If At First You Don’t Succeed… Spend More Money!

Q: I am a fee-for-service dentist in Texas. I’ve been in practice a little over 16 years. I just finished reading “When and How to Market Your Practice” in this month’s Inside Dentistry. After reading the article, I still have no idea how to effectively market my practice. Marketing is beginning to look like just so much “smoke and mirrors” to me.

When I look at how much I’ve spent over the last three years on marketing; my website, brochures, logo, branding, print ads, yellow pages, and even some radio, I’m not sure if I really got, or will get, any real return on my investment. A lot went out, but not very much came back.

I keep on thinking this kind of marketing is going to deliver lots more new patients. It hasn’t. But I’m afraid since everyone else is doing it, I should as well. It doesn’t look like any of those things I’m doing are bringing in the numbers or kind of new patients I want. But I keep spending more money.

How come none of the people that contributed to that article could tell me in a much more concrete way how to market? How come these folks talk about it so it sounds great, but my experience is marketing doesn’t produce real results?

What’s your take on marketing?

— Samuel

A: Samuel,

Wake up! Dentists are such suckers. I’ve said this many times before, in fee-for-service dentistry, broadcast marketing doesn’t deliver.

Don’t believe me? Do a simple analysis. Go back six months. List all your new patients. Make several columns; name of patient, followed by where they came from — patient referred by existing patient, print ad, radio, yellow pages, and other. Then in an adjoining column note which patients accepted treatment and finally, in the last column how much revenue the patient-generated. Measure and compare.

I’ll bet you big bucks the column with the most patients, the column with the most case acceptance and the column with the most money collected all belong to patients referred by other patients. Before you go back and look, how much do you want to bet?

The money you are spending on brochures, radio ads, TV, yellow pages, magazines, sides of buses, websites, shopping carts, tattoos or Google ads, will never come close to meeting your expectations. The only people making money are the people selling you their services. Like it or not, between 60 to 80 percent of your patients in a fee-for-service practice come from existing patients through word-of-mouth marketing.

People choose a dentist based on someone they trust telling them about the dentist.

If I were you, I’d spend my money getting very good at word-of-mouth marketing. Or if you like, you can continue to spend your money on marketing that doesn’t work. A third choice is just donate it to a worthy cause. But if you hope broadcast marketing will deliver the results, you’re living in a fantasy world. All broadcast marketing does is generate “shoppers,” not patients.


Let me ask you, what are you currently measuring for word-of-mouth marketing? What? Oh, you’re not measuring anything. Hmm. What does that tell you about how you view word-of-mouth marketing in your practice? If you only measure what you value, if you only measure what you focus on, if you only measure what’s important, if you only measure what you want to improve, what’s this total lack of measurement say about your approach to word-of-mouth marketing?

How much time do you and your staff spend targeting, educating and training in word of mouth marketing? Let me guess. Maybe none? Oh, how did I know that? You spend zero time and money on word-of-mouth marketing, yet it’s the most fruitful area of marketing that gives you the best results. What’s wrong with this picture?

In order to generate new patients, the goal is to convert good patients into referring patients. So the question becomes, “How do we get good patients to refer?”

Well, not by feeding them the usual dribble, “We really appreciate people like you.” “If you know of someone looking for a dentist than please send them our way?” By the time they put their keys in the ignition, they have forgotten these questions. No “stickiness” to your speaking. You need to learn how to talk to the patients and promote them referring so it “sticks.”

When selling commodities or products, incentives work. Discount the next purchase if they refer. Increase their purchasing power if they refer. Extend better credit if they refer. But you are a service business, not a commodity business, so incentives don’t work as well. Those Starbucks gift cards, tickets to the movies, $25 off their next dental appointment coupons helps, but not much.


You need to come from the place of contribution. You need to rouse that part of people that wants to make a difference for others. They need to see the “value” in their relationship with you and the work you do, and that if others had this “value,” it would make a real difference for them as well.

You need to educate and train yourself and your staff to initiate effective conversations that make patients aware of the value they receive when coming to your office. How do you do this? It can’t be described very clearly in this article, since value is a perception and is always related to experience. You can’t recreate an experience by talking about it. Experience occurs “on the field,” and reading about it is “in the stands.”

The point is to have your patients leave the office mindful of the value of your office, fully in touch with the experience of being there. People share from their experience, not facts or information. It’s this “sharing” with friends, family and coworkers that implicitly and explicitly communicates the experience and it’s this shared experience that promotes new patients to call your office. Doctors and staff should interact with patients so that patients realize the value and pass along their experience to friends, family and neighbors.

Generating New Patients

My recommendation is that you spend your money in places that really generate new patients — spend it on word-of mouth-marketing. But it isn’t my money, so you decide.