This article originally appeared in January/2023 on DentistryToday.com.
How Does Your Practice Handle Sales Leads?
By: Jackie Ulasewich Cullen
Is your practice taking advantage of every sales opportunity that comes its way during the day? Does your staff know what sales leads look like? Surprisingly, while many dental practices believe they are capitalizing on all the opportunities they receive to sell to patients, they are actually not.
They fail to recognize the biggest source of leads coming in every single day — new patient calls and online inquiries.
WHAT IS A SALES LEAD?
A sales lead is any opportunity to sell a product or service to an interested customer, or patient for a dental practice. While this may seem obvious, sometimes, especially during a busy workday, opportunities go unnoticed and slip away because the focus is on getting work done rather than responding properly to phone calls and online requests. It is often the case that office personnel responsible for answering the phones and responding to online inquiries have not been taught to think of these as sales opportunities, or they have simply had no sales training.
Whatever the case may be, anytime a new patient calls or fills out a form online requesting more information, it is a signal to put on your sales hat.
Anyone who contacts your practice interested in learning more about your services is a potential new buyer, and they should be treated as such. Just like in any retail setting, every person you come into contact with represents an opportunity to make a sale, and treating them in any other way is like throwing money out the window. When you go to a car dealership or even a clothing store, for example, they don’t let you escape without trying to get you to buy something. That is how it should be when a potential new patient contacts your practice.
After working with dental practices for so long, we have seen firsthand what happens to new patient inquiries and phone calls. More often than not, they just fall through the cracks. Either no one follows up on the online form submission or they are left unanswered for too long. This is discouraging to potential new patients, who would just as soon find a different dentist that is more responsive.
When someone calls on the phone during business hours, the call is frequently rushed because the team member answering the phone is only interested in the essential details so they can get an appointment on the books and move on to other important tasks. Unfortunately, rather than recognizing these calls as the opportunities they are, they see them as interruptions, because they have so many hats to wear in the office, and tend to rush the process.
Online appointment request forms:
So many dental offices lack a robust, consistent system for responding to the requests that come in online. We have seen and experienced this with a large number of practices. If there is someone in charge of responding to online inquiries, they usually only do so perhaps once every few days, or less frequently, and they do not follow up beyond the first response, leaving these inquiries to languish.
HOW TO MAKE A CHANGE
Learning to recognize sales leads and turn them into actual sales is not difficult, and it does not have to take time away from other important work that your team is doing during the day. With some effective strategies and a little bit of knowledge, your team can start to take advantage of every opportunity that comes its way.
First and foremost, you must change the collective mindset in the office. It is essential that everyone views phone calls and online inquiries not as bothersome interruptions but as welcome opportunities to show a new patient what makes the practice great. A simple shift in mindset can make a big difference, especially over the phone, where it definitely comes through in the tone of your voice. Pleasantries might seem inefficient when you’re trying to get the job done, but they are absolutely necessary when you are trying to make a good impression. This applies to any type of communication, whether it’s an online chat, a text message, an email, or a phone call.
The biggest and most important change your team can make when handling new patient inquiries, especially when they come in from online, is to respond as quickly as possible. Letting a message go unanswered for more than a day is the kiss of death. If possible, schedule at least 2 times during the day when someone on your staff checks and responds to online messages and voicemails. If that is not possible, once a day is acceptable (but not ideal).
It is also essential not to limit the response to just one attempt. If the person on the other end doesn’t get back to you right away, try again… and again. Try to reach them over several days. It is very likely that they are just busy but still interested. Another best practice is to try to reach them on multiple fronts. For example, if they have provided a phone number, call and text. If they have provided an email, use that too. Basically, don’t give up.
An important step in any sales process that often gets overlooked is building rapport and trust. You can do this over the phone, as well as online, by simply being courteous and showing that you welcome the opportunity to interact with the person with whom you are communicating. The more open and responsive you are to questions, the more you build rapport.
Sometimes, that is all it takes for a new patient to schedule an appointment, but other times, you need to go a little further, especially when responding to an online inquiry. Show the person on the other end of the communication that you care about their needs. Give them a reason to trust your practice and want to come into your office rather than go somewhere else.
Sadly, most practices are converting fewer than 20% of phone calls into new patients and even fewer when it comes to online inquiries. On the bright side, it means there is a lot of opportunity to make gains. A change in mindset and a more concrete strategy for handling new patient inquiries is a great start.
Once your team gets used to treating calls and inquiries like sales opportunities, there will be no stopping them!