7 Business Lessons for Dentists from Mad Men


One of my favorite shows of this decade has been Mad Men.  It is the story of an ‘ad man’ – Don Draper – set in the 1960s.

The show was about both the ad business and the personal lives of the characters.  Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, was a unique character because of his business savvy and how the time period shaped his personal life.

The show came to a dramatic end recently and Inc recently had a blog post talking about important business lessons from Mad Men.  I thought it would be fun to look closer at some of these ‘lessons’ and relate them to dentistry.

1.  Try to appeal to the emotions of your client.

In the show, Don Draper had this keen sense and ability to put the customer first.  Above selling your product, you should think about the deeper need of your customer and how your service can meet this deeper need.  in the show all the ad campaigns appealed to the emotions to make the sale.

Dental Thoughts.

The value of a patient interview.  The interview isn’t necessarily about being different from other offices (although it is that), but more importantly it is about finding out important emotional information.

Why is your patient at your office?
What brought them hear?
What is important to them?
What would keep them from choosing ideal care?
Why did they leave their last office?
Do they want to prevent emergencies?

It’s amazing what patients will tell you if you simply ask and listen.

Open ended questions.
Take notes.
Use their ‘buzz’ words in the benefits in the operator.

A quick patient chat is worth it’s weight in gold to tap into your patients emotions.

2.  In person interactions go a long way.

This has much to do with the time period (1960s) vs today.  But they always wanted to do an in person presentation and took great pride in being prepared and polished and making the connection with the customer.

Dental Thoughts.

This is an area that our office struggles with.  Today there are a multitude of technologies that make our practice more efficient – patient education, Revenue Well (patient communication), email, voicemail, etc.  While their value to the practice is immense, they do slowly degrade the personal interaction.

For the past year or so I have struggled with our tendency to do financial arrangements by email.

While this may be convenient for patient and practice, it totally loses the personal touch and value of seeing your patients reaction.  It also allow your patient to be not engaged in your conversation.  We are slowly making every effort to avoid doing treatment plans and arrangements via email – so we can continue the personal touch and interaction.

3.  Long term customers are more valuable than your realize.

Draper knew the imporance of taking loyal customers very serious and not dismissing them for a shiny potential new customer.  In the show the agency struggled with balancing growth through new business and staying loyal to those who helped get them there.

Dental Thoughts.

Many practices are so focused on new patient metrics.  yes new patients are important, but they aren’t the ‘life line’ that many gurus claim.  More important are your existing book of business.  If we put as much effort in reactivating and cultivating our outstanding treatment plans, patients that have fallen through the cracks, promoting enhanced services to our existing patient base – we would likely not have much need for new patients.

Now every practice is at a different stage – new and young practices need new patients, but mature practices should first focus on their existing base.

Who is likely to refer more patients – a new patient or a loyal patient who has been seeing you for years.

Who is likely to write you a google review?
Who is likely to trust you to perform more advanced procedures?

4.  Thinking on your feet is a unique skill.

In the show Don Draper was masterful at thinking on his feet and saving the day.  He always seemed ready with something to say when a customer pitch was falling flat.

Dental Thoughts.

A dental practice is a dynamic operation.  You never know when something will turn unexpected – a filling turned into root canal, an emergency patient when you are already over booked, a last minute cancellation that crushes your day, etc.

Do you have an action plan for each of those items?  Does your team have a master folder to work from to prevent these from happening again?

What does your hygienist do when you have a cancellation?  talk about monthly hygiene bible – recall list, call list – made in advance every month.

Do you have a quick fill list?
Do you have a monthly outstanding treatment list to pull from?

Do you identify ideal emergency times at each morning huddle?

Do you have financing options available for your patients to help make treatment affordable?

Do you have modular clinical procedure kits (trays) that are ready to go at a moments notice for an unexpected clinical situation?

Being prepared for the unexpected and thinking on your feet is an important skill to make your days more level and less hectic.

5.  Company culture is not something to ignore.

Company culture isn’t something that just happens.  You have to hire the best people, but always keep your culture in mind.  If you create a boring or stressful environment, then you will likely have high turnover.  in the show, Sterling Cooper (the agency) had it’s own unique company culture and they always stayed true to that culture.

Dental Thoughts.

Practice culture is so important.  I don’t care how good you think someone may be, but if they don’t fit or play their own tune then it will sour the entire practice.

Recently I interviewed an assistant.  She was awesome and exactly what I wanted.  But within a few minutes I knew she wouldn’t fit with our team and me.  She would literally drive me crazy on a personal level.  Instead of giving in to hiring a warm body I politely decided to continue to look.

Another culture that is important to me is quarterly office pot luck lunches.  I like to have everyone together, bring food for each other, and have a ‘no shop talk’ luncheon.

In fact, one of the very best hygienists I’ve had in my office came to our office because she saw our team eating together at a restaurant one day.

Your patients pick up on culture and you often retain great people by having a steady office culture.

6.  Don’t forget Peggy!

Peggy in the show was a young and talented employee who was given an opportunity to expand and move up in the company – this was especially important given the times the show was set in.

Peggy started as a secretary and Draper recognized her talent and gave her the opportunity and worked closely with her to grow her skills.  By giving her the opportunity to shine not only made her a loyal and better employee, but also greatly benefited the company.

Dental Thoughts.

Hire for attitude!  Give your team members the opportunity to shine.

Allow team members to take ownership and set expectations and goals.  You’ll be surprised at what turns out.

One of the best ways to really see if a team member has what it takes is to give them ownership of a project and see what happens.  For example, see who in your office wants to tackle being the social media person.  Or who wants to take ownership of gaining more Google reviews.

Reward and cultivate those within.

7.  Diversify whenever possible.

Sterling cooper was able to grow from a  small/medium size agency into a much larger agency by keeping their options open.  They worked with a variety of customers.  They didn’t fall into the trap of putting all their eggs in one basket or becoming a ‘niche’ agency.

Dental Thoughts.

This hits close to home.  In 2005/2006 my practice had slowly (much by design) become a ‘cosmetic’ practice.  Nearly 50% of my production came from elective dentistry.  This was great, but scary.  We would literally be down to the last of the month and be dependent on a ‘home run’ case to make our monthly goal.

Then the economy took a turn in 2008 and our practice took an especially big hit.  We went down almost 30-35% that year.  it would have been worse if we didn’t start our diversification in early 2006 – by adding root canals and extractions.

But the real growth came through complete diversification. Sedation.  Ortho options.  Implant Dentistry.  Wisdom teeth.  Cosmetic Crown Lengthening.  endodontics.   complex restorative.  bone grafting.  soft tissue grafting (ongoing).

So there you go…  7 great lessons from the hit TV show Mad Men.

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