Dental Marketing Theory

Dental All-Stars explores vital links between operational efficiency & dental marketing with Gary Bird, founder of SMC National, offering expert insights & strategies!


About Gary Bird

Gary Bird is the founder and managing partner of SMC. He brings in new patients for DSOs and dental groups. He is also the host of three podcasts: Dental Marketing Goat, where he provides actionable marketing advice; Full Arch Advantage Podcast, which focuses on closing more full arch cases; and Dental Rift, a weekly show that covers trending topics in the dental industry.

About Alex Nottingham, JD, MBA

Alex is the CEO and Founder of All-Star Dental Academy®. He is a former Tony Robbins top coach and consultant, having worked with companies upwards of $100 million. His passion is to help others create personal wealth and make a positive impact on the people around them. Alex received his Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Florida International University.

About Eric Vickery

Eric holds a degree in business administration and brings a strong business and systems approach to his consulting. His initiation into the field of dentistry was in the area of office management. He managed dental practices for over ten years and has been consulting over 250 offices nationwide since 2001.

Episode Transcript

Transcript performed by A.I. Please excuse the typos.


This is Dental All-Stars, where we bring you the best in dentistry on marketing, management, and training. Here’s your host, Alex Nottingham. Welcome to Dental All-Stars, and I have Gary Bird as our guest. He is the host of Dental Marketing Theory, and we’re doing a fun episode today where we’re highlighting a podcast. I also have our president of coaching, Eric Vikrion, as well. Welcome guys.


Hey, good to see you. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m really excited. So it’s, it’s basically Eric and I are going to grill you, you know? Okay. But you have a great podcast. Uh, it’s one of the top, if not the top marketing, dental marketing podcasts out there. It’s so educational. We learn a lot. So we wanted to highlight to our listeners. You want to be a great at marketing or at least think you’re great at marketing. Definitely listen to the Gary Bird show.


So Gary, tell us a little bit about yourself first, and then we’ll talk, learn more about your podcast. Sure, my name’s Gary. I’m the founder of SMC National. We are a growth partner. So we look and think about not just driving leads to offices, we look and think about how do we get these offices more new patients, the kind that they want, and that are gonna accept treatment. So we think through everything end to end, and that’s really what the podcast is about.


The podcast is about us helping people grow. So most of the conversations, funny enough, are actually operational. And I know that’s kind of your guys’ wheelhouse as well. And the reason for that is this, never in the history of any marketing has anybody ever been successful on broken operations. As an example, in the dental industry, if you don’t answer your phone, which is very common right now, then it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is, you are going to fail.


And that’s


We’re super thankful, super, I just love working in the dental industry. And the number one thing that I’ve learned from our podcast outside that of operations is everybody who’s not a dentist or a hygienist is in the dental industry by accident. And I ask everybody that question on my show. They’re everybody I’m here totally by accident and all the dentists are here on purpose, but everybody else is accident. They stumble in and then you’re not allowed to leave once you join. So


All right, well, you raised a great roundtable, quick discussion. How do we all accidentally get into dentistry? So let’s start with you. I wanna hear from Eric, and I’ll tell you my accidental approach. Yeah, so for me, I was doing marketing for everybody. I was working with sports arenas, car lots, furniture stores, restaurants, like, and you name it, I was working with it. We grew pretty big too. And then one day I worked with a dentist and that dentist was in a…


very competitive market. And I didn’t realize how competitive when we started working with them. And they grew from about $90,000 a month, 80, $90,000 a month in collections to over 400, $450,000 a month in collections. And they went from one doctor to four doctors. And they were like, this is amazing. Like everything you’re doing is working. And I was like, oh, that’s awesome. Like cool, it’s great when marketing works. I didn’t realize how special that was at the time. Like I honestly didn’t know.


He connected me with consultants, the consultants connected me with other people. And then I started to realize, oh, the reason marketing is broken in dental is not because of marketing. It’s because people don’t answer their phones or they’re not trained to answer their phones or they don’t have openings on their schedule or the marketers don’t understand the difference between a profian and an emergency exam or an implant and Invisalign, like literally. And so as I started to realize this, I was like, oh, what we need to build is something that actually supports dentists


from a marketing perspective, not necessarily, you know, re-haul marketing. So that’s how I stumbled into the dental industry. Eventually we just split off everything and I just said, I’m not working with anybody who’s not a dentist anymore. And right now we only work with dental groups across the US.


Eric, how about you? So yeah, in 1998, I switched after getting a degree in business, switched from banking to dentistry because I got married. So I went to work for my father-in-law and he had a real passion for growth and studying how to make a dental office run well. And we doubled his practice in two years and said, I need to teach others how to do this and had some good mentors in my life and been coaching since 2001 and love it.


Like Gary said, I love being in dentistry. Wouldn’t have it any other way.


Yeah, so my dad’s a dentist. And ever since I was a little lad, he said, don’t go into dentistry. Everybody making money was not dentists. They were lawyers and MBAs. So I did what daddy said. I went, I got my law degree, my MBA. I worked for Tony Robbins. I was one of his top coaches. And my dad’s business was facing bankruptcy. And so I offered to help. I took a $1 million practice, brought it to 2.4 million within 18 months. And I have to say as well, my wife.


At the time, she was my girlfriend. She was a Bloomingdale’s trainer, sales manager. She was a big part of it because like you say, Gary, I made the phone ring with marketing, but you had to be able to convert it. I made the naive assumption that all dentists were nice people that just want to help and make a good living. 99% are like that. Since then, our reach is wonderful. We’re partners with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry. We have a great team.


of people supporting that message. So very accidental. I mean, I was specifically told Gary, don’t go into dentistry. But of course I don’t listen to my father at all when he says don’t. But great guy. And so I love what you said, accident. Wow, it’s amazing how that works. It’s almost everybody. I’ve been doing this podcast for years and I ask everybody, first question, how’d you get into the dental industry? And it’s like 99.9% of non-dentists and hygienists are total accidents.


and people love it and then they’re trapped. Also like once you, I have so much dental specific marketing knowledge, like that would not apply anywhere else. I couldn’t leave it if I wanted to, but yeah, exactly. That’s wonderful. So tell me a little bit more about the podcast. What are some guests, some topics that the listeners will learn about and so on? Tell me a little bit about that. Yeah, so what we do is we bring people on just like you guys and we bring on dentists, we bring on.


coaches, consultants, vendors, and we just ask them, how’d you get into the dental industry and what are you doing right now? And why does that even matter? Like, why should people care? And a lot of times what I’ve realized about the dental industry, especially around like vendors and products that are created, they’re usually dentist driven, meaning it’s like, oh, I need more analytics or I need practice management software is a perfect example of this. They are mainly created by dentists for dentists.


which is great. So clinically, they work really well. But operationally and marketing and sales, they’re horrible, almost universally, because they weren’t created for that you’re not even allowed to use the word sales and dental, right? Like, so it’s like sales never comes into it. And so you get these products that work, they’re very singular in their approach because they want to make the dentist happy. The dentist are the ones writing the checks. Rightfully so I totally get that.


but then the dentist isn’t thinking through, how is this gonna help me marketing wise? How’s this gonna help me with my sales? How’s this gonna help me with my front desk? How’s this gonna help me retain patients? And once you start asking those kinds of questions, you realize very quickly why everything’s so segmented in the dental industry. And my goal is just to keep talking through it until people fix it, right? And so I just talk through it, I learn. And then usually by me learning, other people are learning. Typically our audience is usually that five to 10.


They don’t, you could be in one location, but then Dennis that wants to grow five to 10 locations and they’re starting to piece together their groups and starting to really think about, okay, do I build a group? Do I build a true DSO that’s sitting over the top of that? They’re kind of at that crossroad or they’re at the beginning of their growth journey. That’s mainly our audience and that’s who we create all of our content for. That’s wonderful. And I thought it was really interesting and then I’ll let Eric, I’m sure he’s got a ton of questions. He’s so good at taking notes.


I’ll ask the question and let Erica jump in. I think it’s as fascinating that we say marketing, your whole title of the podcast is dental marketing theory, yet you go into areas that aren’t marketing and it kind of is like what I was saying with my story. We start with marketing is so important or really it’s advertising, but then how do you operate from there? How do you convert the phone calls? How do you do all the other things that are so critical? Cause we want to blame the marketing company’s fault, but often it’s an efficiency issue. So tell us a little bit.


more about that. Yeah, so the number one is we talked to Dennis all the time. This is all I do is talk to him about marketing. And people call me I have zoom meetings trying to help people out, trying to figure out what their problem is. And the number one red flag that I know that somebody is like really broken operationally is it when they say things like this, I’ve worked with 11 marketing companies and none of them have worked. And I’m like, okay, so probably half of those sucked. Right? So five, six of those were not good. But I bet you two or three of them.


we’re good and did drive some kind of success that tells me that you’re operationally not sound. Right. And then, so how is that possible? Well, let me just give you some of the industry averages. So the industry average for unanswered call rate and for your audience, I always ask people, what’s your actual unanswered call rate? And everybody always goes, Oh, we don’t miss that many calls. No, no, no, stop. I didn’t ask you that. I did not ask you that. I asked you, what is your unanswered call rate? It’s, it’s good. It’s good.


Susan, I listen to her. It’s good, she answers all the calls. That’s not what I’m asking you. I’m not asking you if Susan’s good, I’m not asking you if it’s a good percentage. What is the percentage? Well, I don’t really track it like that. Okay, then you’re at industry average. Well, what’s industry average? 35%. Well, but that counts after hours. No, only during normal business hours. The industry average is 35% of calls go unanswered during normal business hours, and you have no idea that it’s happening because they’re on the phone already.


It’s not a capability problem because your team doesn’t know how to do it. It’s a capacity problem of why it’s happening. And then they go, well, let’s do full arch marketing. And I’m like, do you know how many leads you have to get to get one full arch case to say yes? How many? 50 to a hundred. Oh, right? Like it’s just like, how do I even begin to sort through that? So that that’s the industry average, 35%. From there, the industry average conversion for, if you do answer the phone.


is 50% for marketing leads. But where dentists get really confused is that they go, no, no, no, I hear them, they’re converting people. And they are, and they’re probably great with the patient referrals that are coming in. Patient referrals, anybody could close. I could go close patient referral calls right now. You guys could, I could probably train my 16 year old to close patient referral calls really quickly, like in 10 minutes. The problem is, is the marketing people call, they don’t know you, they don’t trust you yet.


And those are way harder and you have to be trained on how to respond to those people. So just flip every time you get a marketing call, just flip a quarter that if it’s going to be answered or if it’s going to be converted or not, then from there, then the offices are putting these patients two or three weeks out because they don’t have room and they haven’t talked to their marketing company. Yeah. They’re just going further out. They’re going way too far. Oh yeah.


Yep, but once you hit that two week, the magic number is 48 to 72 business hours, right? So two to three days, business days out, that’s where the magic happens. Once you break outside of that, here’s the part that nobody understands, your cancellations and no shows shoot through the roof, why? Because they end up scheduling somewhere else that’s gonna get them in faster and they don’t communicate with you because they don’t have a relationship with you. There’s no reason for them to communicate with you. So they just go to somewhere else and you have these empty spots.


and you don’t realize, but just on those three KPIs that I just shared with you, just those three, you’re losing 80% of your marketing budget before they even get to the door. And that’s assuming your marketing’s perfect. That’s assuming that all your marketing is working perfectly to drive these opportunities. You spend 10,000, 8,000 goes out the door. And this is why Dennis go, wait a second, Gary. So I have a 99% re-care rate. I have a 10% no-show rate.


overall, over everything, and I’m getting 40 new patients a month.


why am I not growing? And it’s like, yeah, if you look at the numbers that way, you should not need marketing. You should literally be full within 12 months. Like you shouldn’t have any more room in your facility. But the problem is, is that you’re bleeding the bucket at every step and you’re actually just covering attrition barely or you’re shrinking little by little. And that’s what happens. And then you have a CPA look at your numbers or you have an accountant or you have somebody else and they’re just like, yeah, no, this is out of whack. And it just creates this whole other


problem and that’s basically in a nutshell what’s happening on average in the dental industry. Everything I just shared with you are industry averages, not the edge cases. So real quick, I love just KPIs. I love the numbers. And to echo what Gary’s saying, we’ll do a team meeting with our clients and say, hey, so when you schedule a new patient, two, three, four, five, six weeks out, whatever it is, and you’ve had this call with them, it’s gone really well, and you can’t get them in right away, admin team.


What happens the moment they hang up the phone with you for non-referred due patient? And all of them say, oh, as soon as they hang up the phone with me, they’re calling somewhere else. They all know this, but yet they don’t change their behavior or operations, they don’t change their behavior during the call to change the results of them not wanting to call somewhere else. That is a skill that can be learned in the great call process with building rapport. It’s a skill that can be learned with connecting with patients and making sure they know.


that you’re rolling out the red carpet for them. And oh, by the way, you don’t have to wait two to three weeks to get a patient in the doors. But dentists are so structured from a clinical standpoint to say, oh, I need a two hour appointment with my new patient to get them in. You can always get there, but how can you get them in sooner without sacrificing that two hours? There’s ways to do those sorts of things and still win to change the conversion rate here. So there’s solutions to this if people are really looking for solutions.


Yep, yeah, it’s a big problem. It’s a, it’s. Well, I’ve got a question for you. Let’s, I don’t know if you know this number or not, but dentists always ask me when we look at their KPIs, we’ll get, all right, this is how many new patients you got from Webb, this is how many new patients you got from referrals. What they always wanna know is, how much money should I be spending per capture? I know you were giving some like 50 to 100 leads to get there and all that, but when you break it down per patient that shows up.


What should I be spending as a dentist to get a new patient in my practice? Is there a KPI for that? Yeah, absolutely. So we track this meticulously and reintegrate with the PMSs so we actually know these numbers. Very few people actually know these numbers. And the reason why, here’s why. Most people just take their marketing budget. So they take $10,000. I saw a hundred patients last month. That’s a hundred dollars per patient. And it’s like, well, no, half of those came from patient referrals. You gotta split it up. 10% came from drive-by, yeah.


and you really have like probably 30 or 40 coming from your marketing. So it’s really double or triple the number that you actually thought. So that’s the first thing I gotta warn everybody, don’t do it that way. Differentiate the tracking by new patient source or yeah, referral source marketing. 100% and you gotta have somebody who, you gotta have somebody who basically most doctors are just relying on their front desk to fill this in somewhere. And that’s why they’re not gonna get accurate information. It has to be tracked from the top down, not from the inside out.


Otherwise you’re just gonna get jacked up numbers. Here’s the other thing that everybody does wrong. Everybody, almost everybody I talk to. On the phone, they go, oh yeah, where’d you find us? And then they’re like, I just talked to somebody recently, they said, this is a super GP office. They have like 200, 250 new patients a month. And I said, okay, where are those patients coming from? Oh, like this many is coming from Google, like 80% are coming from Google. I’m like, so you don’t get any patients, like.


I know right off the bat, if you’re not at 50-50, 60-40 marketing to patient referrals, you suck as a dentist. Your patient journey is not good. And to clarify that, because I call it, you have a personality problem. You don’t have a magnetic personality to draw referrals into your practice. You need to have referrals. And if a vast majority of them are coming from web, you’re identifying that problem. That’s a problem. Okay, we’re in agreement. Yeah, that’s a problem. So, but a lot of offices are asking this question the wrong way. Yes.


Where did you find me? Everybody says Google, because where’s the last place you look before you call any dentist? They all say Google. So here’s the question you should be asking. Who can we thank for referring you? And people lose their brain when they’re like, wait, the marketing guy wants me to try to figure out? Yes, because I want to get to a true number. I want to get to a true baseline so we can actually build and grow. If I think that 90% are coming from one source or another and they’re not, that messes everything up and we can’t actually grow. So…


got those are the parameters. Now let’s talk about the numbers. It depends on what kind of dental treatment you want to do. So for pedo, if you’re doing pedo, let’s start at the bottom and work all the way up pedo Medicaid. So you can get a pedo Medicaid patient to walk through the door from $40 $50 on the low end all the way up to $100 right depends on your market. Of course, these are all market dependent. Why Why is it market dependent? Well, competition, population demand. So it’s a supply and demand and it’s a live auction right when online it’s a live auction.


Okay, so 50 to 100 bucks. And then when you move into fee for service, that number goes up, right? So it’s always gonna be higher than whatever the PEDO, because PEDO is easier, because less competition fee for service is always harder, but you’re gonna make more money on fee for service. Then from there, let’s talk about GP. So if you’re talking about like an emergency patient, you’re gonna be looking at 150 to $250 somewhere in there, right? And then for hygiene, it’s gonna be above that.


because it’s a little bit harder to drive that. Right now, here’s the interesting thing about hygiene. If you have same day availability, available, that’s a competitive advantage instantly. You might not look at it that way. You might look at it as a standard of care, which is the way it used to be, but now it’s a competitive advantage. If you can see a hygiene patient right away, everybody can see the emergency patient same day, everybody, because they have room on their doctor schedules, but not everybody can see hygiene right away. So that number is like, you’re gonna be like,


200, 300, maybe 350 and like really competitive, you know, New York market, stuff like that. There’s a couple, you know, exceptions. Yeah, you have a question? No, I just wanna say that every time I talk to you, we always get a nugget of wisdom that comes up. It’s amazing. I’m sure your podcast is the same way. So here’s what I like to know from you. In 30 seconds, give me another nugget of wisdom. I already got like five already in this call, but…


And also give me all the links for those that are listening, how they find out more about you, your podcast, uh, your company and so on. So nugget and links, nugget and links. Okay. So to finish answering that question, and we’ll tie it in with the nuggets, you have to understand, um, long buying cycles versus short buying cycles and dental. And you have, that means you have to understand the two different business models that exist inside of dental. There’s the recurring business model and there’s the, the one time sales business model. So I just gave you all the numbers on Peto and GP.


Those are all the recurring business models. What does that mean? You get them in, you get them into hygiene, you get some treatment, they come back. Eventually you get all the treatment, you get all the referrals, everybody wins, right? That’s a recurring business model. I call it like a Netflix model, where people come, they join, and then they come back, right? A month over month or every six months or whatever. Then there’s the sales model. I call this one, and this is long buying cycles. Okay, so the GP and pedo, no one’s thinking six months before like, oh, I need to go to the dentist in six months.


If I fall and chip my tooth right now, I’m going to the dentist today. If I’m moved to a city, I’m like, okay, in the next couple of weeks, I need to get my teeth cleaned and I don’t call ahead of time. So those are short buying cycles. Long buying cycles are all your specialties, aligners, ortho, implants, full arch, all that kind of stuff. Why? Because it’s all sales driven. It’s in its binary. It’s either, yeah, you closed a bunch and you made a bunch of money or you didn’t and you made zero.


That’s it. And those those two strategies as a business model are both great. They’re totally different ones recurring ones one time. However, they’re marketed totally different. And the way you even measure the cost. So you asked, Well, how much is it to acquire a customer? With GP and Pito, I gave you those numbers with ortho and Invisalign and implants and full arch, you actually don’t look who cares how much it is to acquire a customer walking through, you want to look at cost per start or cap.


How much was it to get a person to say yes, because it’s binary, it’s yes or no. And so you just need to get that number fully optimized. And the rest is pretty easy from there. But getting to that number is really hard. So hopefully that’s a good nugget of wisdom. Awesome. Oh, links and stuff. Okay, so you can find me, the Gary Bird, spelt normally, spelt with four letters each, all one syllable. So super easy. And then…


SMC national is the name of the company and you can find all of our information on there and then the podcast is dental marketing theory But if you just go look at Gary Bird dental marketing You’ll find our stuff and we try to educate everybody including our clients on Everything that could possibly stop you from growing and we give most of it away for free to be honest with you So we have all that stuff out there and ton of events that we have that we do around this and podcast and


Again, we just try to be a help to everybody. You’re everywhere. Fine, Gary Bird. Yeah, I’ll put all the links in the show notes. Gary, thank you so much for being on the show. Again, we’d love to have you. We’ll have you many more times. Remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube. Get the episodes as they are released. Share with your friends, and until next time, go out there and be an All-Star.


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