Professionals also need
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record,
March 15, 2000
How many dental offices have you visited
where children cry when it's time to leave? That was the scene I
encountered recently when I met Kitchener dentist Dr. Gordon Scott.
And I couldn't help but be impressed.
Marketing a professional practice can be
difficult. Product marketers deal with tangibles, but you cannot
see or touch a professional service. In fact, it's often difficult
for customers to judge services since most don't even exist until
they have been delivered. As a result, marketing plays a crucial
role in building service businesses.
I thought it would be interesting to examine
how three practices - a dental office, massage therapy service,
and chiropractic clinic - use marketing to overcome the challenges
of selling the invisible. While taking slightly different approaches,
each has used creative marketing to build a healthy business.
According to Scott, internal marketing is
key to the dental practice he shares with fellow dentists Doug Jones,
Michael Kalbfleisch and Blair Haley. Most new customers arrive because
of referrals from current patients.
Scott got his start in 1984 by joining an
existing practice, that of Dr. Jones. The two other partners have
joined them more recently. When the four outgrew their space, they
saw it as an opportunity. They designed a new clinic that allowed
them to increase their focus on internal marketing by making customers
as comfortable as possible in every aspect of the service delivery.
The new location has a fireplace in the waiting
room, plus a private area where busy people can make phone calls.
Children can entertain themselves with videos, toys, and books in
an enclosed play area. A computer equipped with a CD ROM and a customized
newsletter provide educational information on services such as implants
and teeth whitening.
A new digital x-ray system reduces the amount
of radiation customers are exposed to by up to 90 per cent and the
dentists use state-of-the-art sterilization equipment.
External marketing is minimal. As the newest
dentist to join the practice, Haley uses the Welcome Wagon to build
his practice, attracting about two new patients a month. Yellow
Pages advertising highlights another important marketing tool -
expanded hours. The office is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 8
p.m. and on Saturdays until 1:30 p.m.
When Mélodie and Chris Porter moved to Kitchener
in 1987 to open their massage therapy practice, A Hands On Approach,
they needed to get to know the community fast. By reading The Record,
they said they learned about business and marketing seminars offered
at the Small Business Self-Help Office (now the Business Enterprise
Centre) and the Kitchener Public Library. They were impressed with
the number of community resources available and found the seminars
useful for meeting new people.
The Porters also joined a Business Network
International group that offered business leads. And they participated
in many local health and wellness fairs, where they met potential
clients and other health professionals.
The Porters had their business listed in
the New Ventures section of The Record, allowing them to inform
the community about their new business at no cost. This announcement
was followed with ads and a coupon, which gained them new clients.
While coupons often tend to attract price sensitive customers without
building loyalty, this was not the case in the Porters' business.
Another useful marketing tool has been Yellow
Pages advertising, the said. Because their service is personal and
hands-on, they include their photos in the ad. "When you are selling
massage, you are really selling yourself," says Mélodie. "It's important
that clients feel comfortable with who is providing the service."
Their strategies worked. In two short, but
busy months, they were able to build a healthy customer base, helped
by referrals from a local naturopath and other health professionals.
Dr. Scott Martin, started his Waterloo business
in 1987 by purchasing an existing chiropractor's practice. Although
it was a successful business, he still focuses on marketing to keep
existing customers and attract new ones.
Martin's biggest marketing tool is education.
He offers free back care workshops which introduce the concept of
chiropractic care, explain why and how it is done, as well as how
it fits in with the traditional health care system. The workshops
help current and potential customers to take care of their spines.
And they also help to generate referrals.
Like the Porters, Martin feels that Yellow
Pages advertising has been useful in building his practice, as has
networking. College classmates have given him referrals when their
patients relocate to the K-W area.
Because of his proximity to both Waterloo
universities, Martin also markets to students. He uses an outdoor
sign to welcome students back to the community at the beginning
of each term. His rationale is that students who see a chiropractor
in their home town will also want to see one while they are away
Lastly, Martin attends seminars sponsored
by the Ontario and Canadian Chiropractic Associations. "Your practice
evolves and I practice differently now than I did when I first graduated.
The customer service side of the business takes time to learn."
And as the above businesses demonstrate,
when you are selling a professional practice, intangibles like customer
service make all the difference.