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On Target: A DentalBlogs Exclusive Interview with Kirk Behrendt of ACT Dental

March 6th, 2009 · No Comments

kirk-1Kirk Behrendt, a powerful dental practice performance coach, international speaker, and author founded ACT Dental in 1998. He aims to “provide the most ethical and value-driven service known to the dental practice development profession.” Kirk’s lectures for 2009, The Fusion Series, include topics such as how to make dental practices thrive, creating high-performance teams, marketing, taming overhead, and building viral energy. In the current economy, Kirk’s advice for marketing and practice growth could prove invaluable to your success.

Be sure to visit to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements or to register for “Motivate Your Team with Some Recession Proofing Energy” on Friday, May 1st in Eastchester, NY. At the website, you’ll also find an arsenal of free articles, videos, and a blog with excellent direction to help your practice succeed!

DB: What is ACT Dental, and how did it begin?

KB: Well, here’s how I got involved in dentistry. I worked in a dental lab in college and we built a supply company there. I didn’t really enjoy dentists as a whole; I had a couple thousand I was calling on. I didn’t find them happy overall, and they weren’t good business people. A select population was great – and they loved dentistry.

At 23, I made a decision to leave dentistry, and some folks talked me into staying. I went to Pankey to see Pete Dawson, Mike Schuster, Greg Tarantola, and all of the people at the Pankey Institute. They would introduce other people to me that took me to lectures of Frank Spear and John Kois. At all of these places were some of the greatest people and the greatest minds in denitstry. I was completely energized! It was a great time for me. I was single, could travel, could learn the excellent components in dentistry. So in my mid 20s, I made steps to be around these types of people, and I found they all flocked together. It was really interesting. It’s no mistake that those who really care about dentistry and are trying to be really good run in the same circles. It’s very energizing!

Pete Dawson’s first lecture I attended opened my eyes up the most. He sounded like my father! He talked about doing the right thing, finding passion and balance, enjoying family, living up to God’s calling. These lit my fire very early. When I spoke with Pete Dawson or any of these people, they sent me to another – it was very energizing! The most fulfilling part was that I engaged in a profession to help people, wasn’t selling a doodad or pushing a product. I wanted to be a schoolteacher. Now it’s like I am – and I find significance in my job. I can’t even describe the level of fulfillment when someone gets to change their life – see their kids again, save their marriage – it’s the most incredible thing. It’s off the charts. People light my fire every day.

Eleven years ago, ACT started with three of us. We really wanted to create a small community of dentists to coach and mentor, and they could help push each other. It grew into something much bigger than us, which we were really excited about. I pulled together some of the best minds in dentistry. ACT was a play on words – get your act together. Now, it’s an active community of trainees. This is very special to us because I never wanted company to be about me. I wanted it to grow well beyond me – us – and members of the community would be the most important part; they’d feel well cared for and well coached. It’s grown way beyond our greatest imagination! We’ve been overseas, done some work in Switzerland, as well. We’ve been very blessed!

We start with the core group that we coach – one or two practices a month. That’s all we can handle. After they’ve been coached for about a year, they become mentors and coaches for other practices. It starts by going in and becoming a coach; once they have great marketing, exposure, and organization, we ask them to become members, and it becomes a great relationship.

DB: You’re not the only speaker with ACT. You have an entire team. Tell us about how the team came together and how ACT is growing.

KB: I set out to find the best team members I could find to support this community. Our group of three is different than it was at the start. Sherry Kay, our Lead Practice Coach, an invaluable asset. She is truly one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She has more energy than I do. On top of it, she is (by far) the most gifted facilitator I’ve ever met. Shannon Pace, another truly dynamic Practice Coach with an amazing amount of talent, handles all of the assisting courses at the Dawson Center. Our whole team is super high energy. We are focused on excellence in dentistry. Our job is to support our clients.

A few other recent additions to ACT are Jane Burdette, an incredible mind in dentistry, and Rachel Berman, our Operations Director, who has the skills to manage our growth and keep us all focused. Our growth has been a huge blessing. We also have an entire panel of speakers – dentists, who have been with us for many years. Many are going through their AACD accreditation, and they have extensive technical knowledge and backgrounds. We’ve added four more dentists to our panel that aren’t on the site yet. ACT Dental is not comprised of a few people; it’s 44 members strong as of last January’s meeting.

DB: Why would a dentist seek out private coaching from ACT?

KB: We don’t necessarily limit our coaching to the practice. I think it’s hard to separate life and work in dentistry. Most of our practices thrive professionally, but making sure they’re well equipped to deal with life challenges is important. We really get involved in our clients’ lives. We build lifelong relationships. We’re going to be pushing you until the day you leave dentistry!

We also lecture to outside groups. I really enjoy the one-day lectures, and I didn’t know that I would when I started a year or two ago. I do one-day lectures all over. It’s grown into a tornado. We have so many dates on the calendar this year! The Greater New York Dental Meeting is one that I’m looking forward to. I thank God every day that I get to do this job! I serve people and it’s really high energy. I used to do stand-up comedy in college. So I get to do that, too.


I would do this for free! It’s that much fun.

DB: What do you feel is the most pertinent issue that you lecture on in today’s economic situation?

KB: It is very important for dentists to understand that we are not in the same economy as we were five years ago or even last year. The most important issue in practices today is to understand that fear is a virus that can be very toxic! While we can’t control what’s going on the economy right now, we can control our own minds. We teach our practices to choose not to participate in the recession. This isn’t to ignore the world, we don’t stick our heads in the sand, but we have a choice to feel fear and engage in it with patients – or we can remain focused on why patients are coming to us.

It starts at the top. If a dentist feels fear about the economy, it will resonate through the team and patients. Fear is very unattractive in the dental practice. Confidence is attractive. People move toward confidence and away from fear. If your front desk person is fearful that people won’t pay, she’ll translate that. The number one thing we teach is that dentists should chose not to participate in the recession. We have to protect our minds, our brains. I tell people not to watch the news. Turn on CNN for 15 minutes, then tell me if you feel better or worse after you turn of the TV. You’ll feel worse! Same thing with patients. We have to be clear with patients about our stand; listen to them, accept the situation, then focus solely on them.

It’s only speculation where we are in this recession, and we have no control over that. What we do have control over is our thoughts.

DB: Many dentists are refocusing their practices from cosmetic dentistry to general dentistry. What’s the most effective way to market this type of change?

KB: The pendulum is swinging back from cosmetic dentistry. It was very flashy. Because of the changes in the economy, more practices are shifting back to general dentistry.

Talking is the worst form of communication. Stop telling patients; start showing them. When it comes to general dentistry, most importantly, listen to patients. When they describe their needs, we need to understand their picture. I am a big fan of the viral aspect of marketing – visual, websites, appearance, image. We need to make sure what they see of us online, in person, or in their own minds as they communicate with us is consistent with the message we want to send.

There’s also the diversification component. More general dentists are placing implants, doing more endo, reverting back to single-tooth procedures, and that’s okay. Just remember, the most effective way to market this is visual and viral.

DB: What do you recommend dentists do to motivate their team in a time when salaries are stagnant, bonuses small or nonexistent, and unemployment is high?

KB: I think this is a fantastic question because it’s really important to understand this. I’ve interviewed hundreds of auxiliaries. Overall, TEAM MEMBERS DON’T THINK PAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR. It is one of the top three or five. The number-one concern is that they need to feel valued and appreciated.

But there are actually two parts to this answer. First, understand that the people in your practice need to feel appreciated, valued. Work is the safest place in the world to some of them. You can give them a safe place to feel appreciated! Some of them are unappreciated at home. Their four year old doesn’t look up and thank them for dinner. They need it at work. It’s really cool to make people feel appreciated and safe, to contribute to peoples’ lives. The US Dept of Labor & Statistics states that the number-one reason people leave their jobs because don’t feel appreciated.

Second, bonuses are small sometimes when the economy is poor, but as a dentist and team, it’s important to understand that bonuses come from increases in profit, not increased production or longevity on the job – they only come from profit increases. As a team, it’s really important to understand how pay is affected by a practice’s profitability. Don’t keep the team in the dark. It’s important for all team members and dentists to understand in this climate.

I tell teams and dentists that if you aren’t in a position to offer bonuses, tell the team where your practice needs to be to give bonuses. Appreciate and value them; let them know where the practice needs to be in order to see bonuses. Sometimes the road getting there can take several months. In getting there, I tell dentists once the goals are clear and you’re moving toward them, take the team out to dinner as a little incentive to show appreciation and say we’re getting there. A hundred dollar bonus can help. Show that you value them and appreciate their efforts. That in itself is a huge morale booster.

DB: How can dentists increase their marketing efforts and save money to continue to make a profit this year?

KB: It’s really important to understand that everything a dentist does is marketing – from first phone call to every conversation people have about you is marketing and opportunity.

As you’ve probably seen, dentists have tried everything in marketing in the past few years. They’ve gone to large companies for direct mail, external advertising, and it’s produced a poor ROI. In every major city, you see dental saturation in high-end magazines. You see ads everywhere. That marketing is becoming cost prohibitive. Dentists are having to find other ways to market and make a profit.

The most profitable dentists do most of their marketing virally. The dental practice website is an anchor. It is a very high-quality image of the philosophy they are trying to project into the community. That is just one anchor. When it comes to cost-effective marketing, we see people increasing electronic newsletters, blogging, electronic communication and relationship building between general practitioners and specialists. Also, we see increased visual communication between team members and patients.

Digital photography is huge leap forward in effective dental marketing. You are stuck in marketing unless you’re good at photography. You can only go so far without it. The practices that have made huge jumps forward use digital photography – all team members know how to use it efficiently. When it comes to digital photography, they shoot great photos, then ask patients about the photos when they are describe what they want or their challenges. A lot of digital cameras I see in an office have dust on them! The dentist isn’t the only one who can take pictures. Train the team to take the photos! It’s easy and exciting to team members. What a great opportunity! Put the pictures up on a giant screen to stir emotions visually in patients. It’s very powerful! Don’t talk to people; show them.
Be more visual than verbal!

Viral and visual are critical components. Viral is everything we consider soft. TNT is huge with this, and a lot of our practices use TNT for dental websties. Practices should actually use the technology they have. When patients call our practices, the treatment coordinator asks, “Are you near a computer? Please type in our website address. Now click on About Us. That’s me – I’m the first face you see.” They aren’t letting a technology sit stagnant in cyberspace. They are sending patients there. Patients have a reference, a visual image. Use all of your tools – they are only effective as well as we use them. I never tell people about my website, I drag people to my website. Then I take them there to tour the site, so they become more familiar with everything it has to offer.

Email newsletters grow automatically – SmileReminder (I love and technologies like this). Someone doesn’t have to manually manipulate them. They are automatic and work in a viral environment.

DB: You’re a big proponent of family, happiness, and personal fulfillment. Time seems to be a major factor when you discuss how dentists can live life to the fullest. What are some of the major time issues dentists face in a modern private practice?

KB: This isn’t just a concept to me, it is my life. God has blessed me with an incredible wife and four children under eight. I live chaos and activities every day. Breakfast can be quite chaotic! This isn’t a foreign concept to me. When a dentist says he has little kids, needs to manage his practice, and do marketing – I get it! When it comes to family, happiness, personal fulfillment, I understand and value time. Everyone in the world is experiencing a time famine. We don’t have enough hours in the day. We need to be clear about what our life is all about. If you’re working past 5:00, extra hours won’t fix your problem. The single biggest failure in America is not having dinner with the family. It’s the core essence of what we’re all about.

The major time issues, like the pile on the desk, will only continue to grow. The practice appetite will grow over the course of time. The demands will never lessen, they’ll only increase. There’s always going to be a pile there. Clarify what your life is, what your practice is. We tell our clients you can only work 32 clinical hours in a week. That’s it. Otherwise, something will fail – health, marriage, desire. Eight hours of clinical dentistry per day is the max. If you do more, something’s got to give.

It’s important that a dentist do only what he or she is licensed to do – dentistry and diagnostics. We encourage our dentists to be doing these two things 80-90% of the time. It’s a fallacy to think the team can’t take photos, talk to patients, mount models. That’s just not true. What makes your practice most efficient? The dentist has to position himself to do only what he’s licensed to do.

There are so many disruptions in business! Email is one of the biggest disruptions in the modern world. There is nothing in email that will improve your life. Stay focused on the practice moving forward. No dentist in the world should work past 5:00 or on Saturday. Give your patients a reason to come in during the week before 5:00. Don’t be at the mercy of your fears.

DB: You have a busy calendar in 2009! What event are you most looking forward to and why?

KB: As excited as I am about the future professionally, nothing dental can compare to having four little kids. That is my first focus. We have so much cool family stuff planned this year! I tell dentist they need four weeks of vacation every year. Kids need to think you’re cool parents! My kids are super excited, too. That’s really what excites me more than anything.

But I do love to speak and help people! I am very, very blessed to speak at these meetings. I’m looking forward to going back to the New York Greater Dental Meeting and the Florida National Dental Convention.  We are also going to work with Disney Isntitute later this year to learn how they orchestrate teamwork behind hte scenes. Last year we did snowmobiling in Rocky Mountains. I thank God everyday that we get the chance to do cool things with cool people in cool places! I am literally overloaded with gratitude that we get a chance to do this. I am excited to see what challenges and people God puts in front of us in 2009!

DB: What books are on your nightstand right now?

KB: I have three books – Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink – incredible reading, one of the top five ever business books ever written. The Bible – always. And a fantastic book, Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. I have so many books in my library that I haven’t read, but I feel smarter just walking in there!

See Kirk Behrendt in action on YouTube!  


Kirk Behrendt is a practice performance coach, international speaker and author.Kirk has spent his entire professional life studying the elite practices in dentistry and the leadership that guides them.As the founder of ACT, his vision is driven by the commitment to provide highly personalized care to the dental profession. By creating a small and talented team of experts, Kirk and his team continue to positively impact the practice of dentistry one practice at a time. The Pankey Institute and Dr. Peter Dawson’s treatment philosophies influenced Kirk early in his career. Since then, his mission has been to provide the most ethical and value driven service known to the dental practice development profession. His personal mission is “to use up every ounce of my potential.” Kirk lectures all over the United States to help individuals take control of their own lives. Kirk has competed internationally in 4 Ironman Triathlons and 9 Half-Ironman triathlons. He currently trains with some of the most elite pro and age-group triathletes competing in the world today. His feeling is that there is no greater parallel to optimal business performance than optimal athletic performance. He loves golf, basketball, stand-up comedy, and most of all, spending time with his wife, Sarah, and children Kinzie, Lily, Zoe, & Bo. His e-mail address is

Visit Kirk online!



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