Aligning goals

aligning goals

Marketing experts agree the key to successful marketing is aligning your goals with the patient’s goals. But how do you do that? By Warren Daniels

The majority of businesses—including dental practices—only think about their customers’ goals through the lens of their own goals. By contrast, successful businesses spend a lot of time, money and effort working out what their customers want from the customer’s point of view. It’s why they have market research budgets, and conduct research and surveys. It’s to find out what their customers think they want. If dentists could do the same, they could go a long way to getting more effective marketing.

“Dentists don’t have the budgets, time or interest to do that kind of market research,” says Mark Brown of “But the secret that market research firms don’t tell you is if you’re targeting a local market, you don’t really need to. All the money businesses spend on market research is solely to try to see themselves and their products the way their customers do.”

You can achieve the same results, he says, through taking yourself and your professional knowledge out of the equation—at first. Brown offers a real-life example of a dentist seeing a patient mainly from their own point of view—and how doing so lost some business.

“This actually happened to a colleague of mine,” he says. “Firstly, I’ll tell you what happened from the dentist’s point of view. A guy turns up at the practice without an appointment, complaining of a strong pain in a back molar. The dentist is friendly and non-judgemental. He takes some bite wings, an OPG scan and some photos to show the patient he has severe disease in one tooth and some decay in others. He says the best treatment plan is extraction and an implant. As a gesture of goodwill, he doesn’t charge for the consult, and charges the costs of the scans back to the patient’s private health insurance. They book an appointment for a couple of days’ time, and he sends him home with a prescription for Panadeine Forte.

“And that patient never returns.”

Many seasoned dentists would shrug and say, he did all he could. They may even speculate that the patient was unwilling to pay more for the treatment plan. “But the reason the patient never came back was simple,” Brown adds. “It was because the dentist didn’t solve his problem. He walked in in pain. He left and was still in pain.”

That particular patient went to another dentist later than day, who performed a root canal on the spot and gained a lifelong patient.

Misaligned goals

In this particular case, says Brown, the goals of the patient and the dentist didn’t align in the eyes of the patient. The patient’s goal was to stop the pain. The dentist’s goal was to fix the problem. If you look at that situation from the point of view of the dentist, that isn’t an issue—the two goals line up. But if you look at it from the point of view of the patient, it’s a different story.

“The harsh reality is, when you’re trying to get people to consider walking into your practice, your goals just don’t matter,” says Brown. “The only thing that matters is the patient’s goals. And this is where the marketing for many dental practices falls down.

 No patient has a goal to get an implant. No patient has a goal to get an X-ray. I have never met anyone who sets a goal to have a scale and clean regularly. They’re just not on my short-, medium-, or long-term bucket list.

Mark Brown,

“The most common dental advertising I see involves posters for clear orthodontics treatments, or flyers that promise a free X-ray and examination. Those are fine services to offer, and I’m not criticising anyone who offers them. But they have nothing to do with my goals as a patient.

“No patient has a goal to get an implant. No patient has a goal to get an X-ray. I have never met anyone who sets a goal to have a scale and clean regularly. I’m not against getting any of those things. They’re just not on my short-, medium-, or long-term bucket list.”

What to do next

Marketing, whether it’s through ads or blogging or search engine optimisation, will always be more effective if it focuses on your patients’ goals, not your own. If your marketing recognises what their problems are, and what they want to achieve, it’s far more meaningful than the means you use to meet those goals.

The big question, Brown says, is how do you do that? How do you step out of your own point of view and see things as a patient? “Start with a list,” he says (similar to the box on this page). In one column, write out all your treatments. In the other, write out the problems those treatments solve. Then cover up the list of treatments, and just look at the problems.”

What’s left is a list of topics you can write about on your website. When you write about the topics you can, and should, be completely honest—it’s okay to admit there are some problems that can’t or won’t be fixed by a dentist alone. It’s also okay to admit that there might be a number of different causes for the same problem.

“Promoting that sort of content to potential patients is really very similar to the types of conversations you have with them when they’re in the chair,” says Brown. “When a patient is in front of you, you listen and observe and work out what the roots of their individual problem is. If you’re marketing can show you’re doing the same, that’s going to be a powerful drawcard for potential clients.”

And that’s really the key, he adds. You already do it. You’re already honest with your patients when they’re in your chair.

Try having those same conversations with them in your marketing. See what a difference it makes.

Aligning Goals

Aligning your goals with your patients can be as simple or complex as you like. But a checklist like the one below might help you look at your services from your patient’s point of view:

Your Goal

  • To give good care
  • To have happy staff
  • To offer premium services
  • To run a successful business

Patient’s Goal

  • To be free of pain
  • To stop jaw clicking
  • To not be embarrassed when I smile
  • To pay a reasonable amount for dental treatment


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