Many dental practices can double their new-patient growth without increasing their marketing budget. They can grow much faster without more advertising or PR.
And they can do so fairly easily.
In fact, every work day dentists walk right past what is probably their most cost-effective growth opportunity.
This article explains how your dental practice can dramatically increase revenue by paying more attention to the performance of your front-office staff. It provides 14 ideas for how you can do so.
Why you should track conversion rates
How many new patients do your front office book?
What conversion rates are realistic?
Why it pays to measure your marketing efficiency
What higher marketing efficiency could mean for your practice
Conversion funnel for new patients
What it takes to improve conversions by 50% or more
How higher conversion rates can benefit a dental practice
What a dental practice could do with added revenue from higher conversion rates
Higher conversion rates shore up defenses against competitors
What holds many practices back
How much a practice can grow by improving conversion rates
How to improve front-office conversions: 14 tips
Other helpful resources
Can you say with confidence how many phone calls your practice receives each week from potential new patients? Or what percentage of callers your front-office staff persuades to come in for a first appointment?
In our experience at Patient Prism, most dental practice owners and managers don’t know these key metrics.
The numbers are important because they tell you how effective your marketing investments have been. They're more important than many other commonly used marketing metrics because they tell you how much of your marketing investment actually generates revenue.
How many new patients does your front office book?
Let's say your front office receives an average of 120 new-patient calls a month. From those calls they book 30 new appointments. That's a 25% conversion rate.
Does a 25% conversion rate suggest that your front-office staff is doing a pretty good job?
If you're satisfied with 30 new patients a month, you may not be concerned.
But a 25% conversion rate leaves plenty of room for your team to improve.
Look at it this way: Your practice collects no revenue for 75% of the people who call. That means a lot of marketing money is going down the drain.
Most practices don't track the number of new-patient calls they receive. Even fewer watch their front-office conversion rates.
If your practice doesn't monitor these numbers, you're likely to discover a big opportunity when you start doing so.
A front-office staff that's properly coached, trained, and rewarded can achieve conversion rates as high as 75% or even 80%.
Let's be clear. No practice will ever achieve 100% conversion rates.
Conversions of 80% or more are probably not desirable. That's because about 20% of the people who call your office are unlikely to be a good fit for the services you provide. Your front-office staff shouldn't try to book them.
After working with Patient Prism, dental practices often increase their conversion rates to 75%.
Any marketing investment that doesn't produce revenue is wasted money. So if your front office operates at a 25% conversion rate, your practice wastes nearly 75% of its marketing investment.
Any marketing investment that doesn't produce revenue is wasted money.
Productivity (or efficiency) is the inverse of waste. As you reduce waste, you achieve higher marketing productivity and efficiency. The same level of marketing investment produces more revenuew.
By improving marketing efficiency and generating more new-patient revenue, you can transform your practice.
What could you do in your practice if you could increase your marketing productivity by 30%?
- You could cut your marketing budget by the same amount without reducing revenue.
- Or you could grow much faster without increasing your marketing budget.
If your practice is in an intensely competitive area, you can’t afford to operate with high marketing waste. Any practice that achieves better marketing efficiency could eat your lunch.
If you’re concerned about competition from Dental Service Organizations (DSOs), waste reduction offers a good way to strengthen your defenses. Maybe you can even go on the offensive, as you’ll see in a moment.
If you work for a DSO, you’re probably already thinking about ways to cut marketing waste. Stay with me here for worthwhile tips.
An independent practice generates $1.5 million in annual revenue. It spends $60,000 a year (or $5,000 a month) on marketing. That’s 4% of annual production.
Four percent of revenue is at the very low end of the recommended range for marketing investment. Most knowledgeable dental consultants suggest that dentists spend 7% to 9% of revenue on marketing. The suggested percentage should vary with the life-cycle stage of the practice and the growth aspirations of its owners.
Figure 1 shows a “conversion funnel” for the new-patient acquisition process in our example practice.
Figure 1. Conversion Funnel for New Dental Patients
The dental practice converts 120 callers into 30 new-patient appointments each month. That’s a 25% conversion rate.
Note that the practice wastes 75% of its marketing investment in the conversion point between inbound inquiries and booked appointments.
The waste occurs at the front office, not in the practice’s choice of marketing tactics or channels.
Also note that subsequent conversion points are crucial for revenue growth: Does the new patient come back for additional appointments? And does she stay with the practice for multiple years?
What if this practice could improve its conversion rate to 50%? That would be a 100% improvement over its current conversion rate of 25%.
To improve your conversion rates, you must first focus attention on the performance of your team.
Your front office must commit to answering more phone calls before they roll over to voicemail during business hours. With proper training and coaching, your staff can become much more persuasive in fielding new-patient inquiries.
With proper training and coaching, your staff can become much more persuasive in fielding new-patient inquiries.
With help from appropriate software and better business processes, conversion rates of 65% and 75% are well within reach.
Is it worth the effort to improve conversions? Let’s see.
Even with a 50% to 75% improvement in conversions, most dental practices can achieve wonders.
They can book 50% to 75% more new patients a month, without spending a dime more on marketing. In fact, their marketing cost per new patient declines by 50% to 75%, even at the same level of marketing investment.
Let’s see how a 50% conversion rate benefits our example practice. The changes are summarized in Figure 2. It shows the 25% conversion rate as Scenario A and the 50% conversion rate as Scenario B.
The numbers highlighted in yellow are the ones that change from Scenario A to Scenario B.
Figure 2. Comparison of Practice Growth Metrics at 25% versus 50% New-Patient Conversion Rates
In Scenario B, the practice now books 60 new patients a month.
Calculation of new patients per month:
X 50% conversion rate
= 60 new patients a month.
At 60 new patients a month, the practice books 720 new patients a year.
Calculation of new patients per year:
60 new patients a month
X 12 months in a year
= 720 new patients per year.)
With average first-year revenue of $1,250 per new patient, the practice now collects $487,500 a year in new-patient revenue versus $243,750 in Scenario A.
But the practice also loses about 10% of its patients each year to attrition. The calculations for attrition are a little complex, so they're not shown here. For a detailed explanation of all the numbers in Table 2, please download this document, How to Reduce Marketing Waste.
When we factor in 10% patient attrition, the practice achieves net annual growth of $406,250.
Then we add that net annual growth to the $1.5 million in annual revenue the practice had in the prior year, for total revenue of $1,906,250.
That’s net revenue growth of about 27% over Scenario A.
Remember, the practice achieves this 27% revenue growth without spending any more money on marketing.
The practice achieves this 27% revenue growth without spending any more money on marketing.
What might a practice do with the added revenue?
Here are some ideas.
Owners of new practices can pay down debt faster.
Or if they prefer to focus on growing faster, they can:
- Buy more equipment or offer new services.
- Hire more staff to manage the business.
- Open another office or acquire another practice.
- Borrow money at more favorable rates.
- Attract outside investors while giving up less equity and control.
Owners who want an exit plan can increase the valuation of the practice before they put it up for sale.
All owners could improve their personal or family life by:
- Paying school tuitions.
- Building a strong retirement plan.
- Buy a vacation home or a future retirement home somewhere that's warm and sunny.
For each new patient a practice gains, it takes one away from a possible competitor.
If our example practice continues to spend 4% of its revenue on marketing, next year it could invest about $76,000 a year on marketing. That’s about $6,300 a month, 27% more than it now spends.
With more money to spend on marketing, this practice has less to fear from aggressive competitors.
This is what you call a virtuous cycle. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.
Some practice owners are ready to capitalize on the opportunity. They may expand their practice, open another office, join a dental support organization, or even look into starting their own DSO.
Or they may simply want to enjoy life more, knowing they’ve achieved the practice of their dreams.
Either way, they have growth ambitions. They aren’t passive. They’ve run the numbers. They’re smart entrepreneurs. And they see higher conversions as a clear path to achieving their goals.
Why don’t other practice owners think this way? Here are five common reasons:
- They’re in small, independent practices, and they’re happy with their growth. Or they’re concerned about the challenges of managing a practice that’s growing too fast.
- They’re using the wrong metrics to evaluate their practice. They’re looking at their annual growth rate or their cost to acquire a new patient. They’re not thinking about the number of calls they receive or the number of conversions they achieve. They don’t see their front office as a possible constraint on their growth.
- They haven’t run the numbers for their practice. They’re unaware of the level of marketing waste they generate, and they haven’t considered its implications.
- They don’t know how to increase their new-patient conversion rates. Even if they see the opportunity to reduce waste and improve conversions, they don’t know how to do it.
- They believe, maybe correctly, that their practice doesn’t have much growth potential. Maybe they’re in an area that doesn’t have enough population to achieve growth, or they serve a demographic that doesn’t have enough income to spend more on dental care.
For owners thinking their practice doesn’t have much growth potential, one alternative still offers hope:
"They can reduce marketing waste to increase revenue as much as possible."
Then they can use the added revenue to start or acquire a practice in a better geography.
Note that no practice can continue growing indefinitely unless it increases its clinical capacity and throughput.
The full revenue potential of a single-location practice is about $3.5 million. Practices can generate revenue up to that level by increasing their staff and operatories. But for added growth, they should consider opening another office.
If your front-office conversion rates are as low as 20% or 30%, you can improve them without much effort.
Here are 14 ideas for where to start:
- Monitor the total number of phone calls your office receives at all times of the day and night. Keep a record of the number of calls by time of day, day of week, month of year, etc.
- Note how many calls roll over to voicemail during business hours. Monitor how many callers hang up without speaking to someone on your staff.
- Count how many inbound calls come from potential new patients. You get all kinds of phone calls. Some from current patients. Some come from vendors: sales reps, lab service providers, etc. Count only the inquiries from potential new patients.
- Count how many inbound calls your front office converts to first appointments. Calculate your conversion rate. (Beware of the tendency to undercount.) Here’s an easy way to calculate it: Take the average number of new-patient appointments you book in a month. Divide it by the number of new-patient inquiries you receive in a month. That gives you your conversion rate. Do this for a few months.
- Set front-office quotas for higher conversion rates. Create incentives. Monitor progress toward achievement of goals. Recognize individual performance.
- Record calls with potential new patients. See what your staff is doing well or poorly.
- Provide suitable training and coaching to front-office staff who need it.
- If you use an automated phone-answering system, review your recorded tree. Make sure you provide a fast track for potential new patients who want information. Respond to these calls first.
- Tell your front-office staff to try to make appointments with anyone who inquires about your practice—even if they appear to want something your practice doesn’t offer. Offer a free first consultation. Get callers into the chair. They may have misunderstood or misrepresented what they need. Someone else may have misdiagnosed their condition.
- Count how many inbound calls come from various marketing tactics or sources. You can do this manually, by asking callers how they heard of the practice. But manual recording of sources is notoriously inaccurate. Sometimes your front-office staff don’t ask. Sometimes they forget to enter the number, or they enter the wrong number in your computer system.
- Monitor what happens after the first appointment. How many patients come back for a second appointment? Look at your case acceptance rate.
- Track other metrics relevant to your business growth. Know your average annual attrition rate for current patients. Know your average first-year revenue for new patients. And understand the average lifetime value for your patients.
- Explore software that can help you do all these things more easily and efficiently.
- Seek other relevant and helpful resources from Patient Prism. For other resources to help you grow your practice, please see the list below.
- Use this tool to calculate your new patient revenue.
- Download the full document on Marketing Waste in dental practices.
- Download the document “Dental Practice Guide to Winning New Patients on the Telephone: Ideas for Owners and Leaders.”
- Download the document “Front-Office Guide to Booking More Appointments with New Dental Patients.”