Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A dental practice goes all-in on a marketing campaign created by a hotshot agency. The doctor spends big on a shiny new website, invests heavily in running ads on Google or Facebook, and even shells out for influencers to promote her brand on TikTok.
Then one year and $50,000 later… crickets. Her new patient numbers have barely budged.
And she feels like she’s been taken for a ride.
I’ve seen too many dentists share this kind of story. As a business owner, I understand their frustration. The only thing worse than throwing away money on a project that doesn’t pan out is also wasting months or years of time.
Does your marketer know dental — and how to drive results?
Marketing horror stories, while all too common, don’t mean you should just forgo trying to generate more new dental patients, either. If you want to grow your revenue, add specialties like implants or Invisalign, or expand to additional locations — well, marketing is the only way to achieve consistent, sustainable results.
Good marketing, anyway.
That’s why as a dental marketer, I want to say — loudly and clearly — that your marketing doesn’t have to be an expensive failure. In fact, the right marketing companies know how to build campaigns that are (almost) guaranteed to give you as many new patients as you can handle at a close to 4:1 ROI.
The trick to seeing those results is figuring out which marketers actually know their stuff — and equally important, understand the nuances of the dental space. To do that, you have to ask the right questions.
(Before we go any further, I want to be clear that this piece is about lead generation — marketing that’s focused solely on driving new patients through your doors. If you’re looking for branding, that’s an entirely different approach that I won’t cover.)
Every marketing salesperson you meet with (myself included) will talk a good game up front. But the next time you’re chatting with one of us, be sure to ask these five questions to test the depth of our ability to help you.
If whoever you’re speaking with has strong answers, you’ve probably found a marketer who can deliver. If not… well, unless you’re simply looking for a tax write-off, I’d suggest you keep searching.
👉 Note: If you’d rather try marketing your dental practice with an in-house team, check out our guide on how to hire the right people for the job.
The dental marketing company skills test
Use these five questions to test your potential marketing partners’ understanding of the dental space and ability to create results.
1. How do you measure success?
This is the single most important question you can ask a potential marketing partner. The answer will determine whether you’re going to see real new patient growth — or risk an expensive boondoggle.
Here’s what you want to hear: Success means hitting your specific new patient goals each month while sticking to an ad budget based on those goals. But not every marketing agency does business this way.
I’ll explain further. For the purposes of this discussion, you should understand that there are two types of marketers (well, there are actually more than two, but we’ll keep things simple today).
Ready for ‘em?
Traditional marketing agencies charge you a percentage of your monthly ad spend to manage your marketing. This is the Mad Men model — and it can be highly effective if you already know enough about marketing to feel clear on how and where to deploy your resources.
However, I’m a big proponent of a different approach: results-based marketing. This is something that only became possible in recent years as software has gotten more effective at tracking vast amounts of marketing data.
Here’s the key difference: a traditional marketing agency asks you how much you want to spend and then throws out a guess at how many new patients that ad budget will generate. Once you’ve signed off on the dollars, their goal is to deploy them and see what happens.
Results-based marketers, however, will flip the script. They’ll ask you how many new patients you want each month — and then tell you exactly how much you’ll need to spend on ads to hit that number as well as your expected ROI. They can do this because they have access to reams of data on what it costs to generate a new patient for your type of practice in your specific market.
In my experience, if you’re looking for new patient growth, you’ll see greater success with a results-based agency. For results-based marketers, the most important number is not how much you spend on ads (they get paid a flat monthly fee rather than a percentage of your ad budget), but on how many new patients you see each month — which means that they hold themselves accountable for that outcome.
You’ll know you’re talking to results-based marketers if their team views success entirely as a matter of driving new patients through your doors.
2. How do you track the difference between marketing patients and referral patients?
Also essential is whether a marketing company can tell the difference between marketing patients and referral or walk-in patients.
A marketing patient is someone who shows up at your practice as a direct result of your marketing campaign. This is what happens when your marketing agency makes your phone ring and your scheduling team locks in the appointment.
However, not all patients who walk through your doors are marketing patients! Some of them came to you because their friends have nice things to say about your work, while others chose your practice because it’s across the street from their office or after searching on Google maps.
Why do you care how a patient found you? Because you need to know how many marketing patients you’re getting each month in order to be able to tell how well your marketing campaign is performing.
If you’re paying for 50 new patients a month and you’re getting 60 new patients a month, then you may think that your marketing is going great. You’re +10 on your goals!
But what if it turns out that half of those patients are referrals? That changes everything — because it means that your marketing is only generating 30 new patients a month and is actually falling short.
Unless you can track data (along with every other relevant marketing KPI) on only your marketing patients, you don’t know if you’re spending your money effectively or if you’ve got problems that need to be fixed.
Good marketing agencies will be able to do this. Typically, a marketer will integrate with your PMS platform and monitor your new patient phone calls to determine the source of each new patient you see.
👉 Note: Marketing patients are much more skeptical than referral patients. If you want to earn their trust (and their business) make sure you know how to answer four essential questions.
3. How can you help me improve my internal team’s performance?
One of the biggest sources of tension between dentists and their marketing partners is over operational performance. This starts with a question: How well prepared is your dental practice to answer phone calls from marketing patients and convert them into new patient appointments?
Unfortunately, the answer is often… not very. Converting a marketing patient over the phone is harder than scheduling someone who calls your practice after getting a referral. Marketing patients are often price shopping or exploring their options, and they may not be ready or willing to commit.
And even if they do book an appointment, they’re less likely to actually show up.
Here’s where the tension comes in. You’ll look at your monthly new patient numbers and see that they’re not high enough. Your marketing company must be failing, right?
You get them on the phone to demand they step up their game. But then they counter that they’re generating plenty of leads — your team just isn’t converting them. It’s not their fault, but yours.
That sort of conversation can (and often does) go badly.
But smart marketers anticipate this problem and will be prepared to offer a solution. They’ll coach your receptionists or call handlers on exactly how to handle marketing calls — and on anything else that can boost your team’s ability to turn leads into patients.
If you’re suffering from additional operational problems (most dental practices simply don’t answer 35 percent of their phone calls, for example), then a good marketing partner will also be able to recommend solutions to help with that, as well.
In other words, the same scenario that could lead to a split with the wrong marketer could also help you raise your team’s skill level and improve your operations.
4. How can you lower my cost per patient?
Now, the last question touched on a major issue. How can you convert leads into new patients as effectively as possible?
The big-picture answer here is simple: by measuring your cost per lead (CPL) and then comparing it to your cost per acquisition (CPA). Your CPL is how much it costs to make your phone ring while your CPA is the total cost of driving a new patient through your doors and includes both your CPL and your conversion costs.
(Again, you need to work with marketers who can track this data specifically for your marketing patients. Otherwise, you’re going to get useless answers.)
Measuring your CPA and your CPL is essential because it helps you reduce your costs by figuring out exactly which parts of your marketing funnel need improvement. Here’s an example.
Let’s say your CPL is $100 (that’s within a reasonable benchmark range for most practices) but your CPA is too high — $320 (or nearly double what most practices pay). That means you’re dealing with an operational issue like the one I described above.
Maybe your call team needs more training or maybe you need to start taking action to reduce your no-show rate. Whatever the specific issue is, though, we know the problem occurs after your team receives a lead from your marketing partner.
Flip that scenario around, though — a CPL that’s over $150 and a CPA that’s just over $200 — and you’re uncovering a marketing problem. You’re paying too much to generate leads, which means that your marketing partner needs to figure out what they’re doing wrong.
Any marketing agency that can’t give you accurate data on your CPA and your CPL (only for your marketing patients, remember!) is not going to be able to spend your money as efficiently as one that can.
5. How soon can you start generating results?
I talk to a lot of doctors who went into a new marketing effort with a lot of energy and excitement. Then they watch that energy bleed away as it takes six months or more for their website to go live so they can start rolling out their ad campaign…
…Only to hear that they need to wait another six months to begin seeing results.
Yeah, no. A good marketer should be able to get you fully onboarded within two to three months. That means a website that’s ready for action, an ad campaign that’s dialed in for your specific market — and results to follow shortly after.
Seriously, you should start seeing results within a month or two of your campaign going live. If you don’t, then something is wrong with either your ad targeting or your internal operations and your marketing partner needs to use some of the tools we’ve already talked about above to diagnose and fix the problem.
If you’re six months in and seeing no improvement, then barring unusual circumstances (hey, life happens, right?), you probably need a new marketing partner.
These days, dental marketing is more of a science than an art. Smart marketers understand that.
Gone are the days when marketing agencies just threw ideas at the wall and hoped something would stick. The ability to collect, track, and analyze vast amounts of data has changed everything about marketing — in my opinion, for the better.
If you’re searching for a new marketing partner, take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Use the questions I’ve suggested above to find an agency that is focused on results and can deliver a consistent flow of new patients while lowering your average cost per patient.
Nobody can guarantee results, of course. There’s no such thing as 100 percent certainty. But a good dental marketer can take your new patient goals, give you an accurate cost estimate, and then hit those goals at least 95 percent of the time.
Even better, perhaps, a good dental marketer will allow you to spend less of your day thinking about marketing. And that’s a win for all involved, right?
Ask us these 5 questions (and get a FREE marketing plan)
Book a growth consult with SMC to share your new patient goals and ask us how we’ll deliver. You’ll walk away with a FREE custom marketing plan that will help you:
- Target your ideal new patients using detailed income and population maps.
- Understand the level of competition that you’re facing.
- Control your costs using benchmarks and budgeting tailored to your needs.