29 Jul 2016  •  Practice Management  •  7min read By  • Chris Barrow

How to nurture your existing patients to achieve business growth

In Chris Anderson’s now famous book, The Long Tail, he examines the way in which the internet has allowed many organisations to monetise their own less popular products, services and clients. By way of example, Waterstones simply don’t have the space to stock anything beyond the top 20% of reader choices but Amazon can ‘print on demand’ the most obscure publications imaginable – and thus  expose themselves to almost 50% of the global sales volume in book purchases. But is there a version of this in dentistry? Here, Chris Barrow explores how nurturing your existing patient database can lead to growth in your business. 

The proposition of The Long Tail in dentistry is that over 50% of your business growth may exist in either additional sales to your existing patient database, or to the people that they can introduce you to. The usual marketing conversation in dentistry is focused on getting new people in through the front door, feeding a voracious appetite to meet complete strangers. For example:

  • Direct advertising via A-boards, signage, pop-ups, print media, radio, TV, exhibitions and fairs, brochures, flyers, mail shots, etc
  • Web attraction via Pay-Per-Click, Search Engine Optimisation, Adwords, effective web design and social media posting and advertising
  • Special offers, discounts, freebies and other inducements!

All of which costs a lot of money, requires time invested by knowledgable people and has a varying (and often unmeasured) return on investment (ROI). Yet, when I quiz practice owners on how well they manage the relationship with their existing patients for up-sales and referrals, the answers range from ‘not at all’ to ‘not very well.’ There is an opportunity here to increase your new business sales by up to 100%, simply by making a better job of looking after the people that you already know, and that’s before we start looking for strangers.

Consider the old-fashioned ways in which patient recall systems are managed. We used to choose between letters and phone calls, then along came text messaging. The innovators jumped on board, the
early adopters waited until there was some positive evidence and then the late adopters followed the herd. The same thing has been happening with online booking. With an estimated 750 or so practices
signed up out of 10,000 in the UK, we are now witnessing the shift to early adopters, especially as practice management software providers recognise the demand.

The next major development in dental marketing will be the 7-step Lifecycle Marketing Process:

  1. ATTRACT – strangers to your website
  2. CAPTURE – their email and permission
  3. NURTURE – their interest
  4. CONVERT – when they are ready
  5. DELIVER – excellent dentistry and customer service
  6. UPSELL – additional treatment to existing patients
  7. REFER – enrol your existing patients as ambassadors

When someone makes an enquiry about your practice/treatment, what do you currently do?
I suspect that your follow-up on new patient enquiries might not be as water tight as you would wish. That’s just going by the conversations I have on a day-to-day basis with practice owners, new and established. It surprises me that so much effort and expense is invested in getting potential new patients to visit your website or pick up the telephone – and then subsequent opportunities are lost.

The evidence suggests that only 20% of website visitors stick around for any valuable length of time and take action, whilst only 33% of those who do take action eventually buy treatment. That’s overall a 95% attrition rate – a startling figure that escalates your acquisition costs for every new patient and makes the pathway to catching a lifetime patient a very expensive and leaky fishing net.

So, what would it be like if we could increase your conversion rate after a web visit from 20% to 80% and your conversion rate after a visit to 66%? That would represent a 10-fold increase in overall conversion
– so huge that it sounds too good to be true. So let’s take a look at an important step in that process – capturing those people who visit your website and keeping them interested enough, for long enough,
to make a first call or contact.

How? A combination of two steps in the Lifecycle Marketing Process:


Before I go there, let’s just remind ourselves that the first step in the cycle was ATTRACT. There has to be a way that folks will find your website in the first place. Methods include:

  • Google and (increasingly) Facebook advertising and re-targeting
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – getting your practice on the first page of search results)
  • Social media management
  • Word-of-mouth systems
  • Direct marketing and advertising (print media and broadcast)
  • Networking, Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer/patient (B2C).

I’m going to assume that you have methods to ATTRACT – most practices do. The likelihood is that your CAPTURE and NURTURE systems are probably suspect – because, until now, nobody has been asking you to look at them.


CAPTURE is about creating an exchange of value that will encourage a visitor to give you their email address and permission to keep them posted. That exchange of value will normally involve a WHITE PAPER (a download that contains information of value). In dentistry, this would normally be a ‘10 top tips’ list or a ‘free guide’ for the treatment that the patient has asked about. The enquirer will then receive a sequence of seven emails over the following 33 days, encouraging them to look, listen, watch and read further information.


If at any stage they pick up the phone and call the practice, the sequence will stop. Even if the prospect doesn’t attend or buy this time around, at the end of that 33-day NURTURE sequence, they will drop into a long-term sequence that will ensure delivery of a monthly email newsletter containing relevant stories, until they become a patient or unsubscribe. New patient enquiries benefit from a short-term email nurture sequence that has the potential to improve conversion rates from 20% to 80% (if the results from other business sectors and countries carry over into the UK dental market).

I predict that, in the future, recall systems will be run within long-term email nurture sequences, that will allow a recall email to include video, graphic design, online booking confirmation and the ability to share across social media channels. All of these will function on PC, tablet and smartphone. At the point of the recall, some of your patients will have experienced a trigger event that will encourage them to ask for advice on more complex treatment. Others will take the opportunity to recommend you to their family, friends and colleagues.

To summarise, I work with clients who are growing their sales and profitability by 100% in less than three years by adopting three principles. So when considering your marketing plan for 2016 and beyond, consider:

  • Your first and most important marketing activity is the way that you connect with your existing patients
  • Your second most important marketing opportunity is word of mouth recommendation
  • Your third marketing activity is the effort to connect with complete strangers.

For more information on Chris Barrow visit: www.7connections.com


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