How to Market to
Inactive Patients

Here’s how to market your dental practice to inactive patients.

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There is one method of patient marketing that is consistently effective for new practice owners. New dentists who use the technique explained below typically see patient appointments increase anywhere from 100-350 in a few months, depending on practice size. The method is laid out below, but first a little marketing background…

One marketing rule that is considered accurate in any business at any time, as taught and discussed in both business schools and boardrooms is this:

Marketing to existing customers is cheaper and more effective than marketing to new customers.

When you buy a dental practice, one of the most valuable items you buy is the list of patients. Some of those patients are going to be on the schedule and you’ll probably meet them within the first six months. However, there is likely a long list of patients who have been to the practice but aren’t currently scheduled to come into the office.

Make marketing to these patients one of your first projects when you buy a new practice. The results you will see will be incredible.

An Untapped Pool of Patient Appointments

Patients will not have their next dental appointment scheduled for a variety of reasons. It could be their schedule changed, someone forgot to ask at their last appointment, they were sick last time and haven’t rescheduled, or something else.

These people still need a dentist!

They know where your practice is, they’ve met your team, and they’re more likely to come in to see you than any other dentist.

Contacting these people is so much more valuable than any external marketing project you can think of.

Convincing a person who has never been to your office to find the office, fill out paperwork, and navigate the unknowns of a new office, will always be more of an uphill battle than simply convincing someone to come back.

Market to this group of people by reaching out to them individually in the most effective way you can – direct mail.

Direct Mail

Dental marketing consultants I talk with all point to direct mail marketing (letters or cards in a mailbox) as a consistently effective strategy for marketing to – and finding – new patients for a practice. Despite the impression that marketing is now only a digital game, people still go out to see what’s in their mailbox.

A few factors affect whether people open and read the mail they get or not. Anything that helps a letter appear personalized (i.e. different than junk mail) like an actual stamp or a handwritten address, helps the mail get opened.

So, physically put a stamp on the envelopes.

Then, handwritten notes or signatures on the message inside the envelope get direct mail messages read.

So physically sign the letters.

Of course, large companies who are sending hundreds of thousands of these direct mail pieces weekly can’t afford to include the finer touches that ensure an envelope gets opened and read. You can.

Companies that do direct mail marketing on a massive scale (think credit card companies sending hundreds of thousands of letters daily) have it down to a science. They target response rates of 0.3% to 0.5% (5 responses in 1,000 pieces of individually mailed letters). Anything over that number is considered a phenomenal success.

Dentists who use the strategy described above say average response rates to these campaigns are between 12-19%, depending on the patient pool and geography.

Another option in this vein is a postcard. It’s a simple option to quickly promote yourself without the expense of envelopes and the time of hand signing a letter.  This is best used in conjunction with mailers, possibly on a rotating schedule.

The Inactive Patient Marketing Plan in Action

First, designate someone in your office as the point person for this project. You’re the boss, but this is a perfect opportunity to flex those delegation muscles.

Next, have that person pull a “Last Visit Date” report that will show you a list of all the patients who have been to the practice in the last five years. Hopefully, this list is long! Exclude names on the list who have current appointments already on the calendar.

Then, create a short, friendly letter inviting the past patients back into the office. Appeal to a need that is universal like the connection between a healthy mouth and a healthy body or the recognized need for regular checkups.

Keep the message concise and consider offering a special deal to this group of potential patients.

Since you’re a new owner, it’s not a bad idea to include a picture of yourself somewhere on the letter.

Use the “mail merge” feature in Word to personalize the greeting (“Dear Samantha…”).

Don’t forget to physically sign each letter. Yes, with a pen (preferably, a blue one so it’s obvious and hard to miss). If your hand cramps up, send me an email to complain so I can respond with a reminder of how many new appointments you’ll soon be getting!

After that, prepare your envelopes. Have your project manager handwrite the patient addresses and apply a physical stamp. Go ahead and use a label for the return address.

An important tip: don’t forget to have “Return Service Requested” printed on the front of the envelope. This ensures that if the recipient isn’t at the address, the letter will be returned to you. This will be a key part of keeping your patient list clean.

Finally, send these out to your inactive patient list three times, about a month apart each time. Three seems to be the magic number. If you only send it once, it will easily be set aside for “later”. However, usually after the second and third letters, people are prompted enough to act and set up their appointments. Any more than three mailings tend to be viewed as spam.

After the first month’s mailing you’ll probably get about 20% of those mailers back in the mail. That’s great! People move, die, and change their address. Have your project manager update those patients information in the practice management software and congratulate yourself on a cleaner patient list.

Common Questions

My clients often ask if patients will be surprised to see a new doctor’s name and picture associated with the office. I tell them – of course not! They already received an introduction letter cosigned by you and the seller, right?

Another common concern is that by doing this they’ll be inundated with new patients that they can’t handle. They’re saying, “I’m worried I’ll have too many new patients.”

What a nice problem that would be!

In short, I haven’t seen it be a problem with anyone I’ve worked with. Not everyone will pick up the phone to make an appointment the day the mail arrives. Calls come in and new appointments are scheduled with enough space in between to feel good, but not overwhelming.

Why I Love This Marketing Strategy

This is one of my favorite marketing projects for new practice owners for a few reasons. First, it’s extremely rare for a selling doctor to have done anything like this and the list of prospective patients is long – the ultimate low-hanging fruit.

Second, it’s great to start off your career as a business owner with a marketing win. Marketing is tough enough for any business owner, let alone a new practice owner who has been through dental school without much in the way of formal training on marketing a business.

Third, this method is simple. It requires some work but the concept is not difficult. You’re mailing a letter and asking a patient to come in to see you. Compared to some of the complex Google AdWords or Facebook video marketing strategies, this is child’s play!

Fourth, it works. Clients consistently let me know how well this strategy works in their offices. Many dentists make this an annual part of their marketing strategy and do an inactive patient mailing when patients naturally make their own fresh starts such as every January or September.

Have a question? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer it.

Thanks for reading,


I created a guide called “77 Questions to Ask to Avoid Buying the Wrong Dental Practice.”
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Read more below about how to buy a dental practice because good advice is important!

Why One-Time Actions Turn Dental Practice Owners into Successes

Three Reasons to Choose a Flat-fee Attorney When Buying a Dental Practice

Negotiating a Dental Practice: Don’t Be THAT Buyer

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