Former Technical Director at Practice Plan, Graham Penfold explains why a firm hand is required when marketing your dental practice.
As tough economic conditions persist, an increasing number of practices are expanding their marketing operation, which seems a sensible response, but are they achieving a good return on their investment?
More than ever before there is a bewildering array of ‘marketing’ opportunities such as conventional printed material, open days, websites and optimisation of search engines, e-zines, yell.com, social media and much, much more. With such a wide range of choices available it is all too easy to see spending in this area spiral out of control; so before we begin, let’s ask some questions.
First, what is it we actually want to achieve? Try and quantify it, so if it is 300 new patients per annum with an average spend of £500 per head, then we know what the targets are and they can be monitored.
Next, look who is benefitting from the marketing spend. If it is primarily for the benefit of an associate then what return is the practice owner going to achieve from it? If, for example, the practice is making a 15% return from the associate but is planning a £6,000 marketing campaign to make them busier, then £40,000 of additional gross fees will be required just to break even. You can debate what time frame the fees need to be generated over but the spend will probably be within one year.
Third, give careful thought to what really works for your practice. In private practice, generally speaking, it is word-of-mouth recommendations and website/internet activity that drives new leads, but these two approaches are very different with radically different costs attached to each. Patient referral cards and a modest reward for patients who refer friends and family to you are low-cost options, whereas comprehensive websites and optimisation methods can be big-ticket items. There’s no absolute right or wrong, just research thoroughly what is truly best for your practice. Also, as well as direct costs, think about the indirect costs, such as staff time, that will be spent on marketing activity as these should be included.
Next, have a marketing plan, set a budget with a small contingency for unexpected opportunities, and stick with it. It does not have to be ‘War and Peace’ as just a side of A4 will suffice.
With the marketing plan finalised, make sure that there are appropriate information systems in place to track the source of each new patient, whether they attended and completed their treatment, the amount of their spend, and if they returned for a further routine consultation. Gathered over time, this information will yield valuable information on why patients come to the practice and what they are looking for in you and your team. This will help you refine and hone your marketing activity as well as impact in other important areas such as customer service and staff training and development.
In business in general, and dental practices in particular, marketing can become a seductive and even an egotistical overhead that can steam out of control; so a firm hand at the tiller is required.