People Love To Buy
Recently, I was lecturing to a group of more than 300 dentists and we got onto the topic of selling dentistry. It seems that there still are plenty of dentists who are pretty vocal about how the word “sell” is a four-letter word, and how that really diminishes the respectability of being a professional health care provider.
I started coaching some dentists on the west coast a couple of months ago who felt that they had to spend most of their day selling dentistry and were just sick and tired of it. They had taken lots of dental continuing education about treatment presentation, long initial comprehensive examinations and how to sell dentistry, but they did not feel they were making any headway with their patients.
I have taken sales courses in other industries and sales courses from nationally renowned sales people. I have found that dentistry’s perception of what it means to sell is based on outdated concepts from the 1990s. I would like to help dentists understand current thoughts about sales in the general world and see how they can be adapted for dentistry.
The “hard sell” is a concept that has been around for many years. It is mostly associated with people like used car salespeople, insurance salespeople and people in the home repair industry. We, as consumers, generally don’t like to be pushed into a sale, but to a certain extent, this tactic does work. I don’t think, however, that anyone likes to be intimidated into buying something of uncertain value.
The “soft sell” approach generally is closer to most current thinking about sales. This approach originally was based almost entirely on educating the consumer (in our case, educating the patient). We have certainly seen a proliferation of this in dentistry with low-tech and high-tech patient education materials that teach (in sometimes excruciating detail) what a crown is, how an implant is done or how veneers are placed. The thought is that an educated patient will make the obvious, wise choice when selecting dental treatment.
Education certainly helps patients understand treatment but it is not necessarily the key to getting patients to actually go ahead with treatment. We respond to patients with more education—which still does not give us the result we want.
Most of the purchases that consumers make are not based upon education. They are based on emotion. Let me give you one example. My beloved Cleveland Browns may have just turned around their season by beating the Super Bowl champs, the New York Giants, in a Monday night game. Because of this, a good friend and patient of mine finally decided to buy a big screen TV. He then did Internet research and identified the best big screen TV that he could afford. The educational process came after he made the emotional decision to buy. Education clearly is not the reason for his decision—it was based purely on emotional factors. Education is not the key to deciding to buy, but rather helps define what we are going to purchase once that decision has been made.
Now let’s turn to the concept of “closing a sale.” I know that there are some consultants in dentistry that teach all kinds of closing techniques and questions that will force patients into making a buying decision that they really may not want by backing them into a corner. A lot of the methods for overcoming objections with scripts for quick comeback answers generally are viewed by consumers as argumentative and not respectful of their feelings. When I ask these dentists if these systems work, they usually say no, but they don’t know what else to do.
One of the best descriptions that I’ve heard recently about what sales should be is this: “People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.” To have a successful dental practice in this day and age, you want to have patients “buying” dentistry as opposed to you and your staff “selling” dentistry. No one likes to be sold anything.
Patients love to buy things and they certainly love to buy themselves a new smile or buy themselves freedom from pain and freedom to function and eat better than they ever have before. You want to create situations in your office where people will want to buy from you. You want an office where it is easy for people to buy from you with financing plans like CareCredit. Big posters of before and after cases, beautiful white teeth, a beautiful veneer case… these kinds of things should be on the walls all over your office. What I want to happen in my office is for a patient to walk in, sit down, and point to a picture and say, “Can you do that for me?” Create situations where patients know what we do in the office, and they will come in because they want to buy. Dentists become trusted advisors, consultants and friends who help patients get what they want.
By the way, companies like 1-800-DENTIST understand what makes people call dental offices and buy. These are advertising and marketing professionals who understand that people have their choice of dental providers and they understand how they choose their dentists. This is why they receive 2.5 million patient contacts a year from consumers.
Selling in the year 2009 is about building an emotional relationship with your patients, and giving them opportunities to buy health, happiness, a great smile and more self-esteem. Most dentists shy away from this because they think that establishing relationships with patients takes a long time or they don’t think they can do it. Creating a bond with a patient takes only minutes and you can do it no matter what personality type you are. Start by talking from the heart to your patients. Oh, and those dentists that I have been coaching? They have really improved their practice with the above approach. They are much happier spending their time doing dentistry for people who are asking for treatment and who want to buy from them instead of trying to “sell” and pressure people into accepting treatment.
It’s been estimated that approximately 60% of American dollars spent in dentistry today are for elective esthetic procedures. It is time to get rid of these outdated concepts on selling and become an advocate and friend in your office so that people will want to buy healthy and esthetic dentistry from you. Let’s bring trust and professionalism back into dentistry, both from the clinical and practice management perspectives. Dentistry is a noble profession and it is high time we start raising the bar.
Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist in Bay Village, Ohio, an internationally known lecturer, dental consultant and author, and consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. Interested in knowing more about how to truly enjoy dentistry? Click here.
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To reach Dr. Malcmacher, email him at DrMalcmacher@thedentistsnetwork.net or call 1.800.952.0521.