If you’re a dentist, practice owner, dental group leader, or DSO executive looking to turbocharge your new patient growth, then you need to find a marketing partner.
While organic growth strategies like referrals are incredibly valuable, only marketing can generate a steady, sustainable flow of new dental patients over time — even if those patients can be trickier to deal with.
This is because, in the hands of capable dental marketers, growing your patient base is more of a science than an art. If you know your resource input, you can estimate your new patient output with remarkable accuracy.
So why, then, do so many dentists shudder at the thought of marketing? Because not all dental marketing agencies are created equal — and most practice leaders don’t know how to choose the right partners to help them achieve that level of predictable new patient results.
Oh, and this goes double if you’re marketing for specialties like orthodontics or dental implants.
We’ve created a guide to help you make smarter choices. We’ll walk you through the key elements you’ll need to consider when deciding on your next marketing partner — so you’ll feel confident and ready to make the right call.
Let’s get started.
10 Steps to Picking Your Next Dental Marketing Partner — So You Can Start Cranking Out New Patients
1. Get clear on your growth goals
Your first step is to sit down and think about why you’re looking for a new marketing partner. Ask yourself:
- What do you hope to achieve?
- Where do you want to be with your practice(s) in the next 1-3 years?
- And most importantly: Why is that your goal? What will achieving that goal help you do?
Why is this so important? Because getting clear on your growth goals — and the “why” behind them — is key to avoiding what we can call random acts of marketing, or throwing money at a shiny new website, social media promotions, and an ad campaign without any larger strategy or purpose.
If you know what you want to accomplish, you’ll have a much better shot at doing it. And if you don’t… well, we’ll quote Henry Kissinger here and say that every road will lead you nowhere.
You should come up with at least one north star goal. For most dental organizations, this will be a measurable new patient growth target: X number of additional new patients every month.
If you’re looking to add or grow a specialty within your practice — like cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, or ortho — your goal might be a little more specific: X number of new veneer, Invisalign, or full arch starts every month.
Note: A good marketing partner will help you refine your goals, but you should know what general direction you want to head in before you start.
2. Troubleshoot your existing marketing problems
If you’re already running ads (whether on your own or with an existing partner), you should take a look at potential blockers before investing in hiring a new marketing agency.
Why? Because many of the top obstacles to new patient growth don’t actually involve your marketing campaign.
For example, did you know that the average dental practice loses up to 70 percent of its marketing leads because the front desk team either misses a phone call or can’t turn that call into a scheduled appointment?
In other words, some practices might be throwing away 70 cents out of every marketing dollar due to what are essentially business ops problems. And most marketing companies won’t be able to fix these!(However… we love fixing this stuff! Our team will work with yours to boost your conversion rates and solve other operational holes in your funnel.)
3. Decide whether to hire an agency or grow your in-house team
Do you actually need to hire an outside marketing agency — or would you be better off building your own in-house team?
That depends on your goals and bandwidth. Investing in an internal team can give you a lasting resource and help you create institutional marketing knowledge that will leave you less dependent on outside partners.
This is incredibly valuable. But it’s also expensive and takes time. Plus, you run the risk of spending big only to find out that the team you’ve built isn’t up to the task — especially since high-level dental marketing demands the ability to track and analyze huge amounts of data.
By contrast, partnering with an experienced agency can be much simpler. Once you’ve completed the onboarding process, you’ll be able to stop worrying about marketing beyond tracking your KPIs and meeting regularly with your marketing partner to assess their performance.
However… even the best marketers can’t promise you results. And if you decide to change marketing companies mid-stream, you’ll have to onboard all over again — including paying any setup costs.
4. Choose what kind of agency you want to work with
We’re going to get a little technical in this section, but bear with us. Not only do marketing agencies differ in capabilities, but they also offer different areas of focus.
Here’s what you need to know.
Marketing agency vs. growth partner
First up is the overall business philosophy. You need to decide if you want to work with a traditional marketing agency or a growth partner.
What’s the difference?
Traditional marketing agency
A traditional marketing agency will perform tasks to help you draw attention to your practice(s) and appeal to potential patients.
This might include:
- Web design
- Social media
- Paid ads
- Content marketing
- And more
These agencies typically bill by the task or by the hour, although some might offer a monthly retainer agreement instead. They’ll also offer you data reporting on things like page views, click-through rates, and ad spending.
A growth partner is a new type of marketing agency that is a little different from the norm. Rather than focusing on completing tasks, growth partners care more about one overall metric: your long-term new patient results.
Growth partners will do many of the same things that a marketing agency will do, but always as a means to an end. Growth partners also typically get involved with coaching your internal operations to help your front desk team(s) and doctors get better at converting new patients.
With a growth partner, you’ll likely pay a monthly retainer and get updates on KPIs like marketing ROI, new patient growth, and conversion and closure rates.
Which should you choose?
Bottom line: traditional marketing agencies are task-driven, while growth partners are results driven.
This doesn’t mean one is better than the other — if you’re comfortable setting your overall marketing strategy and have a robust data reporting system in place, you’d probably save money working with a traditional agency on specific, targeted tasks.
If you’re not a marketing expert, however, a growth partner can help you reboot your entire new patient journey and also advise you on strategy and operations.
Lead generation, branding, or advertising?
In addition to being either traditional agencies or growth partners, marketing agencies tend to specialize in one of three things:
- Lead generation
Lead generation agencies have one overall mission: generate leads (duh). In your case, this means getting potential new patients to contact your practice.
Branding agencies are all about making your marketing look and feel a certain way — by creating beautiful websites, a killer logo, and marketing materials that will appeal to a certain kind of patient.
These are catch-all agencies that are less specialized than the first two types and can do a little bit of everything.
Which type should you work with?
We’re going to be more decisive on this one. If you’re a practice that already has all the new patients you need, but want to appeal to a higher-end clientele, then go with branding.
Meanwhile, an advertising agency is fantastic if you’re a DTC brand that needs to generate buzz and sales, for example, but less useful for a dental practice.
You’ll probably be best served working with an agency that specializes in generating leads. They’re the ones who will know how to make your phone ring — which is the number one thing a dental practice needs.
5. Consider: Do you need a marketing company that specializes in dental?
Since we gave you a much longer answer to the last question, we’ll keep this one short: Yes.
Usually, anyway. If your goal is getting more new patients, then you need to find a marketing agency that… knows how to attract dental patients.
Dental marketing is different than advertising shoes or credit cards or even other healthcare services. You’ll save time, energy, and money by choosing a partner who already knows how to navigate the nuances of the dental space.
And even within dental, marketing for orthodontics or full arch is not the same as getting more hygiene patients. If you’re looking to grow demand for a particular specialty, you’ll want a company with a track record there, too.
The one exception: If your focus is on branding, not new patient growth, then you don’t have to find a company that understands dental (beyond the value of featuring photos of your doctors on your website, anyway). You’ll just need one who knows how to make your online presence look great.
6. Figure out what kind of buying cycle you’re marketing for
Pop quiz (just what you wanted to read, we know): what’s the difference between a short buying cycle and a long buying cycle — and why does that matter for dentists?
A buying cycle means how long potential patients will research their options before saying yes to treatment. This is an important factor in dental marketing because different specialties run on different buying cycles.
Most general dentistry operates on a short buying cycle. If you need a cleaning or a filling, you’re probably not going to spend six months carefully evaluating your options.
More likely, you’ll Google “dentist near me,” look at two or three different local practices, and pick the one with the most five-star reviews. Simple.
But if you’re looking for high-dollar work like implants (or for many patients, orthodontic care), you’re going to put in a lot more time and thought before making a decision. Almost nobody is going to spend five figures on a whim.
This means that you — and your marketing partner — need to understand which buying cycle you’re doing marketing for. Depending on your buying cycle, you’ll use different marketing strategies: a straightforward funnel for short cycle patients and more complex options like video targeting and ongoing lead nurturing for long cycle patients.
7. Identify your essential KPIs
This. Is. Really. Important.
Tracking the right KPIs is the only way you can measure — and improve — your marketing campaign. Keeping a close eye on key data points will help you understand what’s working and what isn’t.
However, putting your energy into the wrong KPIs can make it hard to see how your marketing investment is translating into results (or lack thereof).
This is a common problem that practices face with marketing partners. They might work with a company that sends them long reports on PPC bids, click-through rates, and page views… but none of these data points translate directly into new patient growth.
We’re big on nine key KPIs that do. However, if you’re just starting out, here are the top three to focus on:
- Cost per lead
- Cost per new patient
- Total schedule rate
What is cost per lead?
Cost per lead is how much you pay to get a single new marketing patient to contact your practice about a potential appointment. This KPI measures the performance of your marketing funnel from your ads up until the moment your phone rings.
What is cost per new patient?
Cost per acquisition is essentially your cost per lead plus conversion costs. It’s the total dollar amount that you spend to generate a new marketing patient, bring them through your doors, and get them to accept treatment.
What is total schedule rate?
Phone conversion rate tracks how well you’re able to turn a call, a chat message, or any other initial contact from a potential new marketing patient into a scheduled appointment. Knowing this number is key to eliminating what we call the “black hole of marketing” — or the fact that, as we said above, many dental practices throw away up to 70 percent of their marketing budget because they can’t consistently answer or close on the phone.
What to look for in a marketing partner?
A good dental marketing agency will routinely track these numbers and share them with you. They’ll understand what each KPI means and how to use them to improve your overall marketing performance, and lower your per-patient acquisition costs.
Really important: Any marketing partner worth their salt will track these KPIs for marketing patients only. If you muddy the data pool by including your referral patients, then you won’t have any idea what your marketing results really look like.
8. Ask for referrals from other dentists
Google is (of course) a great place to start looking for marketing agencies. But we’re big believers in the power of referrals.
We’ve been lucky enough to have many of our own clients sent our way by friends in the industry, and we suggest that you take a similar approach when looking for a marketing partner of your own.
Ask your fellow practice owners or dental executives for advice. Who have they worked with in the past? What kind of experience did they have: good or bad?
And most of all: Did they get the results they were looking for?
Dental is small enough that a lot of us know each other. Take advantage of that!
9. Meet with different options and ask them 5 key questions
Once you’ve found three or four different agencies you think could be a fit, then you’ll want to meet with each of them to talk about your growth goals.
Consider everything you’ve already thought through above. Each of these factors is something you can talk about with a potential marketing partner.
We suggest that you ask each company five key questions to help you better understand if they know their stuff:
- How do you measure success? What are the marketing and conversion KPIs that each company pays attention to?
- How do you track the difference between marketing and referral patients? Remember, like we said above, if a marketing company can’t distinguish between marketing patients and non-marketing patients in their tracking data, they’ll have no idea how well they’re actually performing — or how to improve.
- How can you help me improve my internal team’s conversion performance? Good marketing partners understand that each practice’s front desk team serves as the closers for scheduling new patients and will work with them to improve their conversion skills.
- How can you lower my per-patient marketing costs?
Over time, a marketing company should have a clear strategy to optimize its campaign for better efficiency.
- How soon can you start generating results? Nobody wants to wait nine months to start seeing progress.
We’ll run you through each one of these questions in greater detail in our guide below.
Once you’ve put each potential marketing partner through their paces and heard their answers to the five key interview questions, you’ll be ready to start making your decisions. Obviously, you’ll want to consider factors like price, reputation, and your overall gut instinct on what feels right.
We also recommend asking to see case studies or testimonials from current clients. This can offer a useful perspective.
Then make your call and let your new marketing team get to work!