Dental Marketing in a Recession with Gary Bird

In this episode of "How I Grew My Practice," Gary Bird, CEO and founder of SMC National, discusses dental marketing during a recession. 

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Alec Goldman (00:02.71)
And we're live. Welcome to How I Grew My Practice, a podcast sponsored by NexHealth, meant to be just about 15 to 20 minutes per episode. My name is Alec Goldman. I'm here today joined by the Gary Bird, CEO and founder of SMC National. He's here to talk about dental marketing during a recession. Gary, how's your weekend? How are you doing?
Gary Bird (00:26.502)
Thanks so much for the opportunity to come on. I had a great time with NexHealth CEO coming on our podcast and I'm super excited to join your podcast.
Alec Goldman (00:33.526)
God, it is an absolute pleasure to have you. I know I mentioned this to you on the side, but actually one of the reasons that I am here at NexHealth, one of many, but certainly one of them was listening to that very episode of Al speaking with you on your podcast. He was excellent. So Gary, obviously having you here is a real treat.
Gary Bird (00:47.961)
Yeah, yeah, he did a great job. It was a great show. So, yeah, I think that's a great show.
Alec Goldman (00:56.398)
We really wanted to open up the floor and say, hey, what was a topic that meant a lot to you today on May 2nd of 2023? Or 2023. And you, you know, we spoke and you said, I would love to talk about dental marketing specifically during a recession. And I kind of wanted to ask, why is that so top of mind for you?
Gary Bird (01:16.866)
Yeah, so the reason this is top of mind is there are so many problems or so many issues that face a dental office and it's hard to even tell that a lot of them are happening because they're all happening at the same time. So you have the cost of goods are higher than ever, inflation is hitting everybody. So patients are spending less per visit, even the existing patients who are doing, you know, that have been with you for a long time.
Gary Bird (01:41.729)
And then at the same time, your labor costs are higher than they've ever been before. So you have all these opposite forces that are pushing and putting pressure on the offices. And it makes it really, really hard. And what used to work in the past to solve these problems or what you would normally go to isn't the same tool belt. And the reason for that is right now, most of these offices, because they're running a little bit slim on labor,
Gary Bird (02:10.041)
because they have to because of the cost, they don't have an open schedule to dump new patients into. So this creates a big problem because how do you solve it? And so there are some ways with marketing that you can begin to work through this. And so, yeah, that's what I wanted to talk about today.
Alec Goldman (02:26.302)
Yeah, I mean, it's incredibly relevant for every single dental practice. I know that the ones that I'm speaking to will continuously bring up labor issues. Patients are having, I guess, lower acceptance, just given that, you know, gotta be a little bit more cost-conscious. But I really, for the sake of our audience, I really want to break down. Like, there are so many variables. How does a dental practice go about thinking about solving, given how many different variables are impacting the bottom line of a business today?
Gary Bird (02:54.765)
Yeah, so just from a simple business standpoint, when you are in these kinds of situations where everything's really expensive and you're actually collecting less money than normal, there are only two things you can do. You can either cut costs or you can increase your top line. That's it. But the reason that this is a little bit more tricky than before for dental offices, because the recipe before was just like, get more new patients, spend double on marketing. But you can't do that if you don't have the availability on your schedule. So then what do you do?
Gary Bird (03:23.505)
And this is where you have to get really, really, really intentional and really, really specific. And that's, that's what I kind of want to dive into today. So I'm, I'm ready to take off with that. If you're, if you're a good, good with that. Okay. So let's, let's just say you are a dental office, you're paying more for your team. You are, you are paying more for all your cost of goods are all more expensive and your patients are
Alec Goldman (03:36.366)
Please let it rip.
Gary Bird (03:49.793)
accepting a little bit less treatment. Maybe it's 10%, maybe it's 15%, whatever it may be. But people overall are accepting less treatment. And then your schedule, your schedule on your calendar is relatively full. You don't have a bunch of wiggle room. And so one of the things that you wanna do is first, you wanna identify the different kinds of patients that you can bring into your office and not have it go through your busy schedule. So what do I mean by that?
Gary Bird (04:17.081)
Well, there's only three ways that a patient comes into a dental office. That's it. There's only three. It doesn't matter what kind of office you have. There's only, you're only going to do one of these three or, or two or three of them, right? So number one is through the hygiene schedule. That is relatively packed right now because there's a shortage of hygienists. They're also, you know, it's 60, they're making like 60, $70 an hour, which is a lot more than they were making pre-COVID. And so you just can't go out and hire a bunch more hygienists.
Gary Bird (04:46.009)
So normally you would just bring in more patients through your hygiene schedule, boom, problem solved. Well, you can't do that. So what's the other ways that patients can come through your office? Well, there's the doctor schedule, which is gonna be emergency patients. And then there's the consultation schedule, which is going to be more of your larger treatments. This is gonna be your implants and your clear liners, things like that, okay? So those are the only three ways that patients can come into your office. And we were removing one of them.
Gary Bird (05:13.969)
Hygiene isn't an option for a lot of people right now. But doctor schedules are open because they're not doing as much treatment as before. So you do have wiggle room there. So then what you wanna do is you wanna actually build out a separate avatar that you wanna attract. And this is gonna be different than your hygiene schedule. So your hygiene schedule avatar is gonna be like a mom, she's 40, has 1.5 kids, 2.5 kids, whatever.
Gary Bird (05:42.669)
and they make this much money and they're, they know that they're supposed to get their teeth cleaned every six months, pretty easy, get them in, they need some work done, they come back, et cetera. That's the normal business model. The emergency side, little bit different. This is typically gonna be an uninsured patient, hasn't listened to the dentist, hasn't gone in for their cleaning in a while. They are going to pay for the treatment immediately, which is awesome, because they're in pain, there's something that's driving them.
Gary Bird (06:11.333)
to be like, I gotta come into the dentist today. And really the name of that game is just getting in front of them and having the availability to get them in today, tomorrow. That's it. If you do that, then you win. Then from there, you then can schedule them into hygiene, which might be three weeks down the road, whatever, but they're just gonna be happy that you got them out of pain and now you're producing more revenue, you've increased your top line and you haven't increased your cost, besides maybe a little bit of marketing costs and.
Gary Bird (06:39.645)
And so now you're getting ahead on that type of patient. So that's the first one. The next one is your consultation schedule. And this one's gonna give you a lot more traction, even more so than the emergency. The emergency's the low-hanging fruit because you don't have to change your operational structures and scripting and all those kind of things. It's largely, hey, I'm in pain, can you see me today? Yes. Or hey, I chipped my tooth today, I need to get a fix right away, can you get me in right away? Yes.
Gary Bird (07:07.877)
Come on in, we'll take care of you today, let's get it done. If you can do that, then you're gonna win. When you get into clear aligners and implants and all of them forward and all those kind of things, it's a little bit trickier. And the reason it's trickier is that you're dealing with larger cases. So people are gonna have a lot more questions, but the ROI is gonna be greater as well. So you're gonna make more money on patients. Now, if I had to pick one, I'd prefer implants over clear aligners. And here's the reason why. Implants,
Gary Bird (07:37.345)
you can have multiple implants, you can only have one clear liner per patient. And then also your cost on implants per implant, percentage-wise, is gonna be lower than your cost for the clear liners usually. And so if I can do multiple implants and my cost per implant for lab costs and things like that's gonna be lower, then that's gonna be an easier win from a business standpoint than a clear liner. But clear liners are great too, because you don't have, there's not a lot of work for the doctor.
Gary Bird (08:05.357)
Right? So the doctor comes in, looks at it, but there's a largely, a lot of offices use dental assistance and things like that to help with those. So those kinds of patients are great because they're gonna boost your top line, knock it out of the park. So it's gonna help you solve some of those other issues that we described at the beginning. However, you're going to have to think through how are we answering the phones? How are we scheduling them? Who's presenting the treatment?
Gary Bird (08:32.169)
if you've never done those kinds of treatment before or never marketed for those kinds of treatment before, it is a little bit harder. Now, what we do as a company, the reason that we know all this stuff, it's not like I just went out and just learned all of it. I've never actually worked in a dental office. The reason we know all of it is because we work with our dental practices to actually do exactly what I just described to you. So we go in, we look at, you know, what's your availability. And if there's no, you'd be shocked. We have people that come to us all the time who say, I want to double my new patients.
Gary Bird (09:01.361)
Okay, where are you going to put them? And if you can't put them anywhere, then you have a problem. So then we have to reverse engineer and figure out, okay, where are we going to put these patients and that way we can actually help them get. The patients that they need and grow the way that they want. Then you can hire another hygienist. Now we can go back to attracting more hygiene patients.
Alec Goldman (09:24.206)
It's a lot to digest. I want to ask a very specific question for the practices who are not offering consultation today. And I know that you immediately said, we go in, we're fixing the scripts. What are some top-of-funnel strategies to attract consultations ultimately so that you get the phone call and use the script?
Gary Bird (09:43.902)
Yeah, so it's the exact opposite of short buying cycle. So I'm going to explain something here for the audience. So there's in dental, there's two kinds of patients, there's short buying cycle and long buying cycle patients. So let's describe the short buying cycle patients, because this is going to be a little bit easier for everybody to wrap the brain around from a context standpoint. So short buying cycle patients are patients who like right now, if I fall and I chip my tooth, or if you woke up today, Alec and you were in pain.
Gary Bird (10:12.877)
and it hurt really bad. You are a short buying cycle patient, meaning you are gonna immediately call the dentist. You're gonna say, I gotta take off work, sorry Gary, gotta cancel this podcast, I need to go get my tooth fixed. And you're gonna call until a dental office answers and says, yes, we can see you. Same if I chipped my tooth. Hygiene patients are the same way. So the general life cycle of a hygiene or a dental emergency patient.
Gary Bird (10:39.557)
from when they Google search to when the treatment's all the way done is three to seven days. That's it. From when they go, hey, I need this. I'm gonna go on Google, type it in. I'm gonna go in and get the treatment done. I'm gonna pay for it and I'm all done. So it's a short life cycle. The reason that's so important is basically what you do is you just need to get in front of them as they're Google searching. You need to have good, decent reviews.
Gary Bird (11:06.413)
and then you need to actually answer your phone and have availability for them. If you do that, you win. So those are the short buying cycles. Think like another industry, the short buying cycle are like plumbers or pizza. No one plans for a plumber three months in advance usually, right? No one plans for pizza three months in advance. You just go, hey, you guys want pizza tonight? Yeah, okay, cool. Hey guys, can you deliver a pizza? I need it in two hours. That's like the short buying cycles for general dentistry. Makes sense so far?
Gary Bird (11:36.001)
Okay, cool. So now let's talk about long buying cycle patients. Long buying cycle patients are more like buying a house. So if you said today, I wanna buy a house, you don't get to just go out and buy a house today, like you could a pizza. You have to go out and you have to get pre-approved, then you have to find the house, then you have to submit an offer, then you have, there's this whole emotional roller coaster that you go through to buy a house, and it's gonna be minimum. If you're smoking fast and you know what you're doing, you have all the right people, minimum a month.
Gary Bird (12:05.125)
to actually make that decision and execute on it, but you were thinking about it probably months before that where you were like, do I have enough money? How does this work? And you're doing research, you're looking on Zillow. So for you to buy a house, it might be a six month process for you mentally to work through and then finally until you execute. That's the same for Invisalign or Clear Liners or Implants, all I'm for. These are people who've been.
Gary Bird (12:32.165)
thinking about it for some time. It doesn't just pop into their brain like, oh, I need this. That means they've been on Google, they've been searching, they've probably visited another dental office or that other dentist told them that they needed this and referred them out. They've already, so you're dealing with people who have a higher dental IQ just because they've read up on it, right? And then from there, there's a big need behind it, but they're a little bit scared because there's that unknown, just like buying your first house. There's an unknown. You don't know.
Gary Bird (13:01.357)
that you're gonna have to pay HOAs. You don't know that the insurance is gonna cost more. You don't know that you're in a flood zone and now you have to have flood insurance. And you didn't know, like all these things, right? The roof broke and now you have to pay 30,000. You don't know all those things. So that's what creates fear in us when we go through that process. Same with these longer buying process patients. So the thing about these patients though, is they are all searching and some of them might've started six months ago, a year ago, maybe even longer.
Gary Bird (13:31.201)
And now there's ones that are at the bottom of the funnel. And there's the best way to get in front of them after they've done their homework is to start educating them online through like social media. So now we know, cause Google tells us, hey, this person did a Google search. They visited our website. And then now we're gonna start educating them through videos of why it's so important that they need this service, how it's gonna impact their lives.
Gary Bird (13:59.181)
and the things to take into consideration. No different than a real estate agent who would run a video on social media after you searched for buying a new house in my area that says, hey, let me give you the six steps that you're gonna need to think through about making sure your credit's good, getting financing, finding the right house, making sure it fits your needs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And so now there's trust there. And now that there's trust there because you've helped them, now they're ready to reach out to you and buy treatment.
Gary Bird (14:28.421)
You don't have to wait six months because now we're grabbing them at the bottom of the funnel rather than at the top of the funnel. Here's where everybody messes up. GP offices that are used to short buying cycle patients try to use the same exact formula to market to long buying cycle patients. And so they get hundreds and hundreds of leads and then they go, but we didn't get any patients. Well, the reason why is you're marketing on Google, someone's doing research.
Gary Bird (14:57.381)
They're at the very top of the funnel. It might be a year before they buy. So that's, and you do it for one or two months, it's not gonna work. So what you have to do is you have to work with somebody who can help you find those people who are at the bottom of the funnel, massage them in, and then you have to do lead nurturing, which is another service that we offer for our clients, where you're actually following up, answering the questions. And the reason we added that service to what we do is we realized right away,
Gary Bird (15:24.553)
Nobody that we work with has time to call for two hours, three hours a day and nurture these leads in. So they're never going to get them in through the door. Someone has to do that. So we offer that as a bolt on service to help get the patients through the door.
Alec Goldman (15:38.402)
Gary, that was my next question. Inevitably, shorter buyer cycle, fewer touch points, fewer communications, fewer metrics that you need to track. Longer buying cycle, way more communications, way more metrics that you need to track. Inevitably, those communications are what marketers would call an email nurture. So just for the audiences, it's a term that is a little bit more technical in regards to marketing.
Alec Goldman (16:05.198)
Can you explain a little bit more about what you mean by email nurture? And what would be some of the metrics that you are telling dental practices to track with those email nurturers?
Gary Bird (16:09.677)
Yeah. Yeah, so first of all, the thing that's kind of messed up about the dental industry is that to become a, the way all of our practice management softwares are set up is that you only become a patient once you come in the office. But if you get 200 leads for clear aligners, you get 200 leads for dental implants, those people basically don't exist to your practice management software.
Gary Bird (16:38.897)
because they haven't come in your office yet. And so lead nurturing, what that means is, is that you are reaching out to the patients on a regular basis and you're massaging them in, depending on where they're at in the buying cycle. So if you do get some leads that are our top-of-funnel, you're gonna know pretty quickly after talking with them. And so you're gonna flag them and then they're gonna get an email or a text every couple of weeks or something like that. So that way you're staying in front of them. So when they buy in six months, they're thinking of you first.
Gary Bird (17:09.273)
But for people who are at the bottom of the funnel, this is more about just massaging them and trying to get them in and kind of helping them overcome their fears and getting them to that appointment, that's usually gonna be done on the phone. So there's, as far as lead nurturing is concerned, it's like phones, text messages, emails, those are the main ways that you're gonna be reaching out to people and touching them. And depending on where the patient's at in the funnel, that's gonna totally change your conversion rate, your metrics that you're looking at.
Gary Bird (17:38.225)
how often you're sending them. Those are all totally different approaches depending on where the patient's at in the funnel. The one thing that the office can understand though is that I know for full arch, I don't know it for clear liners, but for full arch, for every $5,000 you invest into marketing, you're gonna have an hour to two hours a day of lead nurturing someone has to do. So if you say, hey, I'm gonna spend $20,000,
Gary Bird (18:08.025)
That's near now at getting close to a part-time to full-time position. And again, most offices are like, we don't have that. Like I don't, we don't have that manpower. And that's why it has to be outsourced to a third party like, like us or someone else.
Alec Goldman (18:23.854)
You can keep going on email nurtures. I mean, it's so deep. It's just like how many questions, how do you think about what the email nurturer should say? And then you start getting into the idea of the buyer's journey, which is given the problem they want to solve, let's use an implant as an example, what are the questions that the patient is inevitably asking in their head? And then your nurture becomes each question that they are asking, you are providing an answer, almost proactively.
Gary Bird (18:40.217)
Gary Bird (18:49.621)
Yes. Yeah. So here I'll give you the easy, the easy way to do it for, for a dental, for the dental offices, whatever questions you're answering on the phones and, and, uh, uh, the treatment presentation, that's going to be your lead nurture because the questions are already there. They already have them. They just haven't asked people yet. And so those are the questions that you want to ask. So you document the questions that you're getting on the phone call and at the office level, then you turn those into content, whether it's a text message or an email or a video.
Gary Bird (19:19.137)
I will give one quick tip. There's a company that we've been using. We're testing it out with some offices called Tavius. This is really cool. So I'm actually building a lead nurture program for myself with this. What I do is I go in and I film a video. It's AI. So I film one video. I do an hour of voice coaching. So I sit on there for an hour and read scripts. And then I film one video in that video. I say.
Gary Bird (19:42.529)
Hey, Alec, my name's Gary, I'm from SMC. We can help you get more dental patients and also help you with some of the lead nurturing stuff that you're working on. Why don't you give me a call? I would love to set up a meeting with you, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? And then I can email that, DM that to you. But here's the cool part. I only have to film that once, and then you upload a database into Tavius, and it will change out the name at the beginning and any other sections that I want.
Gary Bird (20:07.557)
for all the videos. So for the next person, hey, Dr. Bill, hey, Dr. Steve, hey, Doc, and you can't tell it changes my lips and it has my voice. And you can do it with services too. So dental offices can use this as part of their lead nurturing. They film it once, they put it in their lead nurturing campaign, and then it reaches out and it's original every single time. And then you can also use it for post-op too.
Gary Bird (20:32.373)
Hey, Bobby, just wanted to follow up with you. Make sure you're doing OK. Here's the instructions that you want to follow with your implant, blah, blah, blah, blah. So all these AI tools are just starting to roll out, like literally in the last couple of months. And they're just going to keep getting better and better and better. So that's something that I've been playing around with that I'm really excited about.
Alec Goldman (20:50.71)
That's really cool. It's something that even probably us at NexHealth should consider. I guess an additional tip in regards to the email nurture. I mean, content obviously, it takes time to build, but to your point, it's inherently happening in every office, right? Every phone call that comes in from a patient, practice has to answer. If they film themselves, not only is that becoming something that's content for an email
Alec Goldman (21:18.902)
and then is creating more top-of-funnel assets for you to actually get more leads to see those email managers.
Gary Bird (21:22.129)
Yeah, more leads, but also lowering your labor cost too and allowing your team to do the things that you want them to do that no one else can do and allowing the machines to do the educating rather than us. So, thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, please like and subscribe. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Alec Goldman (21:36.362)
Yeah, exactly. And you just hear it from so many practices, the classic, we don't have time. You got to figure out ways to make time and figuring out what are the activities that are happening every single day that they can then turn into marketing assets. Inevitably, all the services that they're providing in the practice, the phone calls they're making, those are things that you can actually double down on as ways of providing great care but also using them from a marketing perspective.
Gary Bird (21:43.866)
Yes. Yep.
Gary Bird (22:02.129)
Spot on, man. Spot on.
Alec Goldman (22:03.926)
Gary, we are at the 22-minute mark. I want to kind of give the floor to you as any last comments. Obviously, times are tough. You know, dental marketing is still kind of a black box for a lot of practices. What is a closing remark that you want to leave with the audience?
Gary Bird (22:13.772)
Gary Bird (22:21.421)
Yeah, so I know it's hard. It's hard running a business. I've been in business for a long time and I've had my ups and downs just like every other entrepreneur. Marketing is one of those things that can solve a lot of problems. It can't solve all of your problems. But if people have questions or if they say, hey, I wanna figure out how can I do some of this stuff and I just don't have time, I'm a dentist. You know what I mean? Like I don't have time, just like I don't have time to do my own dentistry. We would love to help you. You can visit us at smcnational.com.
Gary Bird (22:50.553)
Or you can find me on social media there, Gary Bird. And if you just tell me, Hey, I saw you on this podcast. I'd love to talk with you. I'll help you. And, uh, if we can't help you, I'll point you in the right direction to somebody who can.
Alec Goldman (23:02.678)
Guys, take Gary up on it. He is a master when it comes to dental marketing, specifically in this industry. He's a joy to speak with. Gary, thank you so much for being on the show with us today.
Gary Bird (23:13.205)
I really appreciate the opportunity, man. I'm really excited about these podcasts you guys are dropping.
Alec Goldman (23:17.57)
Thanks, Gary. Great seeing you.
Enlive will officially sunset in

Welcome to "How I Grew My Practice," a podcast presented to you by NexHealth. In this episode, we are excited to invite Gary Bird, the CEO and founder of SMC National, to share valuable insights on dental marketing during a recession. As the dental industry faces numerous challenges simultaneously, including rising costs and reduced patient spending, Gary sheds light on effective strategies to navigate these obstacles.

Rethinking Marketing Strategies

Traditionally, dental practices focused on attracting new patients through increased marketing efforts. However, with limited availability on dental schedules, this approach no longer yields the desired results. Gary emphasizes the need to adapt marketing strategies to the current circumstances. 

There are alternative approaches that can help dental practices thrive during a recession by leveraging existing patient relationships, optimizing patient retention, and maximizing the value of each patient interaction. By nurturing patient loyalty and satisfaction, dental practices can generate sustainable growth even in challenging economic times.

Identifying Patient Entry Points 

Understanding the primary ways patients come to a dental office is crucial. Gary highlights three main entry points: 

  1. The hygiene schedule
  2. The doctor's schedule (for emergencies)
  3. The consultation schedule (for extensive treatments like implants and clear liners) 

However, due to challenges such as a shortage of hygienists, relying solely on the hygiene schedule to bring in patients may not be feasible. Therefore, it becomes essential to focus on the doctor and consultation schedules to maintain a steady patient flow.

Attracting Short Buying Cycle Patients

Short buying cycle patients are those who require immediate dental care, such as emergency cases or routine cleanings. These patients often search for dental services online and consider factors like good reviews and prompt availability when choosing a dental office. To attract these patients, it is crucial for dental practices to ensure good online visibility, gather positive reviews, and implement efficient phone answering systems to secure their appointments promptly. Implementing search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to improve online visibility and leveraging online review platforms can significantly benefit dental practices in attracting short buying cycle patients during a recession.

Engaging Long Buying Cycle Patients

Long buying cycle patients, on the other hand, are individuals considering treatments that involve extensive planning, such as clear liners or implants. These patients typically have a higher dental IQ and have done prior research. Engaging with them requires a different approach, such as educating and nurturing them through social media platforms. Dental practices can capture the attention of these patients by providing informative content that addresses their concerns and builds trust. Developing a robust social media presence and sharing engaging and educational content can help establish the practice as an authority and guide long buying cycle patients towards making informed treatment decisions.


Navigating the challenges of a recession in the dental industry requires innovative marketing strategies. By rethinking traditional approaches and focusing on patient retention and satisfaction, dental practices can overcome obstacles and achieve sustainable growth. Identifying patient entry points, attracting short buying cycle patients through online visibility and positive reviews, and engaging long buying cycle patients through educational content are key strategies highlighted by Gary Bird. Implementing these strategies can help dental practices thrive even in challenging economic times, creating a strong foundation for long-term success.

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