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An Important Ingredient to Fee-For-Service Dentistry with Dr. Barrett Straub
Episode 36631st December 2021 • The Best Practices Show • ACT Dental
00:00:00 01:03:25

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An Important Ingredient to Fee-For-Service Dentistry

Episode #366 with Dr. Barrett Straub

Regardless of where you are in your practice, you need to differentiate. But where do you start, and how do you effectively market to your ideal patients? Today, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Barrett Straub to share three parts of the five-step process for differentiation. With these tips, you can create a strategy to market to the patients you want! To learn what makes a great differentiator and how to communicate it to your patients, listen to Episode 366 of The Best Practices Show!

Main Takeaways:

Step one for differentiation: identify your core customers.

Step two for differentiation: identify your core competencies.

Step three for differentiation: identify your weaknesses.

Patients value differentiators that can be seen, touched, felt, and experienced.

How you communicate your core competencies to patients is important.

Don't invest time, money, and people into your weaknesses.

Be intentional about interpersonal skills, marketing, and how you talk to patients.


“The beauty of dentistry, it’s the greatest profession on Earth. And one of the reasons that it is that is because we can design it any way we want. We have choices, and one of those choices is to participate in PPOs or not to participate in PPOs. And the reason to not participate in PPOs, for me, was to control how I wanted the practice, how I wanted the flow, what type of patient I wanted, how I wanted my day to look and feel.” (4:58—5:31)

“I want my decisions to be between me and my patient, and I want our goal to be about health and dentistry. I love that I don't ever have the conversation, ‘What does my insurance cover?’ And I don't ever — not ever — but I rarely have the negativity about diagnosing treatment. I don't have, ‘Well, your insurance is going to cover this, so we’re going to do that crown.’ It is more of a, in my opinion, straightforward discussion about your dentistry, your health, and what you want for your health.” (6:07—6:43)

“[Fee-for-service] is not for everybody. And there are many different ways to run a very successful, satisfying dental practice. And so, I don't want anyone to hear, ‘You have to go fee-for-service.’ Not at all. However, differentiation is an idea that is very near and dear and at the top of the list of every marketing department in all businesses in all of America. It just hasn't been for the last 50 years, until recently, in dentistry.” (8:19—8:46)

“Dentistry, historically, hasn’t been big in marketing. Maybe 50 years ago, they didn't need to market. It certainly was frowned upon 50 years ago. Probably up until 20 years ago, it was very, very frowned upon. But marketing and differentiation go hand in hand. And you cannot effectively market yourself if you haven't differentiated yourself.” (8:49—9:17)

“If you are marketing yourself saying the same things that every other dentist is, ‘We do crowns. We’re cosmetic dentists. We have great customer service,’ everyone says that. Now, we’ve just gone down the road of making ourselves a commodity. However, if you can truly differentiate yourself, if you can have actions and words that are special and unique and you market that, now you have effective marketing.” (9:18—9:43)

“How do you know if you need to differentiate? Number one, do you want less PPO and more fee-for-service? Even if you're never going to be fully fee-for-service, most are going to say, ‘Boy, yeah! I'd like a few more fee-for-service and a few less PPO.’ You need to differentiate. Do you want more loyalty from your patients? Absolutely. Who doesn't want more loyalty, no matter how they pay you or no matter what insurance? Yes, you need to differentiate. Do you want to be seen as special? Do you want to be seen as a doctor? Do you want to be seen as not just a commodity? You need to differentiate. Do you want less negativity every time you recommend treatment? You need to differentiate. And if you're tired of having the, ‘Well, does my insurance cover it?’ conversation, you need to differentiate. So, basically, I'm making the case that every dentist, whether you're PPO, whether you're fee-for-service, whether you're managed care, whether you do Medicaid, no matter what, we all need to differentiate.” (10:05—10:58)

“First, let's define differentiation. Really, it’s simply nothing more than a business tactic to provide customers, or patients, in this case, with something distinct, unique, or different from that which is provided by your competitor. So, if your patients feel that they can get from you exactly what they could get from the neighboring dentist two doors down, they do not feel you're differentiated. If they perceive, see, and feel something different from you and they say, ‘I need to see Dr. Straub because he and his team do this,’ that “this” is your differentiator.” (11:46—12:25)

“Patients will value your differentiators if they can see it, touch it, feel it, and experience it.” (13:33—13:41)

“One rule of a differentiator is your patient has to seek it, want it, and be able to hear it, see it, feel it, and say, ‘That's why I go to him.’” (14:10—14:18)

“[Differentiation] is a five-step process. Number one is, identify your core customer. Who is your avatar patient? Of your best patients, if you and your team pick your five to ten best top patients that come to mind, the people you love seeing, write down why you love seeing them. Write down why they are your favorite patients, and you'll come up with a list of qualities that make them great patients. And then, you'll filter that down to, ‘We love these patients because,’ and it might be they're always happy. They're always positive. They always accept their treatment. They always pay. They always show up on time. There are different things that are going to be important to you that are going to match your own personal core values, and you want to see those things in your core customer.” (15:18—16:12)

“Some advice I got in dental school, and I think every dentist listening got this advice, ‘Just do good dentistry. Just prepare amazing crown margins, and the rest will take care of itself.’ And that's really poor advice. Now, we all want to do great dentistry. We don't want to do any remakes on crowns. I'm not saying that. But this idea that you simply have amazing clinical skills, and the rest takes care of itself, falls a little short. And the reason that falls short is, your patients don't necessarily experience it, see it, feel it, or appreciate it unless you've been intentional to set up the systems and processes in your office to allow them to value your clinical skills.” (23:49—24:34)

“What happened to me, and what happens to a lot of dentists is, we focus clinical, clinical, clinical, clinical — which we should — and we don't put any intentionality into the interpersonal skills, the marketing, how we talk to patients. And then, we realize that we've been putting our energy into skills that maybe aren't our personal core competencies.” (24:35—24:59)

“The way the dental marketplace and the industry is constantly changing, we have to think out of the box, and we have to think smarter. We can't just do things the way we’ve done because that's the way we’ve done it, or else we’re going to fall behind. So, step two is, identify your competencies. Core competencies are those inherent skills. They're the things that you are actually good at because of who you are. And certainly, we have to attain some skills and we have to get trained. But there are things that I'm good at that you're not as good at, and vice versa.” (27:21—27:54)

“What is a core competency? Core competencies are your strengths, the things you are really good at, better than most, and they're what sets you apart from the others. Now, there are some rules on core competencies. One is, it can't be easy to imitate. So, you can't say, ‘I do tooth-colored resin fillings.’ Everyone does that . . . It has to be sought after by your patients. It has to be something that patients actually want. You can't do gold foils and be good at it. No one wants those.” (28:00—28:52)

“Every dentist says, ‘We do fillings. We do great crowns. We have a CEREC. We have a CBCT.’ Those are procedures and equipment. So, I want you to think of your practice as a group of skills and competencies, not as a list of procedures and technologies.” (29:30—29:49)

“None of us are perfect. We’re always working. And when we talk about skills and weaknesses, we’ve got to have some humility. And so, when we go through identifying core competencies, there was a time in my practice where I had to be humble and say, ‘I don't have any that I can really set myself apart.’ So, some of you may say, ‘I'm really struggling to find one that I can honestly, in my heart of hearts, say, ‘I'm really good at that. I'm better than most dentists at that.’ Deep breath. It’s okay.” (30:53—31:26)

“Patients value what you offer when they feel that you are differentiated. When they feel that there's something you can offer them that they can't get down the road, they're willing to pay for it. They're often willing to pay more for it than your competitors. They're going to be loyal, even if there's a little hiccup in the road. They're going to receive that care on your schedule. They're going to receive that care according to your policies and your office processes. So, it’s like the trifecta.” (38:23—38:50)

“Step three [for differentiation], identify your weaknesses. This is pretty easy. I just did this with my team. I do this a lot. Identify your blind spots, you as a leader and your practice as a whole. And so, this can be, ‘What are we not good at? What are other people better than us at?’” (41:39—41:56)

“Humble warning. When you identify your weaknesses and it hurts, I want you to think about, it hurts because there's some truth in it. And any time there's some truth in it, we can either get defensive, or we can say, ‘It hurts because there's some truth in it. I'll take a good idea wherever it comes from, so I'm going to pack that uncomfortable feeling away. I'm just going to listen. I'm going to soak it in. I'll feel sorry about myself later. I'm going to take this idea because there's some truth in it.’” (43:12—43:43)

“If you're new to building this vulnerability-based trust in your office, know that the first time you do this exercise, it’s going to be a little awkward. They're not going to hit hard. But you need to model and show them like, ‘Hey, I want the feedback. I'm not going to get defensive. I'm not going to take your team’s feedback and put more work on you like, okay, these are my weaknesses, so now I'm going to make you guys work harder to fulfill my weaknesses.’” (44:13—44:39)

“The longer you can allow that pause [between stimulus and response] to happen, intentionally make it longer than it should be, the response is going to be healthier. The longer the pause, the healthier the response, because your brain and the neurochemistry is doing some things that tampers down the defensiveness.” (50:31—50:47)

“We have some personality profiling, and we have some things that are inherent about us. And that knowledge is powerful. But if we use it as a crutch, ‘I'm an introvert, so I can't be outgoing with patients,’ that's hogwash. You certainly can.” (54:50—55:05)

“Make sure you're not investing time, money, and people into your weaknesses. And if it’s a slight weakness, you certainly want to smooth the edges.” (55:21—55:31)

“If you're thinking about lowering your PPO or going full fee-for-service, you’ve got to first — before you ever do it — answer the question, ‘Why would anyone come to me versus the guy or gal down the road?’ And if you struggle with that question, spend time working on that question before you start cutting insurances.” (59:22—59:40)


0:00 Introduction.

2:10 Dr. Straub’s background.

3:59 Why this is an important topic for dentists.

6:45 Differentiating and marketing go hand in hand.

10:58 Examples of differentiation.

14:51 Step one for differentiation: identify your core customer.

19:17 Kirk’s perspective on his clients.

23:46 Poor dental school advice.

25:34 Step two for differentiation: identify your core competencies.

31:55 Inherent strengths and skills will be relatively enjoyable to do.

34:11 Where to start with core competencies.

36:28 Patients value differentiation.

38:58 How you talk about your core competency is just as important.

41:08 Step three for differentiation: identify your weaknesses.

43:44 Vulnerability and trust-building become easier with practice.

45:58 Kirk’s advice for accepting feedback.

50:10 The pause between stimulus and response.

51:54 Identifying weaknesses, continued.

53:47 Own your weaknesses and blind spots.

58:21 Last thoughts.

Reach Out to Dr. Straub:

Dr. Straub’s Facebook:

Dr. Straub’s social media: @bstraub10


ACT Dental website:

ACT Dental To The Top Study Club:

Good Reads:

Think Again by Adam Grant:

Dr. Barrett Straub Bio:

Dr. Straub practices general and sedation dentistry in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He has worked hard to develop his practice into a top-performing fee-for-service practice that focuses on improving the lives of patients through dentistry. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, his advanced training and CE includes work at the Spear Institute, LVI, DOCS, and as a member of the Milwaukee Study Club. He is a past member of the Wisconsin Dental Association Board of Trustees and was awarded the Marquette Dental School 2017 Young Alumnus of the Year. As a former ACT coaching client that experienced first-hand the transformation that coaching can provide, he is passionate about helping other dentists create the practice they’ve always wanted. Dr. Straub loves to hunt, golf, and spend winter on the ice curling. He is married to Katie with two daughters, Abby and Elizabeth.