Problem: I'd like to boost my laboratory's name recognition in my local community. What are some low-cost public relations strategies?
Strategy: Public relations initiatives are a valuable way to promote your company without having to spend big bucks. They can enhance your credibility and help build your name recognition within your community and amongst potential clients. Here are some ideas to get your lab name out there and keep it visible:
• Call your local paper's health editor and offer to answer any questions he may have or send a letter to the editor offering your perspective on a topic that may be of interest to the paper's readers, like cosmetic dentistry or concerns about lead in restorations. Also, when you have a noteworthy business development, such as opening a new denture department, a 10-year anniversary in business or a charitable event, send a press release to the local newspaper.
• Speak before civic organizations and senior groups on relevant patient-education topics, such as new restorative options.
• Sponsor a local youth sports team and be amazed by the visibility your lab's name will have on the backs of 12 Little Leaguers.
• Take out a small ad in the programs distributed at local arts group events, such as a play or concert.
Problem: In this challenging economy, I need to save every penny so I'm scaling back my marketing efforts.
Strategy: When times are tough, often the first thing to get slashed is the marketing budget--but this is the time to ramp up your promotional efforts, not scale back. If your clients are sending less work, you need more customers than before to maintain your regular workload.
For many laboratory owners, seeking out new clients means expanding target markets or implementing new promotional efforts in order to keep a steady stream of cases coming in the door. For instance, Larry Shields, Owner, Shields Dental Laboratory, Whitehall, MI, targeted general dentists and removable prosthodontists with a newly designed brochure. "I think a lot of small laboratories may just tighten their belts, so we had a good opportunity to gain some new accounts outside of our immediate market," says Shields. "We highlighted our partial framework services--in this economy, I think more patients are opting for removable appliances versus a fixed bridge or implants--and then we followed up with information on our full denture and bite splint services." The strategy worked: Shields picked up two new accounts who are now sending their full denture work as well.
Problem: Many of my dentist-clients are retiring and I need to get some younger clients on board.
Strategy: A diverse roster of clients is always an important ingredient in a healthy business, but as baby-boomer dentists eye retirement, the issue is coming front and center. Many lab owners are making it a point to seek out new graduates, and believe that providing them with extra attention now promotes loyalty in the future. Here are three ways to reach out to the younger generation: Network with your area dental schools and offer yourself as a resource to students and new graduates, or offer to give a presentation on the importance of a good laboratory-dentist relationship.
Hold an open house for students from local dental schools and introduce your staff, show your work processes and offer hands-on demonstrations. A personal touch can help begin a relationship.
Stay abreast--via public record--of dentists who have recently earned their licenses. Send them a congratulatory letter, along with an invitation to the lab and an offer to help them find a practice in need of an associate.
Problem: I have a good roster of clients, but I know I'm not getting all of their work.
Strategy: Cross selling your services to existing customers--rather than new accounts--is easier because they already know you and your work and they're more likely to be enticed to try your other offerings. Given that most dentists use at least two laboratories, try to hone in on why your clients are sending work to another lab; it may be that they are simply unaware of all the services you offer.
Here are some other cross-selling strategies:
• Every case that leaves your lab should have a case stuffer about the other services you offer.
• Offer a "no-hassle" return policy to clients who want to try another department in your lab; promise a full refund if the dentist isn't happy with the case.
• Train staff to continuously look for cross-selling opportunities. For instance, if your lab is making a crown that is going to receive a partial and the dentist is sending the partial case elsewhere, have the manager remind him that you have equally qualified partial technicians on staff.
Even smaller labs without multiple departments can use this cross-selling strategy for specialty restorations. "I'm spending more time with clients emphasizing our sleep apnea devices because it's an untapped area in many of their practices. The steady growth is helping my bottom line," says Joseph Ribbens, Dentek Dental Studio, Inc., Green Bay, WI.
Problem: Referrals used to be my biggest source of new business but lately they've really dried up.
Strategy: Referrals are an invaluable source of new business--when dentists are looking for a new laboratory, they are most often persuaded by another dentist's recommendation. Here are three strategies for reeling in referrals:
• Ask current clients for referrals and thank them with a note or gift certificate.
• Ask dentist-clients for testimonials and use them when you call on prospective clients and in your marketing materials. In addition to soliciting general opinions of your laboratory, be sure to ask for details. For instance, ask your clients if they've ever had a "wow" experience with your laboratory such as meeting a seemingly impossible deadline or taking a last minute case--and include the description in the testimonial. Consider writing a testimonial about the quality of the dentist's work first--which he can use as a marketing tool--and then asking him to return the favor.
• One valuable--but often overlooked--way to get referrals is through manufacturer sales representatives. Make a point to establish good relationships with your vendors and provide them with photos or samples of your laboratory's work featuring that manufacturer's system or products. Include your laboratory name and contact information on the back. Even if the reps don't refer you to a customer directly, they will frequently be asked who made the sample.
Problem: I'd like to use social media to connect with dentists, but I'm not sure how to go about it.
Strategy: Similar to how they view their websites, laboratory owners don't necessarily see social media as a way to generate new business, but as a complement to their overall marketing efforts and yet another way to stay connected and visible to clients and potential clients alike.
For instance, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn provide a simple method of disseminating information. "We use Facebook as a quick and no-cost way to keep in touch with our customers and as a vehicle for getting the word out about our upcoming courses, promotions, new materials or amazing before-and-after photos," says Jim Thacker, Vice President at Utah Valley Dental Lab, Provo, UT.
Since the goal on Twitter is to get the attention of dentist-users and gain them as "followers," some labs offer coupons and send tweets such as "Been doing a lot of implants and lithium disilicate (e.max) lately. Are PFMs going the way of the dinosaur or is it the cost of gold?" to generate conversation.
Tip: On Facebook, create a "business" page rather than a "personal" one. With a business page, Facebook users simply click the "Like" button to have instant access to your content. A personal page requires the user to send you a "friend request" which means he can't access your content until you confirm the request.
Problem: Everyone says I should have a website, but I don't see why I need one.
Strategy: While a website may not be a new-business generator, it's an important complement to your total marketing package and an effective way to expand your marketing outreach. Here's an idea of the information your site should contain:
Include the basics: Your website can act as an extension of your printed business card. Having your lab's contact information, products and services easily accessible with a click of the mouse not only reinforces the legitimacy of your company but also provides a useful resource tool for your clients.
Make it personal: It's useful--and comforting--for potential clients to see the experience and skills your lab has to offer. Post your name and the names and photos of your employees along with descriptions of your experience to reassure potential clients that highly educated and skilled technicians are doing the work.
Brag: Post before-and-after photos and case studies so potential clients can see the results of your most challenging cases.
Be informative: The amount of informative material a website can contain is endless. Products, prep guides, bonding information, MSDSs, technical manuals and answers to frequently asked questions are all valuable sources of information.
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