What is internal marketing?
By “internal marketing,” I mean those actions you can do within your practice or with your existing patient base to a) increase the number of referrals from your patients and b) get your existing patients into the practice for treatment.
Internal marketing is normally the fastest way to fill your chair and boost production. External marketing for new patients (mailers, ads, online marketing, etc.) is of equal importance of course, but costs more and may take more time to see an effect.
So in this blog post, I want to cover some of the most effective internal marketing actions that you should be doing on a regular basis.
I. Referral & Reactivation Programs
Now, the first two things you should implement are a referral program and a patient reactivation program. But I’m not going to rehash those here, because they’ve already been covered at length in other articles on the MGE blog.
To learn how you can reactivate your inactive patients, read this article.
The next internal marketing action I’d like cover is:
II. Reaching out to patients with pending treatment.
Now, before we continue, I want you to do something:
Open up your practice management software and take a look at how much unscheduled treatment there is in your practice.
(Your software should be able to create this report for you easily.)
I’d bet if you add all of it up, it amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of production. At least, that’s the average amount I’ve seen when dentists pull up this report for the first time.
That’s all production you could be doing right now–without seeing a single new patient!
It’s crazy to me that someone would spend all this money trying to advertise for new patients while at the same time virtually (or actually) ignoring the unscheduled treatment already sitting in their charts! Especially because it’s going to be far easier to reach and schedule a patient of record (even if they haven’t been to your office in years); than someone who’s never been to or heard of your practice.
So let’s put some focus on reaching out to these patients who never followed through with their treatment plans.
Create a list of all the patients who have pending treatment in the last year (or even further back), and make a concerted effort to reach out to these patients on a regular basis. I suggest writing personal letters, emails, and making phone calls.
I’ve seen many offices that sporadically try to reach some of these patients over the phone, but then they don’t reach many patients and it eventually falls by the wayside because nobody has the time to follow it through.
Simply having an employee make some phone calls “when they have the time” isn’t enough. You need to set a target for the number of letters, emails, or phone calls that should go out every week, and make sure it happens.
Who should do this?
All the staff can contribute to this (including the back office staff, (hygienists, assistants and even the doctor(s), who often have the best relationships with the patients). Everybody gets a target for letters or phone calls to make every week, and is responsible for seeing that it gets done–no matter how busy the office is.
I suggest doing this bit by bit on a weekly basis, instead of one big blast every other month, to keep things consistently productive.
If you have a Treatment Coordinator in your office, this should be a part of their job. But if you don’t, other staff will need to get involved.
Content of the pending treatment letters
Writing out a personal letter for each patient is best, but if there simply isn’t enough time, you can use a template and just customize at the top of the letter. The important thing is that you communicate to the patients that you care about them. You’re concerned because they have oral health issues, and you want them to come back into the office.
When All Else Fails
Now, something to look at is that in most cases, the reason these people didn’t schedule is they weren’t “sold” on doing the treatment. So, what do you do? If a patient won’t go ahead and schedule for their outstanding treatment, you have two options:
Schedule them for a consultation with the doctor. (the doctor can then handle any questions and so on and “close” the patient for their treatment plan), or
Get them in for their next hygiene appointment (if applicable – if a patient has periodontal issues and their next step would be some form of perio therapy then you would do “a” above.
And keep in mind, the further back you go on this list, the more potential that things have changed in their treatment plan. For example, if you’re calling someone to come in for a treatment plan that is four years old, chances are things have changed. Well then, call them in for “a” or “b” above and you can sort things out when they come in.
III. Quarterly Newsletters to your Patient Base
The next internal marketing action you should be doing as a matter of course is sending periodical newsletters to all of your patients. If you have the time and funds to do this monthly, fantastic! But if not, at least send it once a quarter (four times a year).
These newsletters should go out to everybody you’ve ever seen in your practice (unless they’ve moved away, passed away, or specifically asked you not to contact them anymore). It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen this patient in seven years. For all you know, they still think of you as their dentist. Or even if they went to a new dentist, who knows what could happen… maybe they liked you better and will come back. So don’t get picky or just send it to active patients.
This newsletter should be both mailed AND emailed. I doubt you have the email addresses for every single patient you ever seen, and even if you do, some people filter out promotional emails or ignore them, so you can only be sure to reach everybody by doing both.
Pick a theme
Each newsletter should have a theme–and that theme should be one particular service you offer that you’d like patients to come in for or know about.
So perhaps one newsletter could be about ortho, or particularly Invisalign, if you offer it. The next one could be about veneers or cosmetic dentistry in general. Then perhaps the next one is about restorative dentistry, another about implants, gum disease, and so on and so on.
Then after you’ve sent a few newsletters, you can evaluate which ones got the best response and adjust your future newsletters accordingly.
What content should go inside the newsletter?
Keep these newsletters simple and easy to read. Sure, include some educational material, but don’t make it very technical or long-winded. Use easy-to-understand layman’s terms. Use nice photos to show it. Definitely include testimonials from patients, as well.
Include an incentive!
An incentive is what gets a patient to actually pick up the phone and schedule an appointment–so don’t forget it!
It should be relevant to the theme of the newsletter. If the theme is Invisalign, perhaps it’s a coupon for a certain percent off of Invisalign and so on. Come up with some kind of special offer and make it sound attractive in the newsletter. Let that special offer run for a few months, until you get a new special offer for the next newsletter.
And these special offers aren’t just for your patients. Encourage your patients to refer their friends and family in to take advantage of that same offer. Their friends and family may have as much interest in the incentives as the patient themselves.
IV. Collect Email Addresses… and Use Them!
At MGE, we often preach the importance of reaching out to your patients regularly and “outflowing” from your practice. That’s the crux to getting patients to come in the door and keeping busy. Well, sending an email is by far the cheapest and quickest way to do this. It’s so easy!
There’s really no reason not to do email marketing.
But before you can do email marketing, you must have email addresses to market to. So you should collect the email address of everybody who calls the office. And if you can’t get their email address over the phone, then at least get the email addresses of everyone who sets foot in the office.
Don’t overlook this. Stress the importance of collecting everyone’s email address to your front desk workers and make sure they do it.
As a side note, I would use a service such as “Constant Contact,” “Mailchimp,” “Aweber” or something similar for any “bulk” emails that you do. This helps to ensure that you’re following the best practices with relation to email marketing and also keeps your emails from becoming “spam.” You simply enter the email addresses into the website, then create the email you want to send using their templates, and they send it for you.
What should you email your patients?
On an individual basis, you can do appointment reminders, reactivation letters, birthday wishes, etc.
On a mass email basis (sending out an email to hundreds or thousands of people at the same time) you should do newsletters, special offers, or interesting educational material (about a service that you’re running a special offer for).
You may fear that you’ll offend people by sending them emails, but there’s really no need to worry as long as you keep it friendly, polite, and don’t bombard them with way too many emails. One or two a month should suffice. Nobody wants to hear from their dentist every single day, but once or twice a month doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings. And if anyone really doesn’t want to see your emails, the email services I listed above give people the option of “unsubscribing” from your list, which means the email service will automatically skip them in future email blasts.
Those are the most generally effective actions I’ve seen for internal marketing. If you’re doing all of those (referral program, reactivation program, pending treatment letters, newsletters, and email marketing), you’re doing a fantastic job and keeping a great level of contact with your patients.
So best of luck! And if you have any other questions or need help implementing these things, give us a call here at MGE. We love to help!