Lots of people are visiting your website, but you’re not seeing many book appointments. How do you convert those website visitors to loyal patients? By Daniel Warren
It’s a common complaint: you’ve spent a fortune creating a schmick website and buying Google ads, and it looks like a lot of people are starting to visit your practice website. But you’re not seeing a significant change in your appointment book. It’s like seeing a hundred people outside the front door of the surgery, but no-one in the waiting room.
Anecdotally, it’s the most common complaint dentists have about their marketing, says Mark Brown, a director of Engage Content. “Often dentists don’t want to think about marketing,” he says. “So when they see a problem—like a half-full appointment book—they just throw money at it and hope that’ll fix it.”
You can always tell which dentist is facing this problem, says Brown. He or she is the one sending flyers out and buying Google ads offering discounts or coupons. And they keep doing it because they seem to get a short-term, brief spike in patient numbers before they drop off again.
The reason it’s not sustainable, Brown explains, is because they’re trying to solve the wrong problem. “Your goal is not simply to get more patients,” he says, “but to get a better quality of patient. One who will take care of their oral health, come back regularly, and progress to more satisfying, high-yield treatments.”
But the patients who respond to coupons and discounts are bargain hunters and emergency cases. These patients will resent how much you charge no matter what the price.
Instead, Brown says, you’ll find more medium and long-term success if you focus your marketing plan on identifying the process someone goes through to become a patient. They start as prospects, then become leads, then become patients. It’s very rare for prospects to immediately become patients. Your plan should instead be to help people move through these three levels.
The magic marketing tool you already have
The best tool to move people from prospect to lead is email. “Email is still the most intimate way to directly contact people,” Brown says. “And the key to making it effective is consistency.”
Very few people will hear about you and immediately book an appointment. That doesn’t mean that only that small group is interested in you. That larger group of people in your area who may want your services are your prospects.
“Many dental surgeries try to sell products to prospects. They offer discounts on whitening services, or talk about Invisalign. Or they run a campaign at a particular time of the year, believing this will maximise their chances of converting,” says Brown.
“But prospects aren’t always ready to buy. If they were ready, they wouldn’t be a prospect. Prospects are far more interested in researching their options. They may even believe that dentistry is one of several options available for them. God knows what they think the other options are–DIY surgery and charcoal toothpaste, I imagine.”
Prospects are interested in learning, not buying, says Brown. So don’t try to sell to them. Instead you should be trying to educate them.
“Often dentists don’t want to think about marketing. So when they see a problem—like a half-full appointment book—they just throw money at it and hope that’ll fix it.”
Mark Brown, director, Engage Content
“And I don’t mean that as some crappy euphemism for ‘educating them’ into buying your stuff,” he adds. “I mean just educating. Making them a better patient. The way to make them better patients is to give them content that will inform them about their general health and oral health, and how they’re linked.”
No-one knows that stuff better than a dentist, he says. And because dentists are so familiar with it, they assume that their patients know it too.
“Don’t assume. Your patients aren’t trained dental professionals.”
The biggest challenge with prospects is they have to find you. But all you know about them is they are somewhere out there, looking for information. If you put interesting, educational material online, though, you have a better chance of finding them. You can also reach prospects through social media, other online health sites, referrals, and sign-up forms on your website.
How to turn prospects into leads
The difference between a prospect and a lead at this stage is a lead has opted in to keep hearing from you. It doesn’t mean they have opted in to becoming a patient. But even to call them a lead, you need to know their name and email address. And then you need to keep communicating with them.
The first step in turning a prospect into a lead is to ask their permission to stay in touch. This may take the form of signing up for a ‘healthy mouth’ newsletter. This is a more appealing idea than signing up to a practice newsletter, the very name of which suggests you’re trying to sell them stuff.
“The only way you can reliably keep communicating with them is through email,” says Brown. “Posting on social media alone will not reach all of your existing leads. And to keep them interested in your email, you need to be offering a consistent feed of good quality content, the intent of which has to be to educate them.”
How to convert leads into clients
The major difference between a prospect, a lead and a client is the amount of information you know about them. The more you know about a lead, the easier it will be to help them convert themselves into a patient.
“You can’t force people to book an appointment,” says Brown. “And you shouldn’t try to trick them into doing it. But you can help them identify the need to come in themselves. No-one likes being sold something. But everyone likes buying something.”
There is marketing software that can help you with this task. Software like HubSpot or InfusionSoft, which are targeted primarily at small-to-medium businesses, are designed to help gather information about what people click on in your emails, and which pages they look at on your site. But the reality, says Brown, is you don’t really need it.
You just need to pay attention to what people tell you. As you gather more information about these leads, you can better understand the types of services they may be after. The way to gather this extra information is to give them more of what they’re looking for. And you don’t need any special software to work that out. You can get it for free from your Google Analytics dashboard.
A more informed dental marketing plan will always be a more successful one. And the best way to get the information and data you need is by building a relationship with prospects, not just with patients.