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Second Opinion Scarcity vs. Abundance: What’s True for Dentistry?

Are you competing with the dentist down the street?

Dentaltown
November 2006

Fred Joyal, CEO & Co-founder of 1-800-DENTIST, shares his insights on the best way to focus your marketing energy.

My experience in business is that there are two ways of looking at things. You either see your opportunities in the marketplace as abundant or scarce. This is more than just a personality trait, like seeing the glass half-empty versus half-full. It's how you look at the business world in general and how that affects your assessment of the industry you're in. Dentistry is without doubt an industry of abundance for these two reasons: half the population doesn't have a dentist, and the vast majority of the population either doesn't value dentistry or truly doesn't understand what dentistry can offer. As someone whose business is finding new patients for dentists, I have a unique window into the mindset of the public. And from my perspective, dentistry is the most under-utilized and under-marketed service in the country.

Unfortunately, many dentists operate with the belief that there is a scarcity of patients and of opportunity. After all, it's easy to fall into the scarcity trap. As you struggle to keep your business growing rather than shrinking, sometimes you can't help but feel that economic forces are working against you.

I've heard from dentists who are worried about a practice opening up down the street, or another office doing print ads or mailers in their neighborhood. And they're concerned about losing their patients to these practices. But the simple fact is, unless you're doing something terribly wrong, you'll lose more patients from people moving away than you will from some other doctor "stealing" them. (Quick stat: according to the Census Bureau, each year 16-percent of the population moves, and eight-percent move farther than a county away.)

Here's the basic principle: people have almost as much fear about finding a new dentist as they do going to the dentist. In other words, they are not likely to change dentists unless they really have to change dentists. And most likely, they'll stop going to one dentist and wait years before finding another. So, you're more likely to lose patients to avoidance than to another dental practice. And losing patients is more likely to happen because of something you do (or don't do) than as a result of some other practice attracting them with a discount or promotion.

Other than moving away, the two most likely reasons a patient would leave your practice are that: 1) you didn't offer something they wanted, such as evening appointments or laser dentistry, or 2) that they simply didn't have any idea that you offer what they're looking for. Face it, your patients don't know what you do offer. Reason number one is something you should be able to fix either with additional training or new equipment, and reason number two is simply a perception problem - a result of a lack of communication with your patient base, which is not unusual in a dental practice. In other words, these reasons for losing patients have nothing to do with the marketplace and are fully within your control. All you have to do to hold onto your patients is consistently remind them that you care by sharing information about the wide variety of services offered in your practice.

This isn't true for most other businesses, simply because their marketplace is not abundant. Yours is. According to American Dental Association figures, 50-percent of the population doesn't see a dentist on a regular basis and 30-percent have no dentist of record at all. What service or industry in America has such under-utilization? In the car business, everyone already has a car. They spend all their time and advertising dollars trying to get people to buy a new one, preferably one of theirs. Supermarkets are busy trying to attract business from their competition, because everyone has to buy food from somewhere. This is the reality for almost every business in America. Their new customers have to come from the competition.

Dentistry is the opposite. Everybody has a mouth (I was going to say everyone has teeth, but we know that isn't true!). And yet nowhere near everyone has a dentist. So there are literally tens of millions of potential patients that you don't have to take away from anyone else's practice. They're just out there, waiting for someone to explain to them why they should take care of their teeth and gums.

And here's level two of my premise: I would estimate that of the 50-percent of the population who sees a dentist fairly regularly, more than half of them are getting crown-a-year dentistry (i.e., what the insurance will pay for), rather than what the patient really needs to have a healthy mouth. We're talking literally billions of dollars in production not even diagnosed, never mind presented.

Now, some dentists complain about competition from "discount dentists." Let me just say that there is no worse patient, no less loyal patient, than the one who came to you because you were the cheapest dentist, or the one who left you because someone else was cheaper. Why even bother with this person? They don't value their own health. They think dentistry is a commodity, and they look for the lowest bidder. Let them go because discount dentistry is also the lowest profit dentistry. You only have so many chairside hours in a day, so make the most of them. That means doing all your procedures profitably on willing patients.

Another delicious aspect of the abundance of potential patients is that most of them are operating with older notions of a dental practice. Very often these impressions are from childhood, when fear and pain are exaggerated in a child's mind. It's not so much that these people are terrified of a dental visit. But their childhood memories are just enough of a deterrent to keep them from getting around to making an appointment. So the opportunity here is to introduce them to modern dentistry. From simple things like better administration of local anesthesia to IV sedation, and a host of great new technologies that make the dental experience more comfortable, if you can take someone with a negative expectation and give them a positive experience, you will make a lasting impression.

There is scarcity in one aspect of dentistry: awareness. People don't really know what their dentist can do for them. What's worse, they don't know how significant dentistry can be to their appearance - and to their overall health. The real tragedy is that virtually no one is telling them - certainly not on the level of all the other industries out there with billion-dollar ad campaigns convincing consumers to spend their money (The average American sees 6,000 advertising messages each day!). We need to be advertising in dentistry, and we need to do a lot more than we're already doing to penetrate the consciousness of the American public and raise dental health as a priority.

About 1-800-DENTIST®

1-800-DENTIST has been the nation’s premier dental marketing company since 1986, helping thousands of successful dentists grow their business. Beginning as a lead generation company for dentists, the program has delivered over 7 million new patient leads to member dentists. Today, 1-800-DENTIST is a total marketing resource for dentists, offering multiple products to help dentists attract, retain and optimize patients. In addition to its flagship PatientProducer® program (new patient leads), the company also offers PatientActivator® (automated patient communications and online marketing), ReputationMonitor® (online reputation management), ReActivator® (dormant patient reactivation) and WebDirector® (websites and online identity).

Contact: Betsy Roddy, 1-800-DENTIST, 310-215-6535