Incorporating education into your marketing plan

Buy one and get one 50% off. Purchase 100 and get 10 free. New customers get a 10% discount. Free shipping if you order before the end of the month. All of these are common offers.

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By Scott Mahnken

Buy one and get one 50% off. Purchase 100 and get 10 free. New customers get a 10% discount. Free shipping if you order before the end of the month. All of these are common offers. Most dental manufacturers rely on such discounts as a way to generate sales, yet is the buy/get offer losing its impact with the end user?

Dentists are savvy shoppers, and today it's a shopper's market. Unlike years ago when the dentist had to wait for the next dental convention to take advantage of special discounts, today's dentist can negotiate or identify product discounts in a variety of manners.

The deteriorating impact of discount promotions has led some manufacturers to identify new ways to communicate the value of their products. While I was director of marketing with Milestone Scientific Inc., I was faced with a similar challenge. Our manufacturing and distribution costs prevented us from discounting the product more than we already had offered. So how were we going to generate additional attention/enthusiasm for our products?

The answer was simple, yet required vision. Education!

Since a dentist's educational pipeline is put on hold upon graduating dental school, it makes sense to align with educational partners that have good exposure and distribution. By developing a continuing education program that complements your product category and stays within objective educational boundaries, I found that dentists will gravitate toward this type of "marketing."

Continuing education programs allow you to truly educate dentists on the features and benefits of your product while simultaneously getting a brief overview of the competitors in the category. If a dentist has sincere interest in a new product or technique, CE presents the ideal one-stop learning center. Certainly, earning a few credits to help maintain one's license doesn't hurt either.

CE is a door opener. Shortly after Milestone produced its first continuing education monograph (by partnering with PennWell), we saw the immediate benefits within our sales forces. Our outside sales representatives were able to use the continuing education program as a way to generate lunch-and-learn meetings with the dentist and staff. Our inside team was getting more doctors to come to the phone to learn about receiving 4 CE credits and to learn more about the anesthesia category.

Eventually we added the CE element to our advertising campaigns and the result was a noticeable increase in Web site traffic and inbound calls.

The CE world has evolved dramatically. Dentists are no longer required to sit through long and tedious CE programs to earn all of their required CE credits. The Internet and its improved ability to deliver streaming video has opened the door for traditional monographs, Power Point presentations, courses that include incredible images/graphics, and CE webinars that are getting close to capturing the essence of the live CE experience.

Possibly my personal experience putting together and marketing a continuing education program was so successful because of the partners we chose to manage the entire CE process. After reviewing the capabilities of several nationally recognized accredited CE providers, Milestone chose to partner with PennWell. The PennWell CE team is led by Aldo Eagle, a seasoned dental industry professional. Aldo did a terrific job championing the CE effort, yet it was the support staff that really exceeded my expectations.

If you plan on developing a CE program, there are many details and guidelines that must be maintained in order to develop a winning program. Make sure that you choose an organization that has the manpower to cover all of these areas.

Hopefully your continuing education program will accomplish exactly what the Milestone program did. The program had a measurable impact on leads, sales, and our sales team's enthusiasm. Everyone at the company felt that Milestone made a statement by committing to educating our customers. It sure was more effective and stimulating than bellowing, "Buy now and get one free!" Education sells.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with an education on education.

Editor's Note: For more information on PennWell's CE program, Aldo Eagle can be contacted by phone at (800) 633-1681 or by e-mail at aldoe@pennwell.com.

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