Building A Positive Dental Marketing Agency Culture
Before Dental Marketing: Eric Hubbard and Andre Santos, like many entrepreneurs, started their careers in the corporate world. Eric built his marketing foundation at Procter and Gamble, where he mastered the art of aiming messages directly at the company’s highest value patients. For P&G, the “Golden Mom” was a hypothetical customer who spent more than […]
Before Dental Marketing: Eric Hubbard and Andre Santos, like many entrepreneurs, started their careers in the corporate world. Eric built his marketing foundation at Procter and Gamble, where he mastered the art of aiming messages directly at the company’s highest value patients. For P&G, the “Golden Mom” was a hypothetical customer who spent more than any other demographic. Eric learned how to be laser-focused on the right customer to bring the highest value to the company.
He met Andre years later when the two worked at GameStop. Andre was a detailed, solution-focused software engineer on Eric’s team. As they undertook a complicated marketing project together, Andre and Eric built rapport and trust that later turned into a friendship.
During the span of this project, Eric visited his hometown dentist, Dr. John Barroso. From the dental chair, he stared at a complicated flow chart of GameStop user demographics.
“What are you working on?” asked the dentist.
By the time Eric was done explaining the marketing strategy, the dentist had become his first client.
A Pain-Free Dental Marketing Partnership
Eric started by building Dr. Barroso a marketing plan. At Procter & Gamble and GameStop, the marketing plans revolved around targeting the ideal customers (Golden Mom’s” & “Whales”) so that is what he decided to do for Dr. Barroso– instead of targeting “everyone in a 10-mile radius”, focus the plan around the practice’s ideal patients. Along with that, came the idea of implementing a “Champion Challenger Strategy” when it came to the ads. The last piece was building a great website, and since dentistry still happens over the phone, the ability to track where phone calls came from– that’s where Andre came in. Together, that recipe produced amazing results for Dr. Barroso.
It wasn’t long before Andre left his job at GameStop to join Eric full-time.
“Friends thought I was crazy to leave my job to work at some dude’s house,” Andre laughed. “But I hardly had to think about it. I trusted Eric. Once we got started, we never thought about going back.”
What appealed to Andre most in the early days was taking ownership of what he built. His tools could make clients more successful and their jobs more fun.
“I never considered anyone else,” Eric said about choosing Andre as his business partner. “It was the best decision of my career.”
Eric and Andre have complementary skill sets. (They affectionately call it Shake and Bake.) Eric’s big picture vision is matched by Andre’s focus on data and detail. However, the success of their partnership rides on their shared passion for the company they’re building.
“Andre and I have always shared guiding light principles of who we wanted to be,” Eric said.
This vision has kept the Pain Free founders on the same page as they’ve grown from one dental client to hundreds. Their commitment to shared principles has shaped the team, culture, and client base at Pain-Free from the very beginning.
Building a Dream Dental Marketing Team
Andre and Eric have always prioritized hiring people they love to work with. They want to enjoy their coworkers, not just tolerate them. They seek people who can fit the culture, directly communicate with clients, and love the work as much as they do.
“Early on, passion was more important than trying to do something perfectly,” Eric shared. “Now that we’ve grown, we have a healthy balance of crazy zealots and people who strive for perfection in their work. It’s worked for us.”
They’ve also assembled a team of people who appreciate and enjoy each other—and appreciate and enjoy their clients. On their most recent company trip, employees shared what they loved about everyone around the table.
“You can’t force people to feel that way about each other—they just do,” said Andre. “People hang out because they want to, and not because it’s their job. That’s unique.”
It is unique, but it’s also intentional. Eric and Andre have had the wisdom from the very beginning to prioritize people. It’s their number one tip for other entrepreneurs:
“Focus on your team. There are a lot of marketing companies out there. Someone else can replicate how you build websites—and try to do it faster and cheaper. If you’re going to compete on the product, someone will always copy you. But no one else can replicate your people or your culture. Invest in that.”
Culture Starts on Day One
Company culture is a buzzword now. But when Pain-Free was just a start-up at Eric’s dining room table, the founders were building the traditions, rituals, and principles that would sustain it long term. The result of those early conversations is now a Google document called PFDM Culture.
The internal document outlines principles like “Surprise and Delight Clients,” “Care for the Team and Teamwork,” and “Strive to Be Better and Make the Company Better.” It lists traditions that have been around since the earliest days of the company: Christmas in July, their own version of the “Happy Birthday” song, Poem and Portrait Secret Santa, Field Day, and the Shake and Bake Award.
Everyone’s favorite tradition is the annual company trip, where Pain-Free hosts employees on a beach vacation. Now a much larger undertaking, Andre and Eric had the foresight to plan for an annual trip when they were a very small company. As they grew, the trip became a permanent line item in Pain-Free’s budget.
“I had been a part of start-ups in my career,” Eric shared. “And I noticed that if they did little things to build culture early, they could grow it. If they started too late, it was harder to build.”
They acknowledge that investing in company culture comes with a price tag. It’s also been much more challenging to maintain since the pandemic interrupted big events, vacations, and everyday work. But for Eric and Andre, the benefits of their team rapport outweigh the cost of expensive trips.
“We do a lot to appreciate our team. If we take care of them, they take care of our clients,” Andre shared. “We want people to stay here a long time.”
Keeping great employees around means more than vacations. It’s why another section of the PFDM Culture document is dedicated to the employee benefits plan. Pain-Free offers competitive salaries, vacation stipends, paid time off, and a full 401K match, a big undertaking for a company of its size.
That’s because Eric and Andre share another guiding principle, which they call “Compassionate Capitalism.” They believe in creating a profitable company, but also in distributing profit with balance. They are highly considerate of employee, company, client, partner, and community needs, and seek to earn responsibly—without causing harm to any party.
Pain-Free also commits wholeheartedly to charity. The whole team participates with local nonprofits Operation Christmas Child and Dwell with Dignity. It’s a way for the founders to live out their values with the entire company—and it builds culture in the process.
Trusting Your Team, Your Partner, and Your Gut
Pain-Free Dental Marketing has transitioned from a two-person partnership to a bustling dental marketing agency. It hasn’t always been easy, but both Eric and Andre are optimistic about the future of the company and the team they’ve assembled to lead it.
“It starts with being real,” says Andre, when asked how he would describe Pain-Free now. “New hires come in and directly interact with the team to get a sense of who we are. And it’s the same for clients. We are authentic about who we are and how we can help. I don’t have a dental marketing silver bullet. Anyone who promises a specific ROI is giving a sales pitch. What I say is this: We will work hard for you. You will be in the loop. You’ll get the good news and bad news. And, if a strategy isn’t working, we’ll suggest what we should do differently. I don’t know for sure what’s going to work for you—but I have an idea about where to start. I think clients find that refreshing.”
Andre and Eric both credit the strength of their partnership for helping them navigate challenging decisions as the company grows.
“What makes our relationship work, while there’s definitely conflict at times,” shared Eric, “is that I have never in my mind questioned that Andre believes he’s doing what’s in the company’s best interest.”
What’s the secret to keeping the company’s best interest in focus? Eric shares:
“Every week, Andre and I have conversations about what kind of company we want to lead. We aren’t always perfect. Any time we steered away from our vision, it has cost us. We’ve hired counter to our culture, taken deals for revenue, and kept clients for too long who didn’t value us. But, when we keep who we want to be at the forefront of our minds, we can align that ideal with the decisions we make. We never stop asking ourselves what kind of company we aspire to be. And that keeps us moving forward.”