Very few people are going to believe this story, but there were plenty of witnesses to what happened who are still alive today.
My very first marketing client was a dentist in the mid-1980’s who practiced in the cornfields of Illinois. We’ll call him “Dr. X”.
Dr. X never did anything “small”. He was a highly decorated Viet Nam war veteran, a Marine in fact, who routinely flew on the most dangerous helicopter missions the Marines were called upon to execute. Dr. X had a habit of running his dental practice in the same way he was trained to run missions for the Marines in Viet Nam.
Dr. X wanted more new patients.
I was a kid in my mid-twenties. I had been a musician who had worked in a drum shop since I was 13 years old, and a drummer in rock-n-roll bands through high school and college. I studied Sociology and Anthropology at university, and, for the first time in my life, I had a fiancee.
Having a fiancee made the demands of life very different for me, and I needed a job.
Dr. X recognized a kind of enthusiasm I had for life that, for some reason, made him believe I was just the guy to get more new patients into his dental practice. He told me not to worry that I had no experience in marketing. He would provide all the resources necessary to make the “Mission” a success.
Dr. X gave me a postcard. He wanted me to modify the postcard for his practice, and to “carpet bomb” it out to as many people in a 20-mile radius that I could find an address for.
At this time in the mid-1980’s, no one had ever seen an advertisement for a dentist in Illinois. It had just become legal for dentists in Illinois to advertise at all, outside of the yellow pages.
And certainly, no one in the cornfields had ever received a coupon in the mail for a free dental examination and X-ray. Everyone was used to paying substantial amounts of money for such services, and the idea that there could be a dentist who would do this for you for free was, well, revolutionary.
Actually, a year earlier, it was illegal.
I’d never been to Viet Nam, but Dr. X’s enthusiasm for the Mission had a kind of “Apocalypse Now” effect on me. I could smell the napalm. And I also knew how to play drums like Keith Moon did for The Who, and like Neil Peart did for Rush, so I felt I knew exactly how to approach this Mission to make it a success.
I’m not going to go into every detail of what happened. I’m going to skip the death threats and the federal investigation (where all parties were cleared), and I’ll just give the statistics.
When I first began marketing for Dr. X, he was bringing in 3 to 5 new patients per month. This is not bad for any single dentist to do on his own – even today. With my efforts and a little tweaking as we went along, I soon began to bring in 30 new patients per month.
Dr. X would swoop down into the marketing operation I had built in the basement of his dental practice and pump his fist, saying, “Great Job! But we’re not even close yet! Go Albaby! Go!!”
Every day, the waiting room filled up with patients who had been waiting for hours. The receptionist began to glare at me in the morning when I came in. The assistants and hygienists had stopped talking to me.
Finally, to handle the growth to his practice, Dr. X had assigned me the task to find a new associate dentist, and so I began screening interviews. We hired two new dentists.
Dr. X continued his enthusiastic urgings for more and more marketing. I studied some of our successful marketing actions over the past few months and came up with some new ideas. I was able to get a front page article in the local newspaper featuring Dr. X, with an exclusive interview and a color picture. Then I was able to get TV crews to show up and shoot stories on the practice featuring all the new and innovative things we were doing there.
I continued to work these marketing efforts every day, to bolster them and to make them even more effective. I continually came up with new ideas and implemented those, as well. I maintained Dr. X at the top of everyone’s mind in his market as THE Go-To Dentist in that area of the cornfields.
Soon, we were getting in 15 new patients per week.
Then 20. Per week.
That’s 80 new dental patients per month. For a three dentist/ 2 hygienist/ dental practice, that is a LOT of production to manage. Still, Dr. X would come down every morning, pump his fist and say, “KEEP GOING ALBABY!! We’re not even close! Go! Go!! GO!!!”
In my defense, I was not a dentist. The new associate dentists were coming to me and saying that they were so busy that it was impossible for them to deliver good dental work, and could I please stop what I was doing to let them catch up? I had no choice but to tell them to please talk to Dr. X.
They were afraid to.
I’m not going to say what the highest number of new patients was per week before the whole operation blew up – no one would believe it.
But I can say that I learned how to destroy a business with marketing.
These are the lessons I learned. Here are 7 ways to destroy your business with marketing:
- Never create a target customer or patient profile, nor let it guide any of your efforts in reaching precisely who you need to become a customer or patient. And – even more important – never identify who you don’t want to be a new customer.
- If your product or service requires highly skilled techniques that take decades of training to learn to deliver, always devalue them with a coupon, and give them away for free.
- Never listen to your staff, or their ideas about what to do to overcome problems, and to become more efficient and successful.
- Do not manage the growth of your practice as it grows. Keep doing everything as before. Growth is disruptive, and learning from that disruption is as important to your business as its growth is. Completely ignore everything about this.
- Never recognize the “temperature” of your market, nor tweak your marketing efforts for long term growth. Forget completely that long term growth is what you are in business for.
- Never stop to contemplate the value of what you have achieved, nor take stock in your successes. Do not value the lessons that can come from these. Completely ignore them and act like they never happened.
- Always focus on NEW CUSTOMERS and NEW PATIENTS. Forget completely that you have an ever-growing existing customer base who knows and loves you, and wants to do business with you again.
I learned a lot more about marketing from my first client than I am letting on here. Just know that there is much more to this story that I am leaving out.
And do not think that Dr. X is a bad guy or even unintelligent – very far from it. In fact, he’s one of the smartest, most dynamic, and most competent people I have ever known, and I am deeply indebted to him for helping me to launch my career in marketing.
The Stanfield Agency