With dentists taking on a broader range of procedures than a decade ago, the way a specialist approaches the market place requires specific focus. By John Burfitt
It was a trend in dentistry that Dr Vas Srinivasan first noticed about a decade ago, one that emerged out of the desperation of the times.
“I was in the US just after the GFC and couldn’t help but notice that GP dentists were doing more advanced work than they would have previously, even if they had no or only a little experience in those areas of dentistry,” Dr Srinivasan, director of Invisible Orthodontics on the Sunshine Coast, says. “They were doing it just to keep busy and to keep going.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before this would become more of the norm here, and this was something we had to be fully prepared for as dentistry was about to change.”
And indeed it has in recent years, as more GPs have widened the range of services they provide, and in the process, sometimes crossed over into work that was once the domain of specialist dentists. As the competition between the GP dentist and the specialist has increased, so has the contest for the market share of clients, according to Carl Burroughs, managing director of the consultancy Integrated Dental Marketing.
“What I’ve noticed is specialist practices are concerned that GP dental practices are eating into their area of speciality, as GPs are trying to do as much in-house as possible to avoid referring revenue out of their business,” Burroughs says.
“There is a general understanding that things have changed and we all have to embrace new ways of running our practices. Very often, the solution the specialist comes up with is to market direct to the public with expensive and ongoing campaigns, but too often, that is with mixed results.”
Burroughs believes there is indeed a role for direct marketing campaigns by specialists but claims the ‘old school’ way of working with a strong referral network should never be overlooked.
“Sometimes those ways are given up on, yet they are still so very relevant,” he says. “The specialist needs to consider when was the last time they engaged with all the dentists in their area, especially the ones with new graduates and less experienced dentists who may be years away from trying procedures like orthodontics?
“So instead of being offended that dentists have become more interested in taking on certain cases, the specialists must look at how they are working with those dentists to create new relationships that work for both of them.”
Before any new approaches are made, medical marketing consultant specialist Emily Nadelman of the en&co agency says the dental specialist has to make sure their house is first in order, in terms of branding and positioning.
“More than at any other time, you have to offer a clear leadership position and be well-known in your field for offering the best services.”
Emily Nadelman, founder, en&co
“More than at any other time, you have to offer a clear leadership position and be well-known in your field for offering the best services,” she says. “You have to ensure your credentials are front and centre so people know why to choose this specialist over any other.
“This is about being clear with the way you not only position yourself with your online presence and digital campaigns, but also with word of mouth from previous patients and the way referring GP dentists consider you. And yet, do those dentists who could be referring you even know who you are? If you have done nothing to get to know them, then don’t be surprised if referrals are not coming your way.”
Which is why, even in this fast-changing age of new technologies, Nadelman insists referrals remain the key for dental specialists.
“Referrals are something you never want to let go off as they remain such an important driver for any specialist business,” she says. “Relationships are the key and need to be attended to, and just like any healthy relationship, it has to be a two-way street. You can’t be the one asking for something all the time. Remember, the referrer needs to be getting something out of this as well.”
The concept of relationship marketing, where there’s a genuine approach to establishing long-term relationships with suppliers and clients rather than quick one-time encounters, has never gone out of style, adds Carl Burroughs. And with mentoring so important with the new generation of graduate dentists in terms of career progression and continuing professional development, it should be taken seriously.
“The specialist dentist has to find ways of recruiting a network of new younger general practitioners to work with, and the trick to that is to keep it ‘modern’—get on forums or start your own, make contact with other practitioners, utilise methods like video links and maybe use WhatsApp groups. Just constantly adapt your communication style.
“Maybe create study clubs or put on lectures within your own practice for these younger practitioners to attend. Due to the structure of some of the new corporates, very often younger dentists are left without any formal mentorship and yet that is what they crave. This could be a niche the specialist could be providing, and in the process, creating a loyal referral source for years to come, not to mention a far stronger professional network.”
Which is exactly the approach Dr Srinivasan has taken within his own practices throughout south-east Queensland in recent years—and he says it has been more than worth it.
“We do these presentations three times a year in each of our clinics,” he says. “Nurturing new dentists with valuable CPD is very worth it, but we have never believed in intense campaigning, just a sustainable, long-term plan and real growth. You must take an approach to this that is genuine and worth the referring dentist’s time as much as your own.”