Business is a Numbers Game

I go to several dental trade shows each year, and at every trade show, no matter how large or small, I see one particular vendor who sells massage chairs. The owner, Dr. Fuji, is a bit of a character, and he and his team invite everyone to try the chairs–and I mean absolutely everyone. They don’t try to decide if the person is a potential buyer, or if they can afford the chair. In fact, they know that 99 out of 100 people are not potential buyers. They just don’t know who that one person is going to be, so they offer a trial to one and all, and as a result their booth is always busy, and they attract every possible buyer this way.

Every business, including the dental business, operates with a percentage of success, a ratio of potential customers to actual customers. No one bats 1.000 in baseball, and no one converts 100% of callers to a dental practice into patients. And no dentist has 100% case acceptance.

I want to drive home two points about this: first, get comfortable with the fact that you will not convert everyone into a patient, nor will everyone accept comprehensive care. Second, the way to guarantee failure is to not make the attempt. In a way, it’s like a lottery, only with much better odds. With the lottery, it’s very likely you won’t win, but you definitely won’t win if you don’t buy a ticket. With patients, I say be like Dr. Fuji. Let them try out your office to see if they like it. They won’t all become long term patients. Accept that. Embrace that. It’s a numbers game. Don’t fall into the trap of pre-judging. You only worsen your odds of finding that great patient.

Most practices keep track of no-shows, and some track what a new patient cost them through advertising, but very few track how many patients called and never appointed. I know of way too many offices that train their front desk to essentially over-screen patients by asking too many questions, and putting most of their energy into determining if the patient can afford their practice, or if the patient is a good fit. How can you determine such things over the phone? The typical new patient is an avoider/procrastinator who has budgeted nothing towards their oral health. All you will do is repel patients.

If they absolutely have no money and want free dentistry, or they insist on using their “insurance” and you don’t take it, then fine–don’t appoint them. But everyone else, bring them in, give them a great experience of dentistry, and over the next five years, a certain percentage will accept comprehensive care and bring five new patients to the office. And everything that you and your team does will affect what that percentage is. Because, you know, everything is marketing.

9 thoughts on “Business is a Numbers Game

  1. Great. You are right. I am now fighting sort
    of a battle as I am going through a new practice purchase with complacent employees who are lazy and are resisting change. Payroll (staff only) is 50% of gross and total overhead is 70 + %. They all think that’s fine, I don’t. They think that we don’t need new patients, I do. Hence, the uphill battle. I definitely agree with your points in this article and hope to implement them soon

    • Sounds like you’re going to have to do some painful thinning of the herd, Bob. My advice: don’t put it off. You won’t regret doing it, you’ll only regret how long you waited. My estimate is that half will fall in line with a new team philosophy, and the other half will need to go.

      • Thank you for the excellent advice Fred. I read
        your book and already had an idea that these
        aren’t the right people for my practice. It’s gonna take a bit of tact, but it still has to be done. It’s a very tight knit community so I am hoping to control the collateral damage to my patient roster. Evidently, today, putting up decorations today is more important than filling the schedule.

        Thanks again for your advice. Bob

  2. Great advice, Fred. You sound a lot like someone who I know we both admire…. Seth Godin. He talks a lot about this idea of a connection economy where it’s in your best interest to touch and give to as many people as possible, knowing that most of them will not turn into tangible business… But those who do, when you are able to cast wide nets, make up the difference. Thanks. Great thinking for a dental practice.

    • Thanks, Jack. I read Seth’s blog every day. When Seth talks about a tribe, that’s all a practice is building: 1,000 patients who wouldn’t go to any other dentist and who recommend the practice to everyone they know.

  3. Fred, every practice is a store, every patient is a customer and every business has a door. How we chose to greet our potential patient/customer has a direct consequence on how they respond to us. Too much emphasis is given to increasing the bottom line, exponentially increasing profit, driving new patients to a practice, numbers, numbers, and more numbers. We get lost in that financial cloud and lose sight of reality and the reason we do what we do. Our door should welcome everyone to open it and our practice should offer comfort and trust. Just like any store, when someone walks in, they are a potential customer and if not this time around, maybe next time. I had a mentor who taught me the following: “Never go after the money, it will come to you.” Integrity, honesty, and moral values play a very important role in this. Like Dr. Fuji, everyone is welcome in my store. pc

  4. Great stuff Fred!

    It’s like in baseball. Babe Ruth had the most home runs, and the most strike outs. What if he had batted conservatively? He would not be the record holder.

    Same in marketing. You have to step to the plate first, as often as you can. Then not be afraid to swing.

    The best hitters in baseball only get a hit 3 out of 10 times!


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