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  04.21.05 Issue #163

Marketing: Mining for Fool’s Gold or Poised to Strike it Rich?

Sally Mckenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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How many ads should I buy? How many brochures will I need? Should I give away refrigerator magnets, what about stress balls, or key chains? How much do I have to spend on advertising? Do I really need those fancy, full-color brochures? A website? Exactly how many new patients will I get if I place an ad in the newspaper? Will people respond if I offer a discount?

The topic of marketing raises numerous questions and, in the minds of many dentists, most have only one answer: money and
lots of it.

Some dentists see marketing as a list of things – trinkets, ads, and promotional materials to be purchased at a hefty price with no real guarantee for success - Fool’s Gold that produces a glittering spectacle of “stuff” rather than any real value to the practice. Instead, they resign themselves to doing nothing.

While others are convinced that if they just get the right jingle on the radio, the perfect prose in their ad, or the most vibrant colors on their brochures they will unleash a flood of new patients that will happily line up for the doctor’s dental services. They eagerly pour thousands into big-bucks marketing campaigns only to have patients leave as quickly as they came, and the doctor is totally baffled as to why this brilliant campaign produced utterly uninspired results.

Too often dentists overlook the very foundation of marketing. The best practice promotion can’t be found in the newspaper, won’t be heard on the radio, and can’t be Googled on the Internet. In fact, it has nothing to do with external advertising or a monster cash outlay.

Rather, your most effective advertising begins at the front desk; ventures into the reception area, winds its way into the treatment rooms, and travels the halls daily. The success or failure of your practice marketing plan rests not on the “what” but on the “who.”

Effective marketing starts with the ability of the team to successfully promote the doctor, the services, and the practice. Yet the profound impact of this most cost efficient and tremendously powerful marketing “tool” is seldom even considered. Typically, there is little or no thought given to how employees are utilizing their roles as practice “marketing reps.”

So, where do you begin? With a clear vision from the doctor. What kind of dentistry do you want to be doing – more restorative, cosmetic, implants? Do you want the hygiene department to grow, be reduced, stay the same? Create the vision and share it with the team. This is the roadmap for the practice, and the team must see their role in helping the practice to reach its destination. When employees see themselves as builders of the practice rather than just workers who collect a paycheck, their roles as “marketing reps” are much more effective

Next provide necessary education for the team, so that they fully understand the benefits of the dentistry you want to provide. If more implant dentistry is a key component of the doctor’s practice vision, every staff member from the scheduling coordinator to the hygienist must be educated on the benefits of specific treatments.

One of the best resources a practice has to promote services is the front desk, but these employees are seldom offered training and typically have very little understanding of the level of dentistry provided. Few things can kill a patient’s confidence quicker than a poorly informed employee. Take the patient who is ready to pursue implants. She asks the scheduling coordinator a question about the procedure and the coordinator wrinkles her nose and says, “Uh, isn’t that’s where doctor puts screws in your gums. I don’t really know much about that, and I wouldn’t want to have that done.” Kiss that procedure and possibly that patient goodbye.

Staff training and education are among the top marketing investments a practice can make. The higher the level of education given the staff the better equipped they are to educate the patients, which elevates the professionalism of the entire practice. At a minimum, carve out time during monthly staff meetings to discuss procedures, treatments, and/or new technologies that will benefit the patients. When the frontline employees understand the advantages that specific treatments provide patients, they can routinely reaffirm the doctor’s diagnosis.

Next week, the single most effective marketing tool every practice must utilize.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

Are You Disappointed in Your Staff, Too?

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

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A true story from one of my coaching clients...

Last week I went on vacation. My receptionist and hygienist chose to work and I agreed. When I returned the trash cans weren't emptied, the counters were still dirty, and the hygienist didn't come close to her daily production goals. At first I was furious. Now I'm discouraged. Am I asking too much?

My client is probably like many of you. He is ambitious, disciplined, and highly conscientious with needs for achievement. These strengths have been instrumental in helping him to get through dental school, set up a practice, and succeed in business.

On the other hand, these same positive qualities also get in his way. He doesn't trust staff will do things the way he wants them done. He ends up taking on way too much himself. He hasn't established adequate feedback loops and training to insure things are done properly. He wants to grow as a clinician but he's so burdened with minutiae that he doesn't have time for new pursuits.

As you might suspect, the coaching goal for this client has been to increase his ability to delegate and hold others responsible for their part of the business. He needs to 'stretch' outside his 'comfort zone' if he is going to reduce his frustration and lessen his burdens. Here is his five step development plan.

  1. Build perspective.

Schedule a special staff meeting to talk about the 'big picture'...what you want for your practice. Set purpose by describing the context of what you expect. For example, "By improving in each of our roles, we will be more productive and provide better patient care. In turn this will lead to higher revenue and that means more income for everyone".

  1. Announce leadership development.

Model courage and encourage growth by briefly sharing your own strengths as well as your needs for self-improvement. It is likely that your staff already know what you're good at and what you need to do better. By verbalizing it you show good awareness and you set the standard for continual learning. Let your staff know you are working with an executive coach. It tells them you're committed.

  1. Initiate meetings with each employee.

Schedule individual reviews with all staff. Have a discussion about each employee's career goals. During the dialogue remind employees of your overall goal for the practice and the benefits for them. Give them behaviorally specific feedback about what to continue doing (their strengths), what to stop doing (actions that are not productive or helpful), and what to start doing (their developmental need). Avoid defensiveness by keeping your focus on the 'solution' not the 'problem'.

  1. Pay attention to the strategic not the tactical.

If you want your employees to take more responsibility for areas of the practice, you need to empower them. That means letting go of the very details that are driving you crazy. Recognize that mistakes will happen. That's how people learn. Be prepared to give consistent and timely feedback, both positive and developmental. Keep your eye on the big picture - a more productive practice.

  1. Monitor employee performance.

Annual appraisals are insufficient for employee training and development. Schedule monthly reviews initially with each staff member. As their performance improves, reduce the frequency to quarterly. Build a climate of feedback in your office. Encourage everyone to voice appreciation for jobs well done, and respectful feedback when problems occur.

My coaching client sent me the following email last week....

I wanted to share my success. I am praising my employees for the things they do right and I am firmer about what doesn't get done well. I feel a lot better about myself and things are actually running smoother.

Dr. Haller is available to coach you to higher levels of performance in your practice. Contact her at

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental group? Email us at or call 1-877-777-6151


Belle M. DuCharme,

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"Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it." Peter Drucker

What does it take to get higher patient treatment plan acceptance percentages? There are always obstacles that need to be addressed: fear of pain, value perception or cost, time away from work, fear of not liking the end result, trust that the doctor knows what he is doing etc. There are many key factors in communicating with patients that insures a higher treatment acceptance. One of these essential tools in communication is being a good listener.

When a new patient phones in to make the initial appointment it is important that 100% of your time is devoted to listening to that patient. That first impression is what stays with the patient and begins the bond of trust that will be a determining factor to how much treatment the patient will accept from your practice. Noise in the background, placing the patient on hold to answer other calls, sounding rushed or stressed over the phone, communicate a climate of anxiety for the patient making them uncomfortable before they have set foot in the office. A signal for other team members to answer incoming calls needs to be in place in anticipation of new patient calls. New patients always have a story and an expectation of what they will receive from your practice. Being in the moment with that patient will help set the tone for their first experience in your office. If the time is taken to listen to that patient without other interruptions and gather all necessary information including their "chief concern" the patient will be more receptive and relaxed when entering your office for the first time.

When speaking to the patient give "listening checks" such as paraphrasing, "Mrs. Brown, if I understand you correctly, you said that your previous dentist would not give you copies of your records." Then pause for an affirmation from the caller.

Demonstrate empathy when a patient tells you something that was unpleasant for them. "Mrs. Brown that must have been very uncomfortable for you."

Keep an open mind with the caller. "Mrs. Brown, even though I do not know the answer to all of your concerns, I am sure that we can help you make the right decision for your care when we have had the opportunity to do a complete examination."

Sometimes patients have a difficult time communicating the symptoms of their dental problem over the phone and become frustrated that you don't "hear" what they are saying. Listen for intent as well as content. Explore the feelings of the caller while you are gathering facts. Listen for what isn't being said by the tone of the words and the mood of the speaker. Saying, "I understand that it is a challenge to explain your problem. We are excellent at solving dental problems and I am sure that we will be able to give you a clear understanding of your dental procedures."

Guide the patient into an appointment by keeping the focus on the appointment. Consider every opportunity to listen as an opportunity to learn from the patient and to instill confidence in them that this is the right office for their dental care.

Remember that listening goes both ways. As you are listening to the patient, the patient is listening to your every word. A caring, engaged listening skill is one of the most important tools for success in patient treatment acceptance.

If you would like to learn how to develop your listening skills and improve your treatment acceptance, call The Center for Dental Career Development at 1-877-777-6151 and we'll help you take your business skills to the next level.

Sally's Mail Bag

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Dear Sally

I have been frustrated for years trying to define a good functional vacation policy that is acceptable to the staff. We have two dentists and four hygienists. If one of us is on vacation the other cannot check all four hygienist's patients. We currently allow two weeks vacation time. One must be taken at the same time as one of the dentists, the other anytime. We have four assistants also. We lose production if we don't have enough help when we are working and it is wasteful if there are four assistants working with only one dentist. Any suggestions?

Dr. Frustrated in Fresno

Dear Dr.

Here are some options for you:

1. Locate a retired dentist in the area that can work on a temporary basis doing hygiene exams during Dr. vacation time.

2. When one dentist is out with his two assistants still working, options are:
a. The assistants are responsible for securing temporary assisting assignments with a dental temp agency.
b. The assistants have the option of taking the time off without pay.
c. The assistants are assigned yearly or bi-yearly tasks such as purging patient charts, cleaning projects.
d. The assistants are assigned to colleague's offices for further education.

3. When you have one doctor and 4 hygienists, options are:
a. only do one exam in that year (verify with state law).
b. Reappoint the patient
c. When you have a natural occurring break in one of your procedures, check all 4 hygienists at one time.
d.Schedule longer appointments during that week.

Hope these ideas help.


Marketing Secrets

Howie Horrocks

Reveals 400 pages of already tested, proven patient-attracting ads, brochures, TV spots, press releases, direct mail letters, radio ads, how to do it right, like marketing to seniors, marketing on the internet, and why you must include the right amount of facts and emotions into your marketing.

In addition you will learn what to say in a simple letter that gets business people near your practice to choose you, how to double the effectiveness of your ad with only two lines of copy, and best of all find out how to write a patient leter that will yield a remarkable ROI!

All you have to do is pick up these secrets and before you know it, your own practice will be receiving the business you've always desired.


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The McKenzie Company Upcoming Events
Date Location Sponsor Speaker
Apr. 29 Roanoke, VA Roanoke Valley Dental Society Sally McKenzie
May 12 Anaheim, CA California Dental Association Sally McKenzie
May 13 Rapid City, SD South Dakota Dental Assoc. Sally McKenzie
May 18 Westlake, CA
Conejo Academy of Dentistry Sally McKenzie

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