For at least the last six months, Dan and I have definitely been busier analysing deeper operational data like diaries, patients and leads, “turning over stones” to find potential hidden gems. It’s a bit like having a pile of coal, and breaking each piece open in turn to find the one with the uncut diamond inside.
This may seem a strange analogy, but it’s surprisingly apt. In a sense, we’re like business investigators: searching around in each practice to discover the hidden potential for transformative change.
For many practices, things are feeling tougher right now. When we speak to a practice owner, they’ll often have a preconceived idea of why this is, but it’s only by probing deeper and picking apart a story that we can get to the kernel of truth, and a place where we can help.
One common reason given is the bane of every dentist’s day: the “gappy diary”. Asked why there are fewer appointments booked, most will give the answer that there are fewer new patients. This will likely be true, but the interesting part is mining deeper to understand why.
It’s completely natural to tell ourselves stories around why things are a certain way (Dan’s even written a whole blog post around the perils of business myths). At uncertain times, we all seek narratives that we can understand and that echo the truths we’re already familiar with. However, it’s important that we recognise this tendency and challenge it; that we seek the evidence around a situation and let that lead us.
Take our gappy diary example. The acquisition of new patients comes down to two things: one external, and one internal. Simplistically, it’s how many leads are coming into your practice (external). Then, it’s how well you’re converting these into new patients (internal).
Historically, dentistry has, metaphorically, had a great big pile of unpolished gems from which one can freely take a handful. Part of the inconvenience now is that we have to expend more effort cracking open rocks.
If you’re working with a digital marketing agency, lead generation will be their realm. The interesting thing about this is that there are now so many tools to track and evidence what’s going on. If a practice owner says they’re getting fewer new leads, we can begin by using these tools to sense-check that information. There’s a huge amount of external data to work with here, from the hit rate on your website to the cost per lead provided by Google. Given time, we can look and determine that you had, say, 150 new leads during the last month. At this point, many owners will still believe that this number is incorrect – which is why it’s important to validate the information. Again, using tools, we can show an impressive level of detail, often right down to the phone numbers people called on or the email address they used to enquire.
For business advisors – and for you, as dentists – data and evidence are key. Stories can be entirely plausible, but it’s only when we begin turning over every stone that we find the truth underneath. Sometimes, this is that your practice doesn’t consistently answer the phone, that you’re not responding promptly to emails, that you’re not tracking as you should be, or that your reception staff are simply too busy. None of us likes to hear these things, but we do need to own up to them and cherish the opportunity that a great big pile of rocks can bring.
During the good times, when dentistry was very strong, it was easy to tell ourselves that our sales and marketing were good. We’ve built a story to this effect: if new patients were once flocking to us, it must be because we’re great dentists and handling this well. However, in many cases, dentistry is like property investment in London: a case of being in the right place at the right time, rather than making conscious strategic decisions.
Now, if the evidence doesn’t support your narrative, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Usually, the answer lies in poor communication or lead management, but it can equally be true that you’re getting a proportion of low-quality leads from your marketing agency. In this case, they will welcome collaboration using the tracking data, to work out why. Marketing and sales are like a series of cogs: every one is important, so question everything and believe that it matters.
Secondly, it’s helpful to run an enquiry management system (there are various ones out there, although we use DenGro). This will help you to plan your patient experience and more easily nurture the leads that you have. Allow yourself some time and headspace to collaborate based on reality. It might be uncomfortable, but it’ll be far more beneficial in the long run.
If this resonates with you, and you’d like an honest view of your sales and marketing, we have a purpose-built appraisal system to see where you can build in improvements. And, as ever, if you need help, you can also get in touch with our team for an initial chat.