When dentists are looking for a new laboratory, they are most often persuaded by another dentist's recommendation.* Speaking at LMT Live!'s February program in Chicago, Bob Wakitsch, co-owner, Dental Craft Corp., Ringwood, IL, told attendees that in order to maximize word-of-mouth referrals, laboratory owners should ask their dentist-clients for testimonials and use them when they call on prospective clients and in their marketing materials.
"In addition to soliciting general opinions of your laboratory, be sure to ask for details," he says. "For instance, ask your clients if they've ever had a 'wow' experience with your laboratory such as meeting a seemingly impossible deadline or taking a last minute case—and include the description in the testimonial."
You might also consider writing a testimonial praising your client. For example, Wakitsch wrote a three-page letter for one of his clients explaining why patients were lucky to be being treated by that dentist. The appreciative client now includes a copy of the letter in a welcome package he sends to new patients. If you write a glowing testimonial for a client, he may be more likely to reciprocate.
When a dentist-client refers a new dentist to you, remember to send a thank you letter, suggests Mark Jackson, who teamed up with Wakitsch to present LMT Live!'s Strike While the Market is Hot! Jackson shared some other strategies that he uses to generate referrals for Precision Ceramics in Montclair, CA:
Dental Study Clubs are a great way to meet dentists in your area and build relationships. In general, there are two types:
Implant study clubs are usually sponsored by a surgeon or periodontist. "Don't feel guilty about having ulterior motives for attending these meetings. The dentist hosting the meeting is usually after the same thing—referrals," says Jackson. To find one in your area, contact oral surgeons or a representative from an implant manufacturer who works in your area.
Esthetic or cosmetic dentistry study clubs, most often sponsored by a general dentist or prosthodontist, can be harder to locate. Try contacting the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry to see if it has a chapter in your area (800-543-9220, 608-222-8583, www.aacd.com or email@example.com).
If you are doing work for other laboratories, they can be an effective referral service. When Jackson opened a chrome department, his laboratory picked up business from a number of denture technicians who only did the acrylic portion of the work. "They were so impressed with our castings, they began referring C&B customers to us. I've also had C&B labs refer us to their dentists for chrome work on precision attachment cases," he explains. By establishing a policy of not soliciting other business from these dentists, Jackson is a non-threatening resource rather than a competitor.
Another valuable—and often overlooked—way to get referrals is through manufacturer sales representatives.Jackson makes it a point to establish a good relationship with his vendors. In addition, he provides them with photos or samples of his laboratory's work featuring that manufacturer's system or product—all have his lab's name and number on the back. "Samples given to sales reps will be shown to doctors and labs every single day," says Jackson. "Even if the sales reps don't refer you to a customer directly, they will frequently be asked who made the sample."
The Chamber of Commerce often has information about new businesses moving into the area and will usually provide you with a list. Often, these doctors have more time to sit and talk about your laboratory and they appreciate the attention. "It generally takes a few months before they become established, but I look at them as an investment in the future," explains Jackson. The Chamber of Commerce also sets up small social gatherings during which you can network.
Dental Auxiliaries Many dental assisting and hygiene programs welcome qualified speakers. Jackson lectures on all-ceramic restorations, implants and even veterinary dentistry. "Through these presentations, I've gained valuable contacts with an entire fleet of potential 'sales people' who will soon be employed in dental offices in my area," he says. "When a person's office needs to find a qualified laboratory, my name is more likely to be mentioned in his office."
Dr. Howard Farran, DDS, FAGD, who lectured during the CAL-Lab Meeting in Chicago concurs with Jackon's strategy. "Ninety percent of the time the assistant makes product decisions and chooses the laboratory. Whoever gets connected to the most dentists and dental assistants will win the relationship game," he says.
According to a joint LMT/Dental Economics poll of dentists (January 2000 LMT).