Did You Hear the One About the Dentist…? by Chris Bez, opportunity engineer

Marketing for a Dental Sleep Medicine practice, as we all know, is at a right angle to marketing for a general dentistry practice. While the marketing vehicles may be the same, the target audience is multi-pronged and the messages for each aspect of your marketing strategy are very different. There is also the added dimension of being invisible. Perhaps less so in recent years, but still, dental sleep medicine is seldom a topic that makes the top 10 list at any gathering.

Despite that, as marketing strategies are worked, most of us experience campaign wins and watch the practices we are affiliated with, grow. Some grow geometrically, some gradually, but still the trend continues upward to the point where dental sleep medicine becomes one of the practice’s reliable profit centers.

Or so I thought.

I’ve been marketing for DSM practices for over a decade, and have enjoyed success on behalf of my clients helping them build and grow their practices, providing all the good stuff we marketing types are supposed to provide to deliver patients to the door. Recently, however, I was reminded of Marketing 101 and appreciated the refresher course enough to believe it worthy of sharing.

Most successful marketing is fairly straightforward – familiarize with your market, learn about the available vehicles, define the practice vision/message, create the strategic plan, add market-friendly creativity, work the plan, evaluate results, adapt and persist. The variations to the plan come from creativity, implementation and sometimes, dumb luck. Tactics vary from urban to suburban areas, are impacted by social and political environments and demographic specifics but, if attention has been paid to those pieces, and messages have been well crafted, absent acts of God, for the most part a sound program provides favorable results.

Be careful what you promise…

Marketing 101 begins with an old story as told by office staff.

When I was in the evaluation stage of one such “sound program,” I received the following exasperated explanation from “Amy” (not really her name), “Did you hear the one about the dentist who went away to a seminar and came back and expected things to automatically change? Well we have, more than once. Each year it’s a new direction, a new gadget, a new survey or whatever the flavor of the month might be. We don’t know the details, don’t know what’s needed, should get that through osmosis and the fallout is simple, we eventually get tired (sick and tired!) of dealing with patients who are irritated by more forms, longer waits, and truthfully in this case, we’re not sold on the value of oral appliances. In fact, when a patient asks about oral appliances now, we just try to discourage them.

Most patients just stick with their regular appointments but leave the appliance stuff alone. At any rate, we don’t have to deal with it here and it makes it easier. Those appointments always run over, making schedules impossible, the phone calls beforehand asking about the insurance and insurance itself, which is a nightmare and takes way too long to process, well we just got tired of it.”

I could hear the screeching of brakes in the background, followed by the sounds of crashing and burning. She was 100% correct if not addressed immediately, this would be a fatal error for future of dental sleep medicine in that office.

Dental sleep medicine is really a very different creature from general practice or most specialized dental specialties. Insert schedules that go sideways, quickly, appliance repairs that must ship to labs, follow up tracking, exhausted patients who often present with short tempers and bad moods; having to convince “cured” patients to return for recall appointments they don’t believe are required, and medical insurance claims that require more, new codes and often, resubmission.

Early on staff must be educated, informed, invited into a discussion about dental sleep medicine. Being able to emotionally connect to the struggle of patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and the hope that oral appliances offer them, understanding the overall health imperative of sleep, relating on a real level with the vast impact to the quality of life provided by healthy sleep – for the patient and often their grateful families, is essential to development of the empathy that can fuel willingness to deal with disrupted appointment flow, procedures and DSM patients. They need to be allowed to ask questions, push back and get more than a, “because I said so,” response.

Taking time to bring on board, those who will be responsible for additional work, new training, basically for being the face of your DSM sales team, can be the difference between delivering a successful offering to your patients or being stealthily sabotaged. The attitude that persists – positive or negative, is supported with every phone call, every interaction and every patient file.

A sound program must begin with the buy-in of those who are charged with the task of implementation – from the ground up. Deterrent behaviors can be far more successful than any marketing plan.

Never promise what you can’t deliver: Marketing 101, as taught by Amy. Thanks, Amy.

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