Occasionally, when I’m reviewing a member’s results with them on the phone, the doctor asks me, “Jonathan, what’s next? What’s new? What can I do to get more new patients?” I appreciate their trust in me and our group. We’ve worked hard together to generate the best results we can, and the dentist has trusted us to be proactive in pursuing all avenues of growth for their online marketing. This means that sometimes, the answer is not the next, newest technology or tactic in their online marketing. Sometimes the answer is, “We’ve got to do something about the leads that we’re already generating.”

Tactically Speaking
A marketing strategy is important. Due to the overwhelmingly competitive nature of traditional advertising, dentists have flocked to digital advertising to execute a more scalable, economical lead generation strategy. This has worked well, but one thing is constant, whether an office is using traditional advertising and marketing or more bleeding edge digital strategies: the office that they market.

If you are looking for a way to get more out of your marketing-to bring more new patients through your door, it’s worth examining your systems for prospective new patient intake. If your office is like many of those out there, you may have been growing and evolving so quickly toward a high end, fee for service practice, that you may be unaware that some parts of the practice haven’t kept up. The front desk seems to be an area of perpetual struggle.

All marketing and advertising has one end goal: generate leads. And assuming that you are delegating that intake (an absolute must- you can’t do it yourself), you have to be certain that these leads are handled effectively, diligently, and delicately. Otherwise, you may find that your marketing budget is not performing the way you’d like. You may tweak, tweak, and tweak your marketing mix trying to find the right strategy when, all the while, the real problem is your lead intake tactics.

Executing well on lead intake means foremost: answering the phone. Answer it every time it rings. Brad Durham advocates answering on the second ring so as not to seem desperate. You don’t want to give the impression that you have nothing better to do. That’s fine, but your office has to answer the phone on the second ring then.

Beating the Competition
Want to beat the competition? If you have a competitor who would answer the phone when a call comes in, then your office has to answer the phone. More than that- your office has to answer the phone when the competition won’t answer their phone if you really want to beat the competition.

What does that look like? Well, there can’t be a lunch hour when you don’t answer. You want people who can afford dentistry to call your office, right? Guess what? They work for a living. This means that they can’t always call when it’s convenient for your office. You and your team are professionals. I get it. You need a break. You work your butts off all morning, and you plan on working late in the day. So, if people really want what you have to offer, they’ll call back when they get your voicemail that say that your office is closed from 1-2pm every day, right? I’m sorry, but that’s not correct. Your prospective patients that are busy and driven to find a solution to their problem will listen to your voicemail, hang up, and move to the next office on the list. This completely negates the investment that you’ve made in generating that phone call.

You need to have a team committed to answering the phone whenever it rings. Hire another front office person. Have some overlap. Maybe another assistant. If nothing else, have an answering service that you actually trust and use to answer the phone when you can’t.

If that feels desperate and wasteful, then I have to ask: is it more wasteful to have an extra person on the team tasked with answering the phones or to spent thousands on marketing only to lose that money PLUS the money that you would have made if you had landed those patients? Your only other alternative is to not compete– to not seek out more new patients.

Afterall, if you have some margin in your team, perhaps the odd turnover in your team won’t hurt as bad. Imagine if your office manager didn’t have to start sitting at the front desk every time you lost someone? Maybe that’s not feasible from an overhead standpoint, but again: we’re not talking about this person being the difference between marketing and not marketing from a budget standpoint: you’re considering the new patient revenue lost as well.

When the team is in the office, they need to be hungry for that phone to ring; eager to set the hook and reel in a new patient consultation. You have to motivate your team to not only know that they are the best in your area for quality of dentistry and service, but to know that they are the best in getting people connected with the dentistry that they want under the broadest variety of circumstances. Teach them never to assume too much.

Rod Strickland tells his denture seminar students about the bus driver who drove from three states over to get the dentures she wanted. She stayed in Savannah to get the treatment she needed and drove home, and paid for it with her modest income. One dentist who taught at LVI told his students a story of a waitress who came in for a new patient appointment, received a treatment plan and, while she had to say ‘no’ initially, came in later after an extended period and dropped a manila envelope of cash down, having saved up her tips, and paid for a full mouth reconstruction. Certainly, these are not the norm, but they are patients who would never have come in if their call wasn’t answered, and the person on the other end happened to assume that the patient was not a prospect just because the initial question was about cost or insurance.

Screening patients is a necessary part of being effective, but this can be a pitfall for team members if they start to view the phones as a nuisance rather than a golden opportunity. You’ll never find the princes if you don’t kiss toads. You’ll never find the diamonds if you don’t sift through the rough. Your team won’t feel a sense of urgency to try to make the most out of every phone call and every email if they don’t see urgency and optimism coming from you.

No, optimism won’t magically make someone who is looking for free dentistry into a model patient with large amounts of disposable income, but until your team maximizes every lead that is generated with your current marketing, then no amount of added or different marketing is going to make a significant impact. If anything, it could make things worse because, in your search for more qualified new patients, while opening up the throttle on your marketing and making your office more visible in the market place, you’ll add more volume of the same mix of qualified and unqualified patients. This can reinforce the idea that the marketing isn’t working and make your office more numb and unresponsive when qualified prospective patients come calling. The result is more money spent on marketing and more missed opportunities. Let’s also keep in mind that the qualified versus unqualified prospective patient is not truly a binary phenomenon, but actually more of a spectrum and that you get to decide what you take and what you throw back. BUT! You only get to decide that if the lead is nurtured along far enough down the lead process so that you get the information and opportunity to bring them into the schedule or refer them out. Too many offices get over zealous with screening. I’ve even seen offices hang up on prospective patient calls before they know whether or not it’s a live human being on the other end.

Ask Questions
Certainly, you need to first find out what the problem is. Perhaps it’s a faulty phone system. Perhaps it’s a scheduling problem. Perhaps it really is the marketing. Ask the questions necessary to try to narrow down the most likely cause or causes of the missed opportunities to your practice. Start with call tracking. If you have call tracking numbers in place for your marketing, you’ll find that you have patterns in how often calls come in, how often they are answered, and how often they go to voicemail and likely hang up without leaving a message. Remember that just because they leave a message doesn’t mean that they didn’t keep calling other offices until someone answered the phone. When you have a call log of calls that came in through the call tracking number, do some forensic work to identify what happened with those calls. If you can’t find the people on the call log in your patient records, ask questions of your team member to find out why. If you have no record of what happens with calls that don’t become patients, institute an internal call tracking system so that you know how many calls come into the office, who is calling, and what is happening. Make sure that the team knows that you’re asking them to do this because you know that asking them to recall all these details later on from memory just isn’t fair and that, “The devil is in the details.” You can’t make an informed decision without information. If you need to put a name to the ‘devil’ when talking to the team, blame marketing. Tell them that you want to track the effectiveness of your marketing dollars. This is the truth!

Slow Down and Filter Effectively
Our teams are critical components of our success. I know it’s not easy. But nothing worthwhile is easy to do. You can’t invest in anything more worthwhile than your team. They affect your quality of life, the quality of your work, and the bottom line of your practice. Anything with that level of impact is worth continuing to work at even if it feels like you’ve addressed it a hundred times before. Find what motivates them. If you have a team member in a bad fit for the patient intake position, move them over to something else or out of your practice altogether. It’s a scary thought, but in the end, you’re doing them a favor too. If they don’t like handling leads on the phone, then why force them to stay in that job any longer than they have too. You’ll hate the results and they’ll continue to do a poor job at a job they hate. When you find the right person, the patient, the team member, and you will all win.