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Always Awesome Dental Marketing Interview with DentalTown’s Dr. Howard Farran

Dental Marketing with Dr. Howard Farran

Dr. Steffany Mohan: Hi there.

Dr. Howard Farran: Hey there.

Dr. Steffany Mohan: Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. I also want to talk about, I love watching what goes around dental town and what you contribute to it. I love it that you contribute to it, but this week was a thread about, “What have you done lately?” I love that because you and I both are the kind of dentists that can’t do the same thing day in and day out our entire careers. No way.

Dr. Howard Farran: Sure.

Dr. Mohan: Todd Shatkin had Gordon Christensen out to his brand new center in Buffalo, New York and Gordon Christensen said, “Every general dentist should be doing mini implants.” I love them. I love placing mini implants. I love placing other implants, but I think if I had never started to do it I would have been intimidated by it and, of course, there’s a learning curve with everything.

Dr. Farran: I love the tagline, “The golden age of dentistry is over. Now it is the titanium age. Place an implant today.”

Dr. Mohan: It’s so true. Patients love it too. Let’s talk about dental marketing. Give me some more examples of things that dentists could be doing.

Dr. Farran: I’ve been focused a lot on this economic contraction since 2007 and I still think there’s no way we’re even halfway through it. I keep going back to the common theme, “You got to cut your costs. You got to cut your prices. You got to double your marketing. You got to add new product and services.” We were just talking about, “Tell me one thing you’ve done new lately like placing implants.” On our previous interviews we talked about, “Why don’t you place implants? Why can’t you do Invisalign? Why can’t you do sleep apnea? Why can’t you do all those?” I want to switch gears back to marketing.

Dr. Mohan: Because we all still have to get training. No matter what.

Dr. Farran: A dental office, the hygienist has four years of school. The dentist has eight years of college and the receptionists are picked off the street. I look at the stats on Dental Town and it’s still amazes me that about 90 percent of all the courses taken are on clinical dentistry yet when you go to the message boards they’re all whining about their business.

Dr. Mohan: About practice management and marketing.

Dr. Farran: All your bitching’s about business and dollars and cents and then all your interest lies in implants, Invisalign and all the [stuff] like that. I want to share some of my thoughts on, I’ll start with a service that would call my front office and they would record the phone calls. Then they play them to me and I was embarrassed. I could not believe it.

I’ll give you an example. People will call an office, say, “How much is a crown?” They’ll say, “950.” They’ll say, “Thank you.” Then they’ll call the next office and say, “How much is a crown?” They’ll say, “1100.’

They might call ten offices, but a properly trained office knows that in the back, the assistant, the hygienist and the dentist are selling dentistry. In the front, the only thing the receptionist, her only mission up there is to sell appointments. When they call up and say, “How much is a crown?” Our ladies will say, “Let’s find out. When would you like to come down? There are several types of crowns. Can you come down at 10:00? What would be a good time for you to come down so the doctor can look and see what kind of crown you need, then I can tell you how much it costs.”

Then you call another office and the other doctors that can’t sell dentistry are back there saying, “You need an MO and DO and a MOD,” like a patient’s supposed to know what that is.

Dr. Mohan: Worse they say, “It’s three weeks before we can get you in, ma’am.” Not so great dental marketing!

Dr. Farran: Then they call the front office and they say, “Do you take my insurance?” They say, “Do you have a PPO or a DMO, or an HMO, or indemnity?” It’s like, how the hell are Americans supposed to know the answer to that question when the dentist didn’t even know when they walked out of dental school? A person who knows how to sell appointments will sit there and say, “Well, why don’t you come on down and let’s find out. What time would be a best time for you to come down? You can bring down your insurance. We can look at it.”

Dr. Mohan: They’re leading the conversation. Instead of just answering the question that they ask, that’s not what they want to know, it’s how much does a crown cost. They’re saying, “How do I know where to go?”

Dr. Farran: Right, we have a hygienist assigned to us named [Vickie], who was a hygienist for 20 years and she’s been doing our in-office training for four years. We just had a training day with her this month and I went down there and sat there from 7:00 to 2:00 and listened to 50, or 40 phones calls. Just like a dentist needs training and re-training, I just celebrated my 25th dental office anniversary last month and I don’t even do anything with a root canal today that I did 25 years ago.

Those receptionists, four years of training and they still needed more and more training. I listened to so many calls, We should have said this. We should have done that.” It’s a two-part deal where, when I got out of school, the hot new thing in 1987 was the phone book, and I came out here to Phoenix, fifth largest city in America and there was only a couple, two full page Yellow Page ads. Now it’s a half inch thick and those two guys were getting 250, 300 new patients a month in their ads.

I did that whole Yellow Page thing and retail location and direct mail and all that stuff was new and no one else was doing it and it was amazingly hot. Now all those bricks and mortar, paper tree things are pretty much dead in my market. I know the United States has 117 towns over 100,000 and 19,033 towns under 100,000 and every market’s different, but in Phoenix, the phone book is completely dead.

It’s all moved to Google. Google says that when they’re searching dentists it’s about 80 percent from a cell phone and I’m the owner of DentalTown. I’ve had five full time programmers since 1999 and my website, I thought, was the best one any dentist could do because how many dentists have five full time programmers. Finally I realized that my programmers, this is not their core competency.

I switched in 2008 and I’m in the fifth largest city in America and you do search for a dentist around here. I usually come up first and third and fifth. It’s a whole [arch of them]. You live or die in the search engine and what we do is . . . Google will never tell anyone how they search..

Dr. Mohan: It changes all the time.

Dr. Farran: Yeah. But I think what Google wants, it’s in their own interests, is to give you the best answer. Google does not want to give you the wrong answer or you’ll think, I did a search and didn’t find what I’m looking for. What we found out is that a lot of dentists will have a Facebook page and they haven’t made a post in two years. Or they have a website that they bought five years ago and a lot of it was Flash and iPhones. There’s 100 million iPhones out there and they don’t support Flash. You pull up these dentist’s website and everywhere there was a fancy picture there’s just a black square and no image.

What we do is every Monday there’s three dentists in my practice, me, Mike or Brad, we’ll write a blog. A blog is just a conversation about something. It can be about what age your first child’s tooth should fall out, or what do you think about Halloween candy, or snoring, or sleep apnea. People run out of time. We’re not talking about 800 words, we’re talking about three or four paragraphs. Just something, get to the chase, but we know that posting a weekly blog . . .

Another fun thing we do is take an iPhone and we’ll walk up to one of our exciting three hygienists or one of our exciting receptionists or assistants and we’ll sit there and catch them impromptu and say, “Okay. Give me your biggest smiley face. Give me 30 seconds on why you should come to Today’s Dental today.” They’ll say, “Because we’ve got the best whatever,” and then you upload those things.

Well, first of all, when your patient is going to your website and they’re seeing updated blogs, they’re seeing updated videos, whether it’s on your website or your Facebook page, or whatever, but the search engines, here’s Google and you live in Ahwatukee, and you’re searching a dentist in 85044 and Google sees all this activity on this one dental website and then it pulls up 50 other websites so there’s pretty much zero activity so Google’s algorithms with no human attached to it says, “I think they should look at this website.”

Dr. Mohan: That is such a great idea, honestly. Just doing the little things that you just talked about. Those are huge and simple because people are thinking that it has to be really complicated and they can’t do it, but anybody can do that, what you just talked about.

Dr. Farran: Right.

Dr. Mohan: That’s awesome.

Dr. Farran: Back to 2008, it crashed in 2007 and for those of you listening in, one of the terms I hate the most, the United States of America because no one compares Germany to Greece. No one compares Portugal to Sweden and United States, when you’re looking at oil at over $80 a barrel you can’t compare North Dakota and Texas and Louisiana to something like Phoenix or Vegas or San Fran. In Phoenix, in 2007, the city of Phoenix built 60,000 homes. The next year, they built 10,000. When you take the amount of people it takes to buy the land.

Dr. Mohan: Five out of six builders are out of business.

Dr. Farran: Oh, yeah. It’s 2012 and Obama, who could have fixed this in about four minutes, the polarized government still hasn’t done a thing. I realized in 2008 that we have a politically paralyzed useless Democrat/Republican. They’re both completely useless and I realized we’re in trouble for a long time. It’s like if you’re a dentist in Greece, don’t be holding your breath for any quick economic miracles. That country’s going to be screwed for a generation.

Dr. Mohan: Right. Then we better get a little smarter. Play the game a little smarter if you’re in it. If you own a business, don’t just sit there and wait for the business to come to you.

Dr. Farran: Yeah. I realized that I’ve got to massively increase my new patient flow and the phone books were dead. I couldn’t even get in a patient where the gross revenue would pay for the ad, let alone the profit of it paying for the ad after my variable costs of labor, lab and supplies. It’s all moved online, and we’ve massively increased our calls and I want to talk about call tracking, too.

Dr Mohan: Have you tried My Dentist Calls yet?

Dr. Farran: No.

Dr. Mohan: It’s a tracking system for all your marketing. You can put different tracker numbers on everything, including your website. The tracking, it’s all under one roof, which is really fun. It’s really nice.

Dr. Farran: Here’s something that I’ve learned from lecturing all around. We did this. It’s amazing. Most people agree that less than 50 percent of the people that call the dental office, the phone answers.

Dr. Mohan: They don’t get answered right.

Dr. Farran: There’s 168 hours in a week and a average dental office is open 32. The dental office is closed three out of four hours. If we look at just the calls when the dentist is there, we know that an existing patient that wants to know if the insurance paid, or if their crown’s back, they get an answering machine, they might leave a message or they’ll just call back. We know the new patient just hangs up and goes to the next call, right to the next number on Google, whatever they’re looking at.

Within the dental office, 50 percent of the calls from huge studies is 50 percent of the calls at a dental office hit an answering machine. That really wipes out most of their new patients. Then, number two, as many as a third to 40 percent of the calls, the office is closed. Let’s say your office is open 8:00 to 5:00 and you close an hour at lunch, you’re missing half your phone calls. What we’ve seen is that if a dental office goes in there and puts another human body on answering the phone during the hours and nobody gets to answering machine.

Then when you answer the phone, the first thing you get to is, “Thank you for calling Today’s Dental. Who am I speaking with?” Then she says, “Steffany Mohan.” You say, “Okay. Steffany, are you an existing patient or are you a new patient?” Once you establish that you’re an existing patient, then if you get another call, you can put Steffany on hold because you just pulled her up on the computer, you got her home number, her cell phone number, work number, but the new patient isn’t leaving a message and we can’t put a new patient on hold.

What we did at our office, which was amazing, is we got a new phone system and we put a software on it that tracks all the calls. I look at a spreadsheet of the 168 hour week and we were open 7:00 to 5:00 and it was amazing where the phone basically starts ringing off the hook at about 6:00 a.m., an hour before we’re there. We were missing about eight calls a morning and then we close at 5:00 and they were calling until about 6:30, almost 7:00.

What we did is we extended our front office to start overlapping so that someone starts answering the calls at 6:00, even though we don’t open until 7:00. Someone answers the phone. They stagger their lunches and then at the end of the day, we have four receptionists so Monday through Thursday every day someone stays late until the phones stop ringing and most of the time that’s about 7:00. It is amazing because you pick up a couple of patients here and there.

Dr. Mohan: You increase your new patients just like that, just by answering the phone more hours, wonderful.

Dr. Farran: Without any increase in marketing. You just increased your close rate.

Dr. Mohan: That’s what MyDentistCalls.com does, you can tell because people will call back and then you can see the ones that are 30 seconds and then you can see they’ll call back and then the next call is four minutes. Somebody actually talked to them, but you can also see the ones that tried a couple times and just didn’t get picked up.

Dr. Farran: Humans are very imperfect and they’re very funny.

Dr. Mohan: Are you sure because I thought you and I were perfect?

Dr. Farran: I am only a legend in my own mind. Retailers will tell you about the impulsivity. They’ll tell you that if they put a product that’s not moving in a grocery store, and they move it to an end aisle display, they’ll quadruple the sales. I was listening to a guy in business talk about the success of television shows over the years and he still swears that the time slot is more important than the show, the content, the movie stars, the writers, the actors, anything.

If you can get on ABC at 7:00 at night, you’re going to kick it out of the park compared to if it’s 10:00 at night, or 11:00, or 8:00 a.m. These imperfect humans get this impulsive deal where, “I think I chipped my tooth and I got to call a dentist.” They call the dentist and they get an answering machine, they hang up. Then the next day their tongue’s already used to the new chip and they forgot all about it and they’re not even in there. You have to get them when they’re impulsively hot.

This is how I’m going to challenge everyone. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this. A singular, sample dental office might prove me wrong, but on the whole I believe, after doing this for four years, from 2008 to 2012, I believe this. I believe that if a dental office puts tracking software in the office and finds out that his office, or her office, gets 1000 calls a month and 500 are answered, that if he extends the receptionist hours by either adding additional bodies or extending the hours with overtime, but if he goes from answering 500 of those calls per 1000 to all 1000, the back office numbers will follow suit directly one to one.

Dr. Mohan: Every time.

Dr. Farran: If you’re doing $40,000 a month and you’re answering 50 percent of your phone calls, you could probably do $80,000 a month if you listened to 100 percent of your phone calls. Then when you combine that with marketing, which I believe is all digital, Internet, online, cell phone, app, if you get a great website that’s going to increase your web presence, your search engine optimization, tie it into a Facebook ad, get committed to someone on your staff uploading blogs.

By the way, you can’t cheat Google. It’s amazing what some dental office, some companies started doing. There is a company that was writing the blog and updating everybody’s website with the same blog. Google actually, on their algorithms, if you update your dental site with a blog and there’s 100 other sites with the exact same blog, it’s actually a negative. It’s almost like you’re screwing with Google.

Dr. Mohan: You don’t do duplicate content. No way. It’s not good for dental marketing.

Dr. Farran: Another thing Google’s been doing, which I’ve heard about, there’s also been some dentists that are going in there for their tag words for their search engine optimization. They consider it, I forgot the term for it, spamming, but they’re putting in thousands and thousands of words and terms and Google, they blacklist your website. Then they just turn you off and you can’t even be found on Google.

Dr. Mohan: That’s a problem. I totally agree with you. Obviously you’re way ahead of the curve. You always have been as far as all of the digital. Look at Dental Town. Holy cow. That’s probably two decades ahead of its time, easily because who else is going to do something like that? Only Howard Farran. That’s it. Which is the hugest gift to dentistry obviously. You’re maybe not just a legend in your own mind, but we could talk about that some other time. It’s a great thing to know that we have Dental Town when we have these questions and that kind of thing because dentists are amazing and the ones that take care of business really take care of business. The ones that just want to cry to somebody, that’s fine, but at some point or another you have to do something to affect some change.

Dr. Farran: Right. Can I say one more thing about answering the phone. Another thing that you and I have both been harping on, I remember I was talking about this a decade ago, the dentist centered practice where it’s all about the dentist versus the patient centered practice. When the freeways are swamped, every dental office in Phoenix is closed. All the offices are open 8:00 to 5:00 and the freeways from 6:00 to 8:00 are completely jacked and every dental office is closed and then these poor consumers finally get off work at 5:00 and every dental office is closed.

We just saw the American Dental Association, which this makes me so mad, where these dentists, anesthesiologists who went to four years of college, went to dental school four years then did a two, three year board certified anesthesiology program and if you talk to any comedian and say, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say dentists?” They say, “Pain. Fear. Pain. Oh, my god. A root canal.” Here we have this whole segment of the American population scared to death about a needle, getting your root canal, getting extraction.

Come on, I’ve been a dentist 25 years. Here’s a group of people that says, we want to be a specialty so we can go in a dentist’s office and put them to sleep so that the people can have optimal health care. What does the ADA do? They listen to the oral surgeons say, “This might threaten the oral surgeon’s business and even though you met all the requirements for one of the nine recognized specialties of the ADA, we’re not going to do it.”

Can you believe the American Dental Association doesn’t put the patient first and the patient shouldn’t have a right to say, “I want to be put to sleep.” Plus it also would further our image that we’re a doctor, not a dentist because these are board certified anesthesiologist that could have hospital privileges. So the dentist is the same thing. You call up a dental office, they’re all doctor focused. They have doctor hours. You ask the receptionist, “Do you take my insurance?” She says, “Do you have an HMO, or a PPO, or indemnity?” Then the dentist is in the back saying, “You’re going to need an MO, a DO and a MOD.” Does anybody know that there’s a customer sitting in the chair? Back to in this economic recession where . . .

Dr. Mohan: It’s going to have to become about the patient.

Dr. Farran: The last thing, I wanted to increase the calls coming in and then once the calls were being made, I want to increase answering all of those calls and closing the of the sale. Now I’m going to move it back to the third leg and that is since the dentist owns the practice, they always gag the hygienist and assistant and they do all the selling of the dentistry. They don’t track their close rate. I’ve been tracking dentist close rates for a decade and it’s about 38 percent. Again, a dentist could double their close rate if they would focus on selling the dentistry instead of logging onto Dental Town and taking their 18th course on how to do a root canal.

Dr. Mohan: I had a client a long time ago that was taking updated endo courses, and hadn’t done a root canal in 15 years, and wasn’t planning to do it. He just thought he should keep up with it, but his practice was failing.

Dr. Farran: I still have always made a mental checklist of what do the dentists who take home $300,000 a year do more than the dentists who take home $200. I like that list of, here’s the behaviors of everyone making 100. Here’s the behaviors of everyone making 200. Here’s the behaviors of everyone making 300. I still swear, I’ll swear up and down all day long, every dentist I know that’s taken home $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 a year does not present the treatment. It’s always some dynamite extrovert female who’s passionate and enthusiastic about dentistry and knows how to speak English, or Spanish and knows how to close the sale. She always has an eye for finance.

Dr. Mohan: And they believe that dentistry is a great value. Everybody should get more of it because it’s great.

Dr. Farran: Then this introvert geek that only got into dental school because he mastered trigonometry and calculus and physics is sitting there mumbling his words, no passion, no close rate and then after he has a 38 percent close rate. Eagles fly with eagles. Turkeys fly with turkeys so they attract staff members that are mumbling introverts. Then he has a mumbling introvert sitting up front where about five or six new patients would have to call before she could get one of them scheduled. Then he goes back to me and wonders if he should make his Yellow Page ad bigger because his current ad isn’t working.

Dr. Mohan: I love it. I have the best time talking to you, especially about dental marketing. I hope you know that. You and I have a distinct advantage, we never talk to people like we’re a professor. We always talk to them like a human being. I never had that problem of trying to use big words with people because I don’t like using them.

Dr. Farran: It’s not effective communication.

Dr. Mohan: It doesn’t make sense. The other thing is we never had to try and make ourselves feel important by talking that way.

Dr. Farran: Right.

Dr. Mohan: That’s a big deal. I know you have to run. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t thank you enough.

  • Loved this post Steff!!!

    Chad V

    November 17, 2012

  • Thanks Chad! Hope all is well!

    Steff

    November 17, 2012

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