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Throwing Elephants Overboard.

I’ve been presenting on the power of patient gifting and marketing automation for many years. The most common question from audiences revolves around cost. I’m asked, “How much should I spend on a new patient welcome gift, shock ‘n awe package or new start ‘wow’ box?”

My answer has always been the same: whatever it takes.

Clearly, one of the top five reasons why patients don’t refer, which I review extensively in my book, The Truth About Referrals, is that they aren’t welcomed to the practice in a BIG way.

I learned this principle from The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Development Center, The Disney Institute and by studying top producers in home and car sales. Everyone wants to feel special and important. Consumers want to know that you sincerely appreciate their business. They also want something to talk about.

A financial advising firm sends one of the nicest new-client welcome boxes I’ve ever seen. It’s not extravagant and it’s not that expensive, but it’s completely congruent with their avatar client and the message they want to send.

I’ve produced entire Look Over My Shoulder marketing programs on this topic. If you’ve been hanging around for any length of time, you get it. This is all redundant. But, so are the Ten Commandments if you’ve been going to church or synagogue for any length of time. Repetition doesn’t make them any less important.

Yet, I won’t waste this entire article reminding you of the power of gifting and welcoming new patients, clients, customers or donors in a BIG way. Instead, I’ll stimulate some higher-level thinking on the dangers of cutting the small things in your business, like new-customer welcome gifts, birthday cards and marketing automation, when business slows or when the decision maker gets bored and wants to do something new.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, noticed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people in Italy at the time, similar to 80% of the peas which were produced by 20% of the pods in his garden, so the story goes. Most know this phenomenon as the 80/20 principle.

What most people don’t know is that Pareto was famous for another smart economic theory, clearly applicable to your practice. In it, Pareto explains, if you were on a sinking ark, you wouldn’t throw a few cats or dogs overboard to save the ship, because it would have no impact and the boat would still sink.

Instead, you would find the elephants and throw them overboard.

And so, I find myself in the frequent position of talking clients back from the edge of cutting all the things that have made them successful: convenient hours, risk-removal, putting the best team on the field, investing in the relationship with gifts, marketing automation and referral strategies, only to discover 18 months later that they’ve thrown cats and dogs overboard when they should have thrown off the elephants.

Orthodontists: how much did you spend on your Invisalign lab bills last quarter? How much on orthodontic supplies and brackets? Could you source new vendors for those items at a significant discount? Dentists: how many hours of underutilization occurred last quarter in your hygiene department? Physicians, retailers and attorneys, what are your biggest line-item expenses and how much impact would it make if you found alternative vendors or strategic business partners that saved you 10% or 20% on those line items alone?

Several years ago, Southwest Airlines shut down their entire operation at Newark International Airport.

Southwest said this decision was due to the grounding of the 737 Max airplanes. It might have something to do with landing fees, terminal conditions, union negotiations with bag handlers or any of a myriad of things. Southwest didn’t say, “No more bags fly free and no more peanuts and no more drinks for the customers.”

Nope. They threw an elephant off the ark. No more Newark.

Kill the entire operation until we can make money there. Smart, smart, smart. I didn’t get rid of my new patient gifts, shock ‘n awe mailers, welcome boxes, retainer + whitening gifts, referral campaigns and live events. Those are small cats and dogs. Thrown off an ark in times of trouble, they make no difference.

I threw off the BIG elephants of adult orthodontics and high-priced aligners.

Food for thought.

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