a practice cannot be all things to all people. Successful practices market to the type of patients that will help increase growth. In order to do this, practices must define their ideal patients and market to them accordingly. Look at the following marketing strategies and take note of what was successful and what wasn’t:
• Marketing Strategy No. 1 I recently reviewed a practice with extensive expertise in a wide range of services including periodontal therapy, implant therapy, aligners, and sleep apnea. In an effort to gain new patients, they offered a complimentary hygiene visit. They hoped to get lots of people in the door and educate them about potential services, however the results were not satisfactory. Although many people were scheduled, most patients were only interested in basic preventive services and taking advantage of the basic, no-cost first visit offer. The strategy of simply capturing these patients and then attempting to educate them and sell them other services did not work.
• Marketing Strategy No. 2 Taking a different approach, the practice began launching separate marketing and educational programs for their different services. By marketing to specific age groups and populations, the practice was able to attract people that were more likely to need specific services and therefore more likely to accept treatment. The result was significant growth in aligners, orthodontics, sleep apnea, and periodontal therapy. Case acceptance, revenue and profit grew significantly over the next 12 months as each marketing program was launched. In addition, by rotating the marketing programs the practice was able to attract different types of patients, which allowed for diversity of patients and services within the practice and the capability of using the practice expertise that had been acquired in these different areas.
The best approach in marketing involves first discerning your target market. Do you want families or elderly patients? Non-insured or insured patients? Do you want to build a practice that focuses on larger case treatment or cosmetic services? Whatever your focus is, you must be intentional. It’s easy to send out postcards or participate in online marketing, however by designing targeted communications you’ll spend your marketing dollars more effectively and attract patients that fit your model.
Marketing is a creative science and one that is not well understood by most dentists. However, what’s most important is taking the time to determine who your patients should be and targeting them directly. When practices target their marketing accordingly, the results will be outstanding.