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Your Dental Practice's Best Referral Source May Be Your Competitors

One dentist explains how early in his career, he came to the realization that his most powerful referral source wasn’t any of his external marketing efforts, but rather his competitors. Either your practice is a recipient practice, like his, or it’s a donor practice. You definitely don’t want to run a donor practice.
Michael Abernathy, D.D.S.
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Early in my career, I realized my best referral source wasn’t the direct-response mailers, new-resident programs, website, care-to-share programs, signs, or even location. To my surprise, it was the orthodontist and two other general dental practices down the street.
 
In a town of 19,000 people, 35 miles north of Dallas, we were getting 15-20 new patients per month from our competitors. How could that be? Why would so many patients in a town where everyone knew each other decide to leave their long-time dental practice to come to the new kid on the block?
 
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Maybe what I had been taught in dental school wasn’t true, that patients will bond to a dental practice for life. In fact, Fortune found that 87 percent of patients will change their physician over a $5 difference in fee. Is it any surprise that they would leave a dentist for money, lack of concern, poor hours, location, lack of competence, or a single bad experience?
 
Welcome to the era of donor and recipient dental practices. Fail to inspire your patients, and they will seek treatment elsewhere. Make every step of the patient experience perfect, except for the last one, and they’re gone. Patients today vote with their feet. If you are seeing the back of their heads, you are doing it wrong.
 
DENTAL TRUTH #1
There is no way to get better at giving patients what they don’t want.
 
The worst thing you could ever do is to push treatment on patients without happily giving them what they want. Let that small fact elude you, and you will find yourself on the fast track to a mediocre, unfulfilling career.
 
You need to realize that if you are not growing, then you are not meeting your patients’ needs. If you cannot inspire your patients or if you are not growing, then you become the donor practice in your area. Take a moment and see if you can name a practice in your area that is a donor practice. If you can’t think of one, then it’s you. The donor practice has no idea that they have this effect on their patients. It is always the poor economy, terrible location, poor dental IQ, or the inability to find quality staff that is blamed for lack of growth.
 
I expect that all my practices should grow regardless of the economy, and they do. The recipient practice grows, inspiring their patients to refer everyone they know. 
 
DONOR PRACTICE SYMPTOMS
An increase in cancellations and no-shows. Your goal should be less than 10 percent. What’s causing this? You are not convenient, and did not sound caring and compassionate over the phone. Maybe you have unappealing hours or days. Or your fees create such a hassle that patients make an appointment never intending to keep it.
 
Receiving few or no direct referrals. Your goal should be 60 percent minimally. This is the one black or white symptom. Few referrals spell disaster.
 
Patients want second opinions. This is usually the result of being too assertive, instead of giving a balanced case presentation. If you want the treatment more than the patient, you have crossed the line. There should be no selling in dentistry. Give them what they want and tell them what they need.
 
You’re over-emphasizing marketing. You spend a greater and greater portion of your income on external marketing to maintain your numbers. Recipient practices do not need to market and donor practices should not market. Don’t look for an external solution for an internal problem. Spend money and time on marketing when you have few internal referrals.

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