How to thrive in tough times

Ashley Latter, the author of How to Communicate Effectively & Create the Perfect Patient Journey in your Dental Practice, offers some suggestions on how to buck the trend and prosper in the recession

Don’t take part in the recession, you have my permission. I can still hear the words now in my ears, as my sales manager gave me some sound advice in a one-to-one appraisal, and this was 20 years ago.

At the time I was a consultant for the Dale Carnegie Training organisation in Manchester. I had just had another poor month figures-wise and I was blaming everyone but myself for my poor performance. The number one excuse was the recession. My manager soon put me straight. As he quoted the other consultants’ figures – they were all very good – he told me don’t take part in the recession. This is still one of the best pieces of coaching I have ever received.

Twenty years later, we are living in another prolonged recession, with no end in sight. The economic destruction of the last few years is still continuing and it is making business life treacherous. Whether you like it or not, 2012 will be survival of the fittest. From the crossroads, there are two choices. Path one, stay as we are and hope for the best (hope and prayer have never been great business strategies). Or path two, which is the path where you embrace up-to-date marketing and sales strategies – this is the path that secures your future and a business that will thrive.

There is no middle path anymore. Here is a reminder of some of the strategies I shared with my delegates at the recent Scottish Dental Show.

Receptionists ARE the most important people in your practice

The receptionist is the most important person in your practice. They can make or break whether a patient visits your practice or not. Every enquiry into your practice is potentially worth €3,000 at least, if they stay with you for, say, 10 years. That does not include referrals of family, friends, or having any treatment done. Another thing to think about is that if a patient is contacting you about your services, they are probably ready to make a purchase.

Does your reception team answer the telephone as if the patient is worth €3,000? I recently did eight mystery shopper telephone calls to practices enquiring about their services and prices. Not once did the receptionist ask me to make an appointment.

Train them; they are the most important people in your practice. They can make or break how successful, or unsuccessful your practice will be.

Marketing – how many legs has your business got?

To fill my programmes I undertake more than 14 different types of marketing. These include:

  • sending two newsletters out each month
  • writing articles
  • speaking at conferences
  • asking for referrals
  • following up with clients after my courses and more.

How many marketing activities are you undertaking in your practice? A chair has four legs. If one breaks, the chair can potentially fall down. That is the same for your business/practice, so you need to be undertaking at least six different marketing strategies to ensure that you maintain patient numbers and also grow them at the same time. Marketing is full time – to be done all the time, not just when you are quiet.

Understand that selling is not pushing products and services to patients – it is all about asking questions

Sales legend Zig Ziglar once said: “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” You know what, it is true.

To me, sales is all about giving your patients what they want and need and, in doing so, it will give you the income you want, need and deserve.

Ask lots of questions, listen attentively to their answers and watch what they do.

Never talk to your patients about what you do and can offer, ask questions, be quiet and they will then tell you what they want. Yes, want, because that is what patients spend money on, things that they want. There are probably thousands of pounds worth of opportunities in your existing database if you ask them lots of questions.

The biggest mistake dentists and sales people make is that they try and sell the services before they truly find out what the patient (customer) requires. It is the biggest sin and, when you do this, patients think they are being sold to.

So, my advice is to get into the habit of asking lots of questions and become an outstanding listener. When you do this, then you become a world-class solution provider and not a salesman. No one likes to be sold to!

Pick up the telephone

Seventeen years ago I rang two dentists six weeks after they had taken one of my courses, to see how they were progressing and if they needed any help. Since then I have delivered my two-day ’Ethical Sales & Communication Programme’ to more than 5,500 delegates worldwide, spoken at every major UK dentistry conference, written two books, have friends all over the world and have an incredible lifestyle. All because I made two telephone calls. Have you ever made a purchase and then received a telephone call from the sales person, or the company, just to say thank you and to see if you are enjoying the service or product that you purchased? I think it happened once in my life and when it did it made a real impact on me.

So, why not call a few patients a day at home to see if they are okay, especially if they have had a challenging procedure, and just ask them if they are alright and is there anything you can help them with? It will take probably less than five minutes to do per patient, but think of the impact it will have. Your patients will not only be impressed, but over the moon. They will tell their friends.

Now, if you did this say three times a day, five times a week, over 52 weeks, you will touch and be impressing over 750 patients. Do you think that will make an impact on your relationships?

So pick up the telephone– it is good to talk!

Websites – no one cares that you have nice and friendly surroundings

Most dentists make the mistake of seeing a website as something that they “need to do” or even as a necessary evil. If you think like that it will cost you an awful lot of money.

The vast majority of websites don’t make money and a lot of research has taken place showing that the average time before a potential client leaves a website is eight seconds. In other words you have only eight seconds to capture the interest of your client and keep them on your site. If the front page of the website talks all about you, how long you have been in business for and that you have a friendly team with lovely surroundings, who really cares?

My advice is that you must see it as a very important part of your marketing because it can generate a significant amount of income to the practice. Please do not shove it onto your ’web-guy’ who often is a designer and not a marketing expert. They might make your website very pretty and dynamic, but is your website ’sales prevention’ or is it ’creating opportunities’?

So, please visit your website/homepage and take the eight second test. Be absolutely ruthless! Does it engage you to want to visit all the other pages, or does it bore the pants off you? Your potential clients are interested in what you can do for them, not about you.

Ask for referrals – if you ask, people will say YES

I could write a 10-page article on asking for referrals, but one thing for sure is that it is the easiest way of growing your new client base and, at the same time, it costs virtually nothing, just a thank you card or small gift.

Ask all your nice patients for referrals and they will introduce you to their nice friends. That is how the world ticks and you will be surprised at the results. Just by asking, it will significantly increase the opportunities of receiving and generating more patients. At the moment, they might think you are full.

If you ask for referrals and keep doing this every day, you will build up a steady stream of new patients. What you need to do is to thank the people that refer new patients to you. Simply by sending a thank you card and maybe a small gift, such as bunch of flowers for women, or book to a man, you will delight your referrers and it just might encourage them to send you more.

After all, how do you feel when you receive a thank you card and a small gift as a thank you? It does not happen that often.

Market yourself to the high end of the market – that’s where the money is.

William ’Willie’ Sutton (1901-1980) was a profligate US bank robber. During his 40-year criminal career he stole an estimated $2 million. For his talent at executing robberies in disguises, he gained two nicknames, ’Willie the Actor’ and ’Slick Willie’. He is famous for his answer to why he robbed banks: “Because that is where all the money is”.

There is still a large percentage of the population, where this recession is having no impact at all on their incomes and lifestyles. They still spend money like they always have done and are still doing very well. My advice is to market to these people. Ensure that your patient base is made up of the high end of the population.

About the author

For the last 20 years, Ashley Latter has personally coached more than 5,750 dentists and their team members on his two-day ’Ethical Sales & Communication Programme’ all over the world. He is also the author of two books, the latest of which is called How to Communicate Effectively & Create the Perfect Patient Journey in your Dental Practice. To receive his free email newsletter, which is read by 10,500 people every month, please visit to register.


Published: 16 August, 2012 at 09:52
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