For most dentists the concept of “selling” was not something they signed up for when applying to dental school. In fact for many clinicians, especially first-decade dentists when they hear the word “sales” it conjures up images of manipulating people into parting with their hard-earned money.The underlying mentality is that; we are a medical profession and should simply be able to tell people what they need and they should just trust us and understand our advice. This viewpoint can be somewhat self limiting because most of us practice in a fee-for-service environment where even if the patient has dental insurance, the average policy does not completely cover a lot of what modern dentistry has to offer. This means that our ability to deliver optimal health and wellness to society will rest largely on our ability to inspire our patients to desire and pay for what we can do for them.
So what is it about this concept of “Selling” that so many of us in our profession feel so uncomfortable with? Is “selling something to someone” really a bad thing? Or is it our approach to selling that determines its ethics and integrity? Does it have to be a manipulative dishonourable process or can it be something beautiful and empowering that connects us to people and empowers us to help them? I think the answer to this question depends largely on how we perceive and define the process of “selling” in our own mind. My observation is that it is the old school negative approach to “selling” usually applied by what we call “pushy sales people” that most clinicians have an aversion to. You know the ones … the fast talking … manipulative … sly … heartless … dishonest sales person who has poor listening skills and could care less about what you think because they are focused on one thing only “closing the deal and getting your money.” Selling doesn’t have to occur this way. How we decide to deliver the selling/buying experience to our patients is completely within our control. It is a conscious choice each of us can make.
How you define the process of “sales” in your own mind will be powerful in influencing how you deliver the buying experience. I recently asked a group of dentists who said they hate “selling” to create an ideal definition of term “sales” based on how they feel about it … here is what they came up with …“sales is a process of coercing someone into buying something they don’t want or think they need.” Wow! If that’s how you allow yourself to see selling then everything you say to your patient during a case presentation will be tainted with this negative belief system. In silent, powerful, and unseen ways you will unconsciously project or mirror these beliefs on to your patients through your choice of words, body language, and through your overall approach to the entire process.
Your underlying motives and beliefs have everything to do with how you present yourself and your ideas to people. With all the beautiful advances modern dentistry has to offer today, if we are to succeed as clinicians in the 21st century it is imperative that we don’t view case presentations as a process of convincing customers or pushing them into things. That’s why we must redefine the term “Sales” and give it a more positive and purposeful meaning that can guide us towards delivering a more positive buying experience to our patients. The great philosopher Plato said “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Our new improved meaning for selling should be based on the process of what we are really trying to achieve when we communicate with patients. It should sound something like this … “sales is a process of engaging someone intellectually while enabling them to commit themselves emotionally to make the decisions and take the actions towards a desirable outcome” or more simply put “sales is a process of helping people to make decisions that will add to their quality of life.” This means that our entire case presentation must be converted from the all too common one-sided regurgitation of dental information (product and services dump) to a more interactive process that gets patients involved and guides them towards discovering for themselves that which is in their best interest. When you sell with ethics and integrity you don’t have to approach people with the intent of selling them something: rather, your goal will be to gain rapport and understand their objectives so you can help them get what they need.
Have you ever been sold something and then days or even months later wondered why you bought it? When you came to the conclusion that you were “sold to,” how did you feel – about yourself, the salesperson who sold it to you, and the company that he/she works for or owns? However, you’ve also bought products and services that were unnecessary but you didn’t feel the same negativity towards the salesperson or the company. Why? In those instances, you were an integral part of the purchasing process. If your sales process is a one sided regurgitation of procedures and techniques then this may not be very emotionally appealing to patients and they will not buy. To counter this challenge many sales training programs, seminars, or books on selling present it as a series of strategies, gimmicks, or attempts to control behaviour – all designed to get a potential buyer to say “Yes.” The problem with these teachings is that they often promote manipulative sales techniques. They teach strategies like tie downs, open probes, get them while their hot, overcome objections, up sell (would you like a crown with that) … probe for the close (any reason we can’t schedule today?). These manipulative sales techniques may raise your batting average slightly on a per incidence bases but they do not form the foundation for long-term trusting mutually rewarding relationships with patients who are committed to preserving and enhancing their life-long dental health in partnership with your office. In fact; while coaching hundreds of dental professionals it is my observation that when patients say “yes” based on how they were sold in many cases they may not actually be “committed” to the treatment they are accepting. If you pressure patients into accepting treatment you can often get them to “comply” with treatment, but when they comply (act of being pressured into something) they do not emotionally commit themselves to the process or to the potential positive outcomes. Have you ever noticed the common phenomenon with patients who hesitantly accept treatment under sales pressure? They are often very difficult to completely satisfy? No matter how good you make the clinical outcome they seem to find reasons to be dissatisfied. Then on other hand I’m sure you have had patients for whom you were not fully satisfied with your clinical excellence yet this patient just loved your work and referred their friends and co-workers. I believe the difference between these two scenarios lies mostly in the level of commitment that was achieved with the patient during the selling process (case presentation). There is a big difference between compliance and commitment. When patients comply with care we tend to become mostly responsible for them. When they commit to care they tend to take more responsibility for themselves and for the clinical outcomes. Committed patients tend to become more positively involved in their care which is evidenced by their behaviour in the practice – following clinical instructions, realistic expectations of clinical outcomes, keeping their appointments and paying on time etc. Pressure sales is what most of us have an aversion to because it can lead to pressure case acceptance which means that we end up babysitting the patient through the entire process while looking like a pushy salesman and feeling undervalued and under-appreciated.
Human beings are emotional creatures who process all decisions they make with their emotions/feelings. This means that when our patients walk into our practice they walk in with all of the emotional baggage related to things that are going on in their life at any one time – trips, job, relationships, other health concerns, family goals/challenges, new car, self image and self esteem issues, rent, credit card debt, going back to school, etc. For basic procedures that are mostly covered by insurance we can usually get away with telling them what they need without focusing on their current life circumstances and they’ll usually accept treatment. However; when the fees get higher and the complexity of care becomes more involved we must factor into our communication the fact that patients have a life outside the office and then with the patient in the driver seat we must embark on a co-discovery journey of fitting the dentistry into their lives not into their mouths. To do this well we must reconnect with our authentic non-dental self. Which is the way we thought and spoke before the world of dentistry started crowding out our thinking with dental terms and industry jargon. This is why social skills are so important. These have little to do with talking, or having the “gift of gab.” They’re more about communicating with people – asking questions, listening, understanding, and having empathy and rapport.
Social skills are demonstrated when you ask questions and listen, when you understand different behaviour or communication styles, and when you adjust your style to fit other people’s styles. It’s the ability to understand the unspoken. To read body language. To pick up on voice tones, inflection, and facial expressions. It’s being able to intuitively crawl inside other people, then think and see the world as they do. It’s the willingness to listen to people without biases. To understand their viewpoint. To suspend your view of how things are and understand their beliefs and opinions. Excellent social skills help us jump on board other people’s trains of thought and ride with them as co-passengers. This is the stage on which the fullest scope of modern dental services can be delivered.
Selling really is a process of guiding people towards self discovery and hope. It’s a process of engaging a person’s heart and imagination towards something that does not yet exist in their lives. Selling is best achieved by listening to people. In fact, listening is the greatest skill you can use for strengthening your communication excellence. It is also the greatest tool we have for releasing potential in others. This talent can save a marriage, make you a better negotiator, heal a damaged friendship, increase your sales, or strengthen your leadership and team unity. It has been said that the greatest need of the human soul is the need to feel heard and understood. Give the gift of “High Level Listening” to your patients on a daily basis and you will in fact be strengthening your ability to sell by leading them towards great decisions that will add to the quality of their lives. One of the easiest ways to distinguish the difference between an effective treatment coordinator or dentist and one who needs more skills development is to watch how that person interacts with the patient. When he or she does all or most of the talking, it’s likely acceptance of treatment will either be delayed (I need more information, I want to think about it, etc.) or denied completely. People really don’t care how much you know or what you can do until you show how much you care. Patients don’t like “product dump” speeches. When they sense one coming on they will tend to tune you out.
The next time you discuss treatment options with a patient ask yourself the following four questions
Whose dental condition/opportunity is it?
Who’s recognizing the condition/ opportunity?
Who wants to treat it?
Who’s accepted all potential treatment outcomes?
If the answer to any of these questions is you, and not the patient, then we do not have patient involvement. No one can force health on a patient, it has to be desired – a goal. No one can force a patient to show up for appointments. They show up for appointments that they want and they alsoBARRY show more appreciation for treatment they choose. The process of patient involvement is called co-diagnosis. Co-diagnosis is the development of a partnership. It’s the act of assisting patients to “discover” themselves and participate in the diagnosis. People really are interested in themselves. Our job is to help them to discover themselves and any potential problems/opportunities. It’s the patient’s job to decide what level of health and wellness they choose for themselves. We dental professionals spend an awful lot of time trying to convince people to have their dentistry done. We are excited about all the options that we can provide. But we fail to realize that before we can get the patients enthusiasm, we must first help them develop their desire for the services. Patients will only agree to services they want (not need). The Greek philosopher Socrates talked about the use of questions to guide people towards developing ideas and conclusions in their own mind. By leading people through a series of focus questions we facilitate their “ah ha” moments but they take ownership of their breakthrough thoughts. Do you lead your patients through a process of self discovery that lets you highlight the range of possibilities available to them – possibilities that they would not have identified without you?
The following are 10 tips we can use to strengthen our case presentation skills and increase case acceptance
View the patient as an ally and adopt a healthy view of selling
Listen twice as much as you speak
Take notes during the presentation
Make a comprehensive chart including information regarding the unique life circumstances, views, and emotional desires of the person attached to the teeth
Begin creating an ongoing list of deep probing open ended questions
Take the time to connect on a personal level with your patients
Identify their needs 8. Fit the dentistry into their needs
Don’t sell raw dentistry (products and procedures)
Communicate beyond this; to the quality of life impact (features and benefits) the dentistry will have on their lives
Your values and attitudes are projected to patients. Be open and honest and they will trust you
At the end of the day it comes down to this, we are all born as human beings not as customers or patients. We are all people – our patients are not customers, they are people. Without people we have nothing, but with people we have something bigger than dentistry. By embracing the human condition we can change our language and the patients overall perception of us and what we have to offer. We can all boost our case presentation skills and enhance case acceptance by learning to more effectively communicate in our patient’s language. Dentistry is a helping profession and “sales” is a helping process. By altering our thinking and approach slightly we can easily shift the focus from “Us” and the procedures we sell to “The Customer” and the quality of life impact our services will have on their lives. This shift in thinking will enable us to communicate with our patients in a more buyer-based, service-focused and solution driven way, and we will bring honour and dignity to this whole concept of selling within the profession dentistry.
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Lund P. Building the Happiness Centred Business. Brisbane, Australia: Solutions Press.
Jameson C. Great Communication Equals Great Production, 2nd Ed. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Publishing.
Pine BJ, Gilmore JH. 1999. The Experience Economy:Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Boston, MA:Harvard University Press.
Sanders T. The Likeability Factor.
Shapiro S, Schefdore R.Better Service Better Income Better Dentistry.
The 21st century is such an amazing time to be in our wonderful profession. From a technical standpoint we’ve got better diagnostic tools, better materials, and greater clinical and theoretical knowledge. Today we are a much more experienced profession with diversely trained clinicians.
Compare this to how society saw us just 25 years ago when the services patients expected to receive could be grouped into one of 5 most common categories — drill, fill, pull, dentures, cleaning. In those days, the use of dentistry generally occurred when someone was experiencing a problematic dental condition that he or she could no longer ignore or live with.
The interaction in the office tended to be very generic, subservient and somewhat routine: Patients walked into the office clutching their wallets tightly while waving the almighty insurance booklet in the air. “Here’s my problem, Doc, what is the minimal thing you can do to fix it that will be covered by my insurance? And could you please keep the pain down to a minimum?”
This preamble was usually followed by the patient reluctantly passing the baton to the dental practitioners, at which point we proceeded to put the patient through a very clinical and somewhat routine system of diagnoses and treatment delivery. It was a very technical, unemotional and generic process that locked dentistry into an insensitive, disconnected and reparative image.
The good news today is dentistry is undergoing a major transformation in the way we do business and serve our patients. The entire dental community — including labs, distributors, manufactures and service companies — are one by one repackaging (re-branding) their products and services into a more customer friendly, human touch experience. Today, we live in a service-based economy. Business begins and ends with people. The average dental consumer expects quality and service delivered in an honest, caring and compassionate environment.
When people make a decision to accept your dental care they are actually making a decision to accept you. “You” the person, not “you” the dentist. The patient’s relationship with you and your entire team is the most important element in a successful practice.
Patients are committed to us, not to our facilities, our clinical procedures, or our instruments. The difference between good dentistry and great dentistry will never be as clear to them or impress them as much as a good relationship with you will.
Their commitment to your business will primarily be based on how you make them feel while they are in your presence receiving your care. Simply put, people may forget what you said and what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel and this memory will linger long after they have forgotten which tooth you crowned.
Let’s face it, as people and as dental patients it is our basic human nature to want to feel genuinely respected and cared for, especially when it comes to placing our health and quality of life in the hands of professionals. The challenge for our profession is that with all the technical learning and training dentists receive, something begins to get lost and fade away. While vigorously pursuing clinical excellence, is it possible that we begin losing sight of the person attached to the teeth? Is it possible our clinical focus has diminished our human connection and relationship skills?
After years of coaching (consulting) dental teams and individual clinicians, it is my experience that our communication can very often appear cold and disconnected to people because it is delivered in a very technical manner devoid of emotion and humanity.
As a profession, if we are to succeed in altering the old-school negative paradigms society holds about dentistry then we must begin to look beyond the instruments we are holding in our hands.
In our hands, we are in fact holding the life and feelings of the person attached to the teeth. Patients are filtering all decisions they make through their feelings and personal life circumstances. The time we take to build strong personal relationships with our patients will have a huge impact on our overall ability tosell the full scope of our services.
Relationships strengthen your likeability and likeability leads to case acceptance. If I like you and show you that I do, you’re going to have a tendency to like me in return. If you like me, you will have a tendency to trust me. If you trust me, you’ll have a tendency to believe the things I say. And if you believe the things I say, you’ll have a greater tendency to accept my treatment advice. Likeability leads to case acceptance and likeability can only be developed by building strong personal relationships with each one of our patients. A people-centered business feels and sounds much different from the traditional, generic, transaction-oriented business.
We should all take a closer look at our own practice to explore where we stand in our human relations effectiveness. Are you merely processing your patients through a series of generic transactions or are you taking the time to get to know your customers, their beliefs, their desires and their fears? Two people can only achieve a strong relationship by reaching beyond the boundaries they usually maintain between themselves and strangers. When we reach out to patients we begin delivering a more connected, caring experience.
Our ability to reach out is driven by our attitudes or what we focus on. As the saying goes, “our eyes cannot see what our mind has not taught us to recognize.” If we focus on dentistry, we will not see people, and our patients will not feel connected to us nor will they be as inspired by our ideas of how we can help them. But if you focus on people, in subtle, powerful and unseen ways your inner attitude will create patterns of behavior and communication that are very powerful in influencing and inspiring people.
This adjustment of focus is not really that difficult. For many, it is merely a matter of genuinely reconnecting with your authentic nondental self, which is the way you thought and saw things before the world of dentistry started crowding out your thinking. There is a buzz word being used today to describe what we are talking about, it is called “emotional intelligence” (EI). In our highly technological world, raising our emotional intelligence is becoming more and more important so as to not dehumanize the value of dentistry. Human talk, not dental jargon, is the language your patients will understand and feel inspired by most.
The success of a dental practice, like any business, is directly related to customer loyalty and loyalty is derived from relationships of trust, respect and connection. This kind of loyalty can only happen with employees who are passionately dedicated to developing genuine human connections with people
Patients come into the practice with a suitcase full of everything that is going on in their lives. Our job is to fit the dentistry into their suitcase not into their mouths. We must find the patients’ hearts before searching for their teeth. If all you have is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail. Similarly, in dentistry, if all you see is your repertoire of skills then every patient will look like a tooth and your case presentation will sound very technical with low “emotional appeal” to the patient.
The following is a list of things we can do to strengthen our personal connection and overall ability to lead our patients.
Before seeing your next patient, take a brief moment to clear any clutter from your heart and mind.
When scheduling procedures always factor “patient connection time” into your estimated appointment length (reconnect with your patient on a personal level).
Relationship building is a twoway process, which means that it’s all right to share personal stories that enable patients to get to know who you are as a person.
Be genuinely curious and interested in patients, and avoid insincere dialogues (baby talk, overly sweet niceness, counterfeit sincerity, superficial pleasantries, etc.).
Listen to your patients: if they are quiet, guide them by asking insightful questions then listen with your heart, your mind and your ears.
At the end of each patient visit briefly ask yourself, “How connected was my last patient to me?” To find the answer, look into your own heart: “As connected as I felt to them and not much more.” Patients can feel our sincerity and this will be mirrored back to us through their feelings.
“Customer relations” is the main area where we can shine in our patient’s hearts, thereby cultivating intense loyalty. It is the new yard stick that will differentiate us in our patients’ hearts. Remember, no two practices can be virtually identical in the people they attract, the work they inspire, the information they pass on or the emotions and feelings they create. It is impossible! Human beings are too different and their interactions in different environments only magnify those differences. We all have walked into a company and immediately detected these forces at work.
Passion, energy, caring and optimism in a dynamic service company — all these qualities are palpable within the first 15 seconds of entering the reception room. You can read the DNA of a company from the receptionist and discover it replicated throughout the company. Dentistry is no different. You must believe you are worth more to your clients than what you sell.
Remember, we are not in the dentistry profession serving people; we are in the people business providing dentistry. Your dentistry gets you into a game where relationships win. Grow your business one relationship at a time.
In Part One (DPM, Spring, 2009) of this three part series we examined the amazing power and impact that connecting with your patients on a deeper level can have on your business. In Part Two (DPM, Summer 2009) we explored the theory of “value creation” as it relates to the historically frowned upon concept of “selling” in dentistry. Now, in Part Three, we will move on to discussing arguably one of the most impactful variables that determines the “Success” of a dental office. First, let’s outline exactly what “success” really means. When I say “success” I’m referring to much more than just “financial reward!” I can never forget what a new client recently told me while we were examining his production numbers; he said; “Peter; don’t focus too much on our numbers, because they are not a reflection of the chaos that it took to produce them, we are stressed, stretched and working way too hard to achieve these results.” Although his office was very profitable; in his heart he did not feel an authentic sense of business success. True business success consists of four components each of which must be present in order for us to feel a well-rounded sense of professional fulfillment in our workplace.
The most successful dental practice will:
it will have minimal complexity in its operational routines;
team members will feel a purposeful sense of fulfillment
and your customers will show a fulfilling appreciation for the care and experience you provide them.
There is one primary talent that impacts an organization’s ability to achieve all four of these success variables. That talent is the team’s ability to innovate or re-invent.
Human beings are creatures of habit. As a result our first instinct is to find our greatest comfort and safety in the familiarity of the known. This causes team members to want to hold on to familiar routines and procedures at work. At the same time we have a somewhat conflicting emotional need for variety and uncertainty in order to feel a passionate sense of excitement and stimulation in our lives. The first instinct is necessary for survival in the wild animal kingdom. Unfortunately, it has little use for us in the business world. In fact its presence although prevalent in the workplace is quite counter productive. This primal characteristic is why so many offices today find themselves stuck and unable to mobilize the critical mass of people required to implement something new, better or different within their practice.
Any sign of resistance to change in the workplace should be seen as nothing more than a primal, instinctive self-preservation mechanism
I am reminded of a saying I heard many years ago… “The very successes that got us where we are today will eventually become the shackles that imprison us from further growth in the future.” Even your good habits will eventually imprison you if you hold on to them for too long! To break free of our habits we must develop the new habit of leaving the familiar behind. We must separate ourselves emotionally and psychologically from our stagnant circumstances. Our ability to establish a satisfying and integrated business lifestyle in a world of continual change requires that every member of our team develop the skill of “normalizing the new.” If you want to get to second base you must leave something behind by taking your foot off first base. In his book, “If It Aint Broke Break It” Robert Kreigel states it this way “in the face of accelerating change in every area of our lives, the conventional thinking that guided us in decades past is outdated. It is now clear that conventional wisdom that worked in the calm seas of the past won’t work in today’s turbulent rabidly changing environment.”
Experienced dental teams who hold onto outdated systems, approaches, and philosophies will tend to run into more and more roadblocks as time goes on. Simply put; if the ice is melting and you’ve still got your skates on you will become less and less effective and more and more frustrated over time.
We live in a rapidly changing world where countless manifestations of technology pervade our business community. These changes significantly affect the social, economic and cultural outlooks of dental consumers. Success in the 21st century business environment requires the ability to collaborate innovatively and creatively with others.
If we are to thrive in the 21st century, then it will be up to the entire team to keep up with the subtle yet collectively impactful changes that are occurring on the landscape of our wonderful profession. In fact any sign of resistance to change in the workplace should be seen as nothing more than a primal instinctive self preservation mechanism that helps people to protect and justify their existing ways of doing things. Resisting change is like driving your car but insisting on using (looking into) your rearview mirror to steer it. This approach is can be dangerous in business and in life because it renders you out of control since you are not acting in accordance with the realities of the changing terrain ahead of you.
The solution to this is simple! We must develop internal muscles to counter the forces of our instinctive psychology. Unfortunately many dental teams today are not skilled in being able to break free of these gravitational systems. This is because the gravitation is not outside of us. It’s inside of us and consists of our ideas, beliefs, experiences and the whole habitual way we go about to constructing our work day. As a team we have to become strong enough to go against our own belief systems and habits. We also have to become strong enough to go against other peoples belief systems and their habits.
Choose the continuous path of creative re-invention and innovation and you will experience the full joy of your chosen profession
This phenomenon is described clearly in the parable about “The Boiling Frog Syndrome.” The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote tale describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed into hot water, it will jump out instinctively and immediately, but if it is placed in cold water and allowed to swim around and get comfortable in its environment then as the water is slowly heated, the frog not sensing any sudden change in its environment will not perceive the subtle but increasing danger and it will keep accepting its minor inconveniences (increased heat) until it is cooked to death. This story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to important changes that occur gradually in their personal or professional lives.
The following are simple but effective tools you can use for keeping your practice un-stuck and on the cusp of innovation…
Have monthly creativity brainstorming meetings;
Prior to team meetings have one team member research an innovative idea. Then present it at the team meeting. Discuss, customize and implement it;
Attend courses and implement new ideas;
Read journals and implement new ideas;
Re-invent new ways of doing things that are already working well in your practice;
Poll your customers to find out how they are thinking, feeling and changing;
Adopt a business philosophy of never being satisfied with the status-quo;
Explore new ideas with curiosity… and not through your defensive self preservation mechanisms;
Modernize the look and feel of your practice decor;
Be technically proficient and be able to offer the most up-to-date clinical services;
Find a mentor and consider becoming a mentor (teaching others is the highest form of learning);
Become involved in a study club group and learn about other peoples approach to practicing dentistry
Many of us find change difficult, so we drag our feet or avoid it at all costs. In order to embrace change, you must change the way you look at change. Move away from the panic and fear that grips you. Change is an opportunity to create something new for you and your practice so that your life becomes more fulfilling.
In your dental office, if you are the owner; you are also the CEO. You are in charge of running the practice and making sure everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen. In most other industries, and certainly with big companies, CEOs change from time to time. A new CEO brings a fresh way of looking at the business, a new way of dealing with customers, and certainly uses his or her past successes and experiences for the benefit of the new company. However if you are the CEO of your dental business you probably aren’t going to a new practice any time soon. The only way to clear your eyes and keep your dental offices fresh with new ideas is to follow the above 12 steps and tap into the collective wisdom of each member of your team; especially your newest team members who most likely have the freshest viewpoints!
Keep exploring your horizons and remember this saying “the future belongs to the learners while the learned will inherit a world that no longer exists.” In the words of the great Martin Luther King “we stand here today at the beginning of time free to pursue what ever path we choose for our future!” Choose the continuous path of creative re-invention and innovation and you will experience the full joy of your chosen profession and finally but most importantly remember that “what got you here; won’t get you there!”