THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Numbers and The Pipeline

I’m having a couple of days around The Bunker, working “on” the business and not “in” it. Amongst many other things, a chance to catch up on the blog posts that I read (I use Reeder as my Mac-based RSS feed aggregator – great little app). Catching up this morning on excellent posts written by my good friend and client Dr Colin Campbell – and this one, in particular, caught my attention. http://colin-campbell.co.uk [Link no loger exists] I work very closely with Colin and his excellent team – and let me tell you that their spreadsheets are awesome – probably in the top 3 that I have seen in 20 years. The data collection and analysis is fantastic – and yet he finds himself doing the “startled rabbit” look when he gets back from holiday to find an empty appointment book. Not long afterwards, he and I are enjoying a working breakfast in West Bridgford and in deep conversation about:

  1. how it happened?

  2. what to do?

I’ll deal with the easy bit first – what did he do? Like all of us – Colin went into overdrive – took the helm – swung the ship back on course with a huge final quarter. I love it when dentists tell me they are not in sales – and then have a record quarter because they want or need to. Please understand – I would never accuse Colin or any of my clients of over-selling. That would first be unfair and second produce a large swelling around my eye. But – when the salesperson is ready – the clients do seem to appear don’t they? I have long advocated that you have to be married to the numbers in any business – and I have invested many years in understanding those numbers myself for dental practice. It is almost black magic when you can look at a profit & loss statement and, in less then 10 minutes, tell the owner 80% of what’s going on in the building – good and bad. Even more so when you tell the owner things they were not aware of. When you understand the numbers you can run your business properly, stop problems before they become endemic, take opportunities when they arise, maximise your return on investment whilst providing ethical dentistry – and perhaps most importantly of all – pay your bills on time, enjoy a good income and sleep at night. Learning Excel seems a small price to pay? Here comes an 80/20. 80% of dental practice owners don’t take enough notice of the numbers – big problem (keeps people like me in work – thank you). Let’s get back to the first question. Why, after all those numbers, did Colin get back from holiday to a gappy book? Because not enough attention was paid to the second important measurement. The Pipeline. So what is The Pipeline? Its a 1980’s financial services description of the place between first appointment and sale of treatment. From first contact to closing the sale. And it has to be measured, monitored, discussed and acted upon on a weekly basis in any sales-driven organisation (and that means your practice). In the pipeline strange things happen to patients/clients.

  1. they ask to see a written report and then leave it their “around to it” pile

  2. they shop around and find someone who tells them they can do it cheaper

  3. they discuss your ideas with a friend/family member/colleague who tells them they must be mad

  4. they read on the internet that some people had a bad experience with the procedure you are recommending

  5. they fantasise about what can go wrong

  6. they become distracted by other issues in their life

  7. they spend their money on something else

  8. they forget what you said

So The Pipeline is a very dangerous place for you – if you leave them in their all by themselves. Which is why successful sales-driven companies employ systems and people to manage The Pipeline. There are plenty of systems around – from a simple Excel spreadsheet (again) to programmes that would put a team on Mars (Salesforce.com, Act!) – and also plenty of cloud-based apps nowadays so that you and your team can manage from wherever you are. I know that Colin’s team use Asana. At BKH/SDS we use Highrise from 37signals. There is a very good Google-based system called Insightly. Horses for courses – play around with different systems until you find one that suits (Highrise took us a year of experimentation before we settled). Then focus on the people who are going to manage The Pipeline and the systems – perhaps your TCO team, marketing team and/or even some of the clinicians. Then schedule the regular meetings at which The Pipeline will be discussed (every Monday.) Talk about every potential patient/client individually and decide what has to be done to maintain that relationship and close the sale, without becoming a pain in the neck. A tip – letters and emails don’t work – The Pipeline is managed by personal contact – telephone or meeting. If you manage your numbers and The Pipeline – confidence. I know that Colin Campbell and team have learned a lot from their experience last Autumn. Now its time for you to think about how well you perform in this department. A gappy book is NEVER about external market conditions – there are always more people out there who want treatment than you will ever have the time to treat. A gappy book is ALWAYS about your internal systems and people.

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