Home Issues2023 Digital Dentistry Why Can’t I Get More Patients? Part 1 of 2

Why Can’t I Get More Patients? Part 1 of 2

A guide to understanding the REAL challenges suffocating your new patient and practice growth Part 1: Lead Generation

by Chris Phelps

Where have all the new patients gone?

The COVID-19 shutdown of 2020 was an unprecedented time in American history as over 120,000 general dental offices, along with 70,000+ specialty offices across the US were asked to close their doors to patients in an effort to stop the spread of this virus.  What first seemed like a temporary, two-week measure, quickly escalated and expanded to last between 2 and 3 months, depending on your State of residence.  The affect was clear.  A major uncertainty was created in the mind of every practitioner out there.  All wondering the same thing: “When we open our doors again, will patients return?”

Much to everyone’s surprise, not only did they return but they returned in droves.  You see by shutting down our doors, we tapped into one of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion called Scarcity.  By closing off access to care, we made our dental practices a scarce resource, creating more of a desire and demand for our services.  With nowhere to go, this pent-up demand on skyrocketed to new levels.  As a result, patients were literally waiting at our front doors and consistently filled our chairs.  Making no shows and cancellations virtually disappear from our mindsets for the next 2 years. 

What this also did was lull us into a false sense of security.  Thinking this constant influx of patients would remain forever, eliminating any real need for us to actively try to market and find new patients again.  Now here we are, three years post pandemic shutdown and practices throughout the US are starting to see their patient flow dry up.  With previous marketing attempts showing no real promise today or return for the investment along with no shows and cancellations creeping back up to all-time highs. 

So why is this occurring?  Ultimately, any failure in new patient flow and marketing efforts can be traced to challenges in one or multiple areas of what I describe in my book, The Complete Book on Dental Marketing as the Dental Marketing Cycle (see illustration below).  Within this cycle, you can divide everything into one of two categories.  Lead Generation and Lost Opportunity.  Let’s look at the different areas of these categories and cycle and discover where we face the most challenges…

The Seven Pillars of Attraction

In the marketing world, most people’s focus and attention falls upon this part of the dental marketing cycle.  Lead Generation is about all your efforts to generate new patient opportunities.  Within this category, falls the Attraction phase of the cycle.  Here, within this are seven main pillars that you and your marketing team need to understand to attract enough quantity and quality of new patients.  Those who spend enough in your practice to justify what you spent to attract them. 

Most in marketing have one goal.  Let’s do what we must do and get the Doctor as many new patient opportunities as possible.  Getting quantity is great but if the quality is lacking, was it really worth the investment?  Most of the time the answer is No and all we as practitioners see are the lackluster results.  To truly achieve success in both quantity and quality, it takes a deeper understanding into 7 key areas by you and the people you hire to implement dental marketing on your behalf.  Let’s look at them in more detail. 

  1. Market: Understanding your target Market.  If you don’t have clarity on who you really want to attract to your office, it will make it difficult for any marketing efforts to actually find them.    My target market is male/female, 55 and older, active and independent living retirees who have lost their dental insurance,  live within a 5-7 mile radius to my practice and who are in the Consideration or Authority phase of the consumer buying cycle. 
  2. Message: Crafting attention grabbing Messages.  In today’s busy and hectic world, time is everything.  Because the average consumer finds themselves with an ever growing shortage of it, they’re not able to put a lot of focus and attention into anything.  With marketing, that means they are scanning or half paying attention to everything that is put in front of them.  If your marketing doesn’t have engaging Messages or headlines that grab that person’s focus and attention, then they likely won’t stop to take a deeper look at what your advertisement has to say.    If I have open chair time to fill, then I’ll use a Message such as “Call Today, Get In Today!” as my headline. 
  3. Content: Generating Content based on what buying phase they are in.  You can use pictures, imagery, color and certain language to speak to your target market, depending on which phase of the consumer buying cycle they are in.  When it comes to cycle of buying, people tend to be in one of three phases. 
    • Awareness: Looking to confirm whether they have a dental issue or not.  The Call Today, Get In Today message would most likely attract someone in this phase. 
    • Consideration: With an issue confirmed, here they are merely searching for all the options available to solve the issue at hand.  An advertisement that highlights different options to replace a missing tooth might appeal to someone in this phase. 
    • Authority: Knowing the options and which one they’ll like to want to choose, here they are searching to find the best, most experienced person to perform said treatment.  Pointing out your credentials, patient testimonials, years of experience, training you received, technology you utilize, etc. would appeal more to someone in this phase.

     4. Offer: Using Offers that attract a better-quality new patient.  Most of the offers I see in Dentistry are geared toward price.  Advertising a new patient special and discounting that first visit down to $99.  On the surface, this may seem like a good thing as it will definitely generate more quantity of potential new patient calls.  The problem comes with the poorer quality patient mindset this message attracts.  One who is looking to get this treatment at the cheapest possible price.  This means that when it comes time to do treatment or have their second hygiene appointment that they’ll most likely be shopping around to find another office who can do that work for less. 

     5. Influence: Studies show that you can increase your marketing effectiveness by leveraging the behavioral science Persuasion Principles researched by Dr. Robert Cialdini.  Reciprocity, Liking, Social Proof, Authority, Consistency and Scarcity are all powerful principles you can use to make your marketing stand out and influence more to pick up the phone and call you.

   6. Medium: Selecting the best Medium that your target market utilizes.  The number one mistake made by Dentists and dental marketers alike is that they start with this pillar.  Instead, time must first be devoted to the 5 pillars above.  Then, and only then, can you pick strategic mediums that give you the best chance that your target market is exposed to your messages, content and offer. 

     7. Tracking: Having call tracking measures in place to know your actual Return on Investment (ROI).  Most people track dental marketing by identifying the percentage of people who clicked on your online advertisement, know how much traffic flowed to your website or show you that you received a certain number of potential new patient calls directly related to their marketing efforts.  While this information has some value, it doesn’t get to the heart of real information you need to track to know if your marketing is working, not working and why.  Instead, all of our tracking efforts should be designed to track how many true new patient opportunities did that advertisement generate, did that patient schedule and show for their appointment, did they refer anyone to the office and ultimately, how much did they spend versus what it cost you to attract them.  By understanding your actual ROI, you can start to make marketing more of a science, instead of the mystery it seems to be for most. 

Read Part 2 of Dr. Phelps article here

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