Endo Mastery

MARKETING FOCUS: PLAN NOW FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS TO REFERRERS

It’s less than 60 days until the busy holiday season begins. Many doctors will send referrers a gift for the holidays as part of their annual marketing strategy, but they fail to make the most of the marketing opportunity. Here are some key questions and recommendations. 

Are gifts necessary or recommended?

It depends on your current marketing strategies. If you have a great marketing coordinator with a systematic approach to visiting all your referring practices throughout the year, your referrers are probably fairly well informed all year long that your practice appreciates them. It’s really a personal choice for you as part of your doctor-to-doctor relationship with the GP.

 

If you don’t have a marketing coordinator following a systematic approach, then your marketing activities throughout the year are probably quite minimal or sporadic. In that case, a year-end gift could be very important and probably advisable.

How much should you spend?

There are two camps of opinion on how much to spend. The first camp says that if you have a good marketing system where you are investing in marketing activities, including doctor-to-doctor activities (such as taking a referrer to a sports game or other activities), then a flashy gift at the end of the year is probably overkill. A personalized message along with a thoughtful gift like a nice bottle of wine or gift basket is completely suitable.

 

The other camp says that the gift should be obviously meaningful in the context of how much an individual GP referred during the year. A GP who refers 50 cases to you deserves some special recognition (and extra spending) versus a GP who refers 6 cases to you. It is a slippery slope though because once you set a precedent with a high value gift, it’s hard to back down from that in the future.

 

Overall, we lean toward having a great year-round marketing systems and then, if you do send a year-end gift, that it be modest without being extravagant.

When is the best time?

The whole point of a gift is to communicate a message to the referring doctor that you appreciate and value your relationship with them. If you wait until the second or third week of December (or later), your gift is going to get lost in the mix. It’s the busiest time of the year with their family. Everyone else (from their accountant to other specialists they refer to) are also sending gifts at the same time. Yours will be one more on the pile.

 

The best time to send this kind of gift is right around Thanksgiving or just before, which is well ahead of the masses of cards and presents from others. It gives you a head start, and your gift could very well be the first one they receive of the season. So, it will get noticed, which is what you want. Also, a gift of appreciation and gratitude ties in very nicely with the theme of Thanksgiving. That means the best time to start budgeting and planning your gifts is now, especially if you are going to try to give personalized gifts for your key referrers. It takes time for those ideas to percolate.

How should it be delivered?

If you don’t have a marketing coordinator, then you will probably need to mail gifts to your more distant referrers or have them delivered from where you ordered the gift (such as for a basket). If you have a marketing coordinator, it’s best that they hand-deliver gifts for those referrers that are a distance away.

 

For referrers that are closer to you, it is recommended that you personally visit those doctors, which is something you should do at a minimum at least once a year. It gives you a chance to connect with the GP’s front desk team, have a few minutes of face time with the doctor to generate goodwill. This is especially important if you are not face-to-face with them any other time during the year. In one day, you can probably drop in on 15 or so practices without too much effort.

Remember that 90% of marketing is teamwork

Year-end gifts can be a nice touch in a marketing system, but no gift is as influential as your practice team. What they do throughout the year by communicating with referrers and taking care of patients effortlessly guides the entire referral relationship. And a great marketing coordinator makes sure that practice-wide effort by you and your team is noticed throughout the year.

MARKETING FOCUS: 3 MISTAKES THAT LEAD TO UNHAPPY PATIENTS (AND REFERRERS)

An unhappy patient spreads their unhappiness. They report a poor experience back to their referring doctor or clutter up your Yelp and Google reviews with 1-star ratings. If you scan those reviews, most of them are the result of factors within the control of the endodontic practice. Here is what you and your team need to avoid:

Failing to address their fear

The word “specialist” generates a certain level of anxiety in every patient. Anything that requires the care of a specialist sounds complicated and serious. The phrase “root canal” generates an even higher level of concern. Root canals have a historical connotation of discomfort that no longer matches our clinical processes but endures in the public mindset as dental mythology.

 

Certainly, an endodontist’s chairside manner is vital to calm fearful patients and bring them down from their anxiety orbit. But the mistake that most practices make is assuming that it is only when the patient is in front of the doctor that their fear can be dispelled.

 

Addressing the patient’s fear needs to begin from the moment that patient calls the practice to book their appointment. It is absolutely essential the administrator receiving that call has a warm and caring demeanor. They have to project calm confidence, superb knowledge and totally informed certainty about every concern or hesitation the patient has. Reassure the patient that the doctor is the best endodontist, and they will receive treatment easily and quickly.

 

In this way, starting with the phone call, the team can telegraph calmness to the patient, so the patient feels “these people know what they are doing.” Done at the highest level, even before the patient walks in the door they will feel gratitude and privilege to be taken care of by the best.

Lack of same-day appointments

Americans are not people who like to wait in line, whether that is for a coffee, to check in at the airport or hotel, or to get a root canal. Furthermore, when they are in pain, their tolerance for any delays virtually evaporates. And with endodontic pain in particular, even one day of delay (and a sleepless night of discomfort) seems like an eternity.

 

A patient in pain wants the pain addressed immediately, and a referrer with a patient in pain wants the pain addressed immediately too. That should be the #1 awareness that your scheduler should always have. Your team needs to be adept at assessing and triaging the patient’s level of pain in the first phone call. They need to show empathy for the patient’s pain, so the patient knows their pain is your priority and you’ll take care of them as quickly as possible.

 

Then, your scheduling strategy and template needs to have the appointment openings built into every day to accommodate necessary same-day treatment emergencies. No doctor likes to see openings in their schedule, but strategically leaving time reserved for urgent care means that emergency patients will be thankful, not annoyed by waiting. Plus (importantly), when referring doctors know they can count on you for same-day treatment of pain, it is the greatest practice- and relationship-building strategy ever.

Financial surprises

Just like the word “specialist” invokes the feeling in patients that care will be complicated, it also invokes the feeling that it will be expensive. Patients need total financial clarity in advance so they can be prepared.

 

Financial clarity particularly requires your team to be experts at determining the patient’s insurance benefits for treatment, so you can give a very close estimate of their co-pay prior to the patient’s arrival. Even if the patient is just coming in for a consult, they need to be prepared for treatment on the same day, so the estimate needs to be prepared in advance.

 

Remember, if the patient is undergoing treatment at the GP concurrently, insurance limits can shift benefit payouts overnight. An expert practice administrator stays abreast of every detail for the patient. Patients truly don’t understand the ins and outs of their insurance.

 

The two biggest mistakes when it comes to finances are 1) not giving patients a co-pay estimate until they are in the practice, and 2) giving them an estimate based on inaccurate insurance information and then surprising them with a higher required co-pay when treatment is performed.

90% of marketing is teamwork

Great practice marketing is far more than just doctor-to-doctor outreach. It means involving the whole team in marketing goals and getting every individual on your team to be aware of how they influence patient and referrer satisfaction.

MARKETING FOCUS: FROM RELIEF PITCHER TO STARTING PITCHER

The starting pitcher is the star of baseball. They are the preferred choice and are entrusted to deliver the best results. As a dental specialist who relies on referrals, your goal is to be the starting pitcher for GP referrers: their preferred and trusted choice for all their endodontic referrals.

 

Relief pitchers are second choices, and they are brought in during the game when the starting pitcher needs to come off the field (if they are tired, injured, having a bad day, or for strategic reasons). Since your referrers need somewhere to refer patients (especially emergency patients), you might be their second-choice relief pitcher if their usual endodontist isn’t available … such as when they are away on vacation.

 

This is a marketing opportunity, but it’s a special one. Remember that your endodontic colleagues are not your competition. Don’t think that you are in a turf war with other endodontists for GPs in your area. When you’re called up as the relief endodontist, you don’t want to appear like you are actively campaigning to persuade the referrer and steal them from your colleague.

 

However, it is a moment to market passively, which comes down to providing a really great patient and referral experience, and then allowing the referring doctor to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to push them in any way because if you offer an exceptional experience, the advantages of referring to your office become clear. Here are some of the ways that your office can shine:

  • Ensure your team’s communication with the referring office is warm, welcoming, professional and focused on making the referral process as easy as possible for the referrer and their patient.
  • Schedule emergency patients the same day they are referred.
  • Ensure patients have total financial clarity before they arrive so there are no surprises.
  • Provide patients an exceptionally smooth, efficient and comfortable experience so their feedback to referrers is overwhelmingly positive.
  • Speaking positively about the referring doctor to the patient.
  • Act as a clinical partner to the referring doctor in delivering quality care by reflecting the GPs treatment philosophy and supporting their treatment plan.
  • Ensure patients are appointed back in the GP office for restoration at the completion of treatment in your office.
  • Send reports, film and case documentation on a timely basis (i.e., the day the patient’s treatment is completed).
  • Obviously, provide clinically excellent care with a successful outcome.

These factors speak louder than any words or marketing ploy. Taken together, they define your brand and reputation as an endodontist. When achieved on a high and consistent basis, referrers will recognize and choose that level of quality. They will want you as their starting pitcher!

 

Your marketing coordinator should be scanning the schedule and referral reports for these kinds of patients and referrers. They should make your whole team aware so that everyone can make their best efforts when the patient arrives.

 

As a final note, one thing you can do as the doctor is find a reason to reach out to the referrer for a conversation … especially a clinical reason. Again, you don’t want to appear to be marketing, but you can begin the process of building a professional doctor-to-doctor relationship. That, ultimately, is the heart of any referral-based practice.

POPPIN’ BY TO SAY HI!

“Poppin’ by to say hi!” … that’s an easy one, and one that everyone loves. Popcorn snacks are a great favorite, and you can provide them in different ways:

• Microwavable bags
• Pre-popped snacks from the snack aisle
• Individual cellophane sleeves
• Barrels and tubs
• Different flavors
• With a movie or online rental gift card

SUMMER S’MORES

What goes better with summer than camping? And what goes better with camping than delicious s’mores? Surprise your referring offices with this summertime classic! You can package up the ingredients in a small cellophane package:

Add a tag that says “To many S’MORE good times and great patients! Thank you for your referrals!” You can also add a note about how s’mores can be made in the microwave at work (about 20 seconds).

TEAM TO TEAM
REFERRAL MARKETING

What are the chances that your GPs tell their patients, “It’s very important that you see Dr. X. They are the best endodontist in the city, and I’ve personally chosen them over all other endodontists.”

 

For some referrers, that may be true. But most of your referrers, it is likely that you are just one of several endodontists taking them to lunch. Their patients are told they need a root canal by a specialist, and it’s left to the team to give the patient all the details. In many practices, patients are asked to choose the endodontist they want … often by who is nearest to where the patient lives or works.

 

Ideally, you want to develop referral relationships so that you’re more than just one of several options. You want to be the preferred endodontist. That preference is best developed doctor to doctor, but it can take time. However, there is a backdoor into becoming the preferred endodontist, and that is through the team-to-team connection.

 

Everyone in your practice who talks to a GP team member in any capacity should remember that they are building a relationship. They are not dealing with an impersonal nameless employee that is far flung. It’s likely someone just down the street, so your team needs to be in relationship-building mode:

Projecting this kind of energy, even just on the phone, makes people feel closer to you. When it is supplemented with the goodies and pop-by marketing gifts organized by the marketing coordinator, a strong sense of goodwill and friendship develops.

 

Then, when the patient is given their endodontic specialist options, a team member might spontaneously suggest, “If I was choosing, I would definitely want to go Dr. X’s practice. The team there is incredible, and I like them a lot.”

 

That’s enough to nudge a patient’s decision in your favor since everyone else on the list are just names that they don’t know. They know something very specific about you: you have an amazing team, and you are recommended by a team member in the practice they trust to take care of them.

 

Everyone in the endodontic practice is part of your marketing team through their daily interactions with patients and referrers. It’s not just your marketing coordinator toiling alone. Always remember, 90% of growth in your practice is driven by the team.  

THE MARKETING OPPORTUNITY THAT MOST ENDO PRACTICES MISS

Referral relationships drive endodontic practices, so naturally endodontists care about developing, growing and protecting those relationships. Strong referral relationships result in steady case flow and higher productivity.

 

Your software system’s referral analysis report shows you who is referring to you and how many cases they have referred. In most endo practices, there is a familiar pattern in the referral base. At the top of the list are your top referrers who send cases regularly every month. These are the GPs with whom you have the strongest relationship. Many top referrers typically send all their endo patients to you as their preferred specialist. The rest of the list are doctors who are less predictable, from only referring the occasional case to not quite sending enough cases that you can count on every month.

 

Most endodontists pay careful attention to their top referrers because top referrers drive such a high percentage of referrals coming in. A lot of endodontists naturally focus their marketing strategies on keeping these relationships engaged and happy. At the other end of the scale, most endodontists pay careful attention to new referrers … GPs who refer for the first time.

 

What usually gets missed is identifying those existing middle to low-end referrers where there is a small but significant change in their referral patterns. Because these GPs are irregular referrers to begin with, unless you are tracking referrals over time in a way that can be compared easily with past referral levels, you often cannot see important changes.

 

For example, consider a referrer who sent you only 6 cases in the past year. Perhaps they do endo themselves, or perhaps they are “sharing the love” and dividing their referrals among a number of endodontists. Either way, to you it looks like they only refer 1 case every other month. Or they might refer two cases in a two-month period, and then you don’t hear from them for a few months.

 

Because the referral flow is so unpredictable, at what point would you identify that something is changing? What if they referred a case every month for 3 months in a row? Would that pop up on your radar instantly? It should because if they continued with that trend, it would put them in your top referrers! Maybe they’ve decided to do less endo themselves, or they’ve soured on sending referrals to one of their other endodontists. In either case, they should be targeted by you and your marketing coordinator for some one-on-one relationship building and marketing.

 

At Endo Mastery, we work with our clients to implement a referral tracking system that exposes when pattern shifts are occurring so referrers can be targeted for effective marketing. Whatever system you use, you need to be able to identify these hidden marketing opportunities. A good rule of thumb is any referral pattern that has shifted 25% or more compared to past referrals.

 

Also remember that it goes both ways. A plus 25% trend and a minus 25% trend both require marketing and relationship attention. And for your top referrers (at least one case referred monthly), you should narrow that rule to 10%, especially for downward trends. The loss of a top referrer has a significant cost to referral flow, and an early warning system when the relationship might be wavering allows you to find out what’s going on and take corrective action before it’s too late.

MARKETING TIP: GET READY FOR SUMMER

Surprise your referrers with a playful beach ball customized with your practice logo! They are very affordable (about $2 each) and available in both mini and regular sizes. You have to order a minimum quantity of about 100 or 150, but that’s enough for all your referrers, plus some left over to delight some of your patients as they head out the door! Blow them up with compressed air from your air-water syringe!

  • ● Beachballs on 4Imprint.com

5 STEPS TO WINNING
REFERRAL RELATIONSHIPS

To achieve a steadily growing practice from year to year, marketing must be a priority. For most endodontists in established practices, the most powerful opportunity to grow is with existing referrers, which is the point of “relationship” marketing. Here are 5 core factors that should drive your relationship marketing strategy:

 

The purpose of any marketing strategy is to create opportunities for growth. Growth in an endodontic practice is driven by the number of cases completed, which is dependent on the number of cases referred. There are only two ways to increase the number of cases referred:

1: Have a marketing coordinator

Many endodontists are haphazard about marketing: squeezing it in when they have time and letting it lapse when they feel busy. A haphazard approach creates haphazard results. Developing strong referral relationships takes consistent attention and effort every week, which is why you need a marketing coordinator.

 

The marketing coordinator is responsible for representing your practice to your referring doctors and their teams. A marketing coordinator must be outgoing, friendly and joyful, and easily interacts and connects with others in a personal and empathetic way. They must present themselves well and have great communication skills when they visit your referring offices.

 

For a typical one-endodontist practice, the marketing coordinator will be an existing team member who is allocated the equivalent of a half a day per week to be out of the office visiting referrers. On these visits, they will drop off little referral gifts and surprises that create delight in referring offices and continually move your practice into the top-of-mind position.

 

Marketing coordinators must be very organized to plan marketing activities, strategically select target referrers to visit each week, and order/prepare marketing gifts, lunches in referring offices, etc. The whole focus on the marketing coordinator is to consistently implement marketing activities that create visibility and value for the GP-to-Endodontist relationship.

2: Have a marketing budget

Marketing needs a budget and most endodontists underspend on marketing while wondering why their practice isn’t growing. In relationship marketing, you’re focused on the long-term relationship, which means your marketing budget should be calibrated to the long-term value of a referral relationship. In marketing lingo, this is called the “marginal net worth” of a referrer.

 

Consider a GP who referrers one case every month valued at $1350 over a 25-year period. That works out to 12 months x $1350 x 25 years = $405,000. Given that lifetime value, how much should you spend on marketing to nurture and maintain GP relationships?

 

A good guideline is that 3% to 5% of practice revenues should be dedicated to marketing. That budget gives you the flexibility to allocate funds for new referrer outreach, for weekly and monthly referral gifts for regular referrers, for periodic lunches and dinners with referrers throughout the year, and for special gifts to acknowledge and thank your top referrers.

3: Express appreciation and gratitude

The marketing coordinator’s activities are the foundation, but the heart of relationship marketing is expressing appreciation and gratitude to referrers consistently and personally. That means that you find the opportunity for some kind of communication to thank the referring GP.

 

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it must be a continuous ever-present part of the tone that you and your team communicate with referrers and their team. “Thank you for sending Mary to our office!”, “We love your patients. Mary was a pleasure to have in our office!”, “I really appreciate your referral and Mary was very happy!”, etc.

 

Since so much of our life is digital now, you can find easy ways to communicate these messages: email, texting, social media, case summaries, whenever you’re on the phone the GP or office, etc. When doctors know they are important to you, they want to stay important to you.

4: Make referrals easy and effortless

Ultimately, when a GP makes a referral, they want to do so without any worries. They want to know their patient will be cared for promptly and compassionately, the clinical result will be predictable and at a highest level, and the patient will return happy and ready to continue restorative care.

The easier you make the referral process for the GP and their team, and the better you can return the patient meeting all expectations, then you become an obvious and effortless choice for the referrer. Here’s some tips:

  • ● Be available for same-day emergency appointments for patients in pain.
  • ● Have a referral card or referral kit in the GP office that answers all the patient’s immediate questions and makes sure cases are referred right.
  • ● Ask the doctor’s clinical preferences with respect to whether they want you to place final fillings, do build-ups for crowns, place temporaries, where they prefer you to refer if the patient requires an extraction or implant, etc.
  • ● Appoint the patient back to the GP office while the patient is still in your office at the completion of treatment.

5: Have great patient reviews

Finally, nothing speaks louder than a happy patient who returns to the GP. Create a wow experience for patients that exceeds their expectations in every way, that they feel privileged they were referred to you, and that they express to their GP how fantastic their time in your office was.

 

The details in the experience matter. You never want patients upset about a delay in getting an appointment (especially if they are in pain). You never want patients uncertain about how long treatment will take in your office. You especially never want patients confused or unprepared for their financial responsibility.

 

If you do these things right, and your team projects kindness, caring and confidence to help the patient through their natural hesitancy about root canal treatment, it’s pretty easy to impress them. As you know, most patients already express surprise that their RCT was so quick and painless compared to their preconceptions. That’s the perfect opportunity to ask them for a 5-star review, and give them a card with a QR code they can scan with their phone to post a review on Google or Yelp right away.

MARKETING YOUR CE EVENTS TO GPs

Let’s first discuss why CE lectures for your referring GPs are a good strategy for marketing your endodontic practice.

 

The purpose of any marketing strategy is to create opportunities for growth. Growth in an endodontic practice is driven by the number of cases completed, which is dependent on the number of cases referred. There are only two ways to increase the number of cases referred:

  • ● More referrals from new referrers
  • ● More referrals from existing referrers

Obviously CE events that you host for your GP community are opportunities to meet and establish goodwill with doctors who are not referring to you yet. Greeting them, talking to them during the break and after the event, and sending follow-up communications are all opportunities to start building a referral relationship.

 

For existing referrers, keep in mind that no GP should have a goal to grow their own practice by doing more endo themselves. The speakers and topics you choose should reflect that. By engaging GPs in growth around comprehensive restorative dentistry, they should come to realize that endodontic cases create a higher risk for clinical failure and lower level of personal profitability if they do those cases themselves. So, endo cases are best referred out as a matter of routine.

Marketing tips for successful events

A great speaker and topic are not enough to drive high attendance. You and your Marketing Coordinator need to execute a promotional strategy where you blanket your entire GP community with invitations, and follow up. Here’s a recommended approach:

  • ● If your local dental society has a regular newsletter, arrange an announcement in the newsletter at least a month in advance and continuing up until the event.
  • ● Alternatively, there may be a local Facebook group or online forum for dentists where you could also have an announcement.
  • ● If there are some influential local study clubs, make sure you communicate with their leaders to share your event details.
  • ● Four weeks before the event, mail out an invitation flyer or postcard to every GP on your contact list.
  • ● Two weeks before the event, your Marketing Coordinator should begin to visit all your referring offices and pop by as many non-referring offices as they can to drop off the flyer/postcard in person.

“I just want to make sure the doctor saw the mailer we sent out. You should have received it last week. I can register the doctor right now if they would like.”

  • ● In the final week before the event, your Marketing Coordinator should revisit any practices that you particularly want to connect with if they haven’t registered. For example, a large GP group practice that doesn’t refer to you would be worth a follow-up effort.
  • ● At the same time, you personally should call any of your key referring doctors who have not registered yet. You want as many of your top referrers as possible peppered throughout the audience so they can influence other doctors seated around them.

Like anything, successful events are driven by an effective system. Considering the expense of the speaker, venue, and catering, it’s worth the special effort to ensure a full house.