Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted;

the trouble is, I don’t know which half.

~John Wanamaker


I’ve heard it a thousand times if I’ve heard it once: “Jerry, I’m not sure my ads are working to bring in new patients. I have a feeling they are, but I can’t show any documentation as proof.”

Back in 1995, I sort of accepted that – tracking ads was far more difficult than today. However, even then, it wasn’t impossible to track your advertising to find out what was working, making your phones ring. A simple question asked of your customer, “How’d you hear about us,” would at the very least, give you some idea.

Reality is, in a busy dental office that is seeing 20 to 50 patients in a day, there are things that will get missed. And, if the source of a new patient is missed, out of an otherwise perfect visit that results in production and collections, I don’t squawk too much. But, I still ask the question if there’s a blank where there should be a source.

Why’s it so important to know the source of a new patient? I mean, does it matter that much?

Source is important for a guy like me – and you. I’m betting you and I have been down the path of the infamous John Wanamaker (who’s fortune was estimated at over $1.3 BILLION in today’s dollars at his death): I’ve known before that not all of the ads I was running were working, but until I dug in and really learned the ins and outs of tracking that information, I was frustrated and worse, wasting a TON of money every month.

Imagine: You invest $10,000 every month for marketing only to find out that $5,000 is a complete and utter waste. Wouldn’t that chap your hide? It did (and does) mine. Instead of being rewarded with 100 new patients ($100 each for $10k), you get just 50 new patients and you’ve spent $200 each to get ‘em! That’s $60,000 a year you’re wasting. For no good reason. A better choice would be to send that to charity, right?!

The hard part is identifying, then taking action to eliminate the wasted 50% of your advertising budget (or perhaps it’s far more than 50% – do you know for sure?!) that is not providing you an ROI. (Incidentally, my personal take on return-on-investment for ad costs is that they should bring you a minimum of $2 for every $1 invested. So, a $1,000 ad spend should bring in $2,000 in revenue in a short period of time – 30 to 60 days, maybe 90 days tops.)

Today, using the Internet and sophisticated telephone tracking numbers and VOIP (voice-over-internet) technology, is far easier than ever before, and you can tell which ads are working in mere seconds – at a glance and in real time! Plus, it’s incredibly inexpensive, too! And, if you want to hear first-hand how effective the ads are, we record 100% of the incoming calls.

There’s no question: The easiest way to track which ads are providing the most number of new patients is to utilize unique tracking phone numbers in every ad you run. Tracking numbers can provide you with the date, time, and length of the call. Plus, if you have a recording feature enabled, the call can also be recorded and then reviewed with your team in order to improve the way calls are handled (every office needs constant feedback and work on improving this critical, first-impression area of the practice).

I believe so much in that first impression and how a new patient call is handled that I invested in having my own Phone Success System to provide immediate and ongoing coaching and training for my Members.

Phone tracking numbers for each ad also help you identify when the busy times are for new patient calls. You can then staff appropriately for those times so new patients don’t have to get a busy signal (they’ll call elsewhere until their itch is scratched) or have to wait on hold.

I might also suggest having immediate appointments available – for both routine new patient calls and emergencies. Ideally, require phones to be answered “live” 30 minutes before the day starts (generally 7:30AM) and for a full 60 minutes after close of business (usually “live” until 6:00PM). Phones are also monitored for calls on weekends, too. That way, we’re sure to capture every potential new patient we can, and, quickly act on any last-minute cancellations. Nothing says you care like answering your phones live and actually helping a patient or new patient in real time vs. an experience that delivers only voicemail.

Back to how to tell which ads are working. Ask your team to tally all new patient calls daily, with the number of new patients that booked from each “ad” or source (we use “sources” vs. ads) and provide that to you in your daily report. At the end of each week, you should also review this information on a spreadsheet that can easily be charted and give you an idea what’s working. And, how well.

Cut the ads that are not performing. Invest more where they are performing. Be on the constant look out for other media and publications, whether online or offline, where you might experiment and run another promotion to increase new patient flow (that’s another topic for another time) but keep this general rule of thumb in mind: If the publication serves readers of the demographic you want to reach, consider a test. Don’t make any long-term commitments until that test has proven out. Then, run another test. (Two tests!) Then, from there, make a decision to commit long-term or not.

Finally, once we determine the number of calls an ad generated, we’ll track each of those patients for 30, 60 and 90 days to determine their immediate ROI and how well the ad actually did generating production for us. It’s a lot of work, but, without this depth of intel available to make a decision about which ads are working and which are not, you’re operating with only part of the story. To be effective and profitable, you need as much intel as you can get.