Updated: May 26
If I claim that we, as a dentists, deal with sales every single day, most dentists reading this will probably disagree with me.
As a health professional, it seems almost insulting to our professionalism when someone claims we engage in sales. This is not just a European phenomenon. It is the same everywhere in the western world I have been doing case acceptance training or participated in post graduate dental education.
But why is this the case?
Definition of sales
According to the free dictionary, "sale" means: "The exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent"
Nowhere in the definition does it say anything about imposing something on others they do not need. There are no pictures or references to telemarketers or used car salesmen! Yet among dentists it is associations with underhanded people trying to foist unnecessary products on us that come to mind when we talk about sales.
The negative associations with selling. Is probably the reason why dentists have invented their own words for sales. It is as if we want to cover up the fact that a private dental practice is a business. As we know any business will live or die depending on its ability to sell the products or services it offers.
Since we, as dentists, are never selling anything. We have had to invent our own words for sales. We dont sell... no, no, no, we are educating our patients with our patient communication skills and thereby we achieve case acceptance. In other words: We sell the proposed treatment.
Agreed "Case acceptance" sounds better and more professionally than dental sales. But it is basically the same.
Good sales experiences
Have you ever had a good experience in a shop?
Most people will be able to tell stories of positive experiences from several shops. From the positive experience of finding a great item at an attractive price at a local market. To the experience of being treated to a gourmet experience in a Michelin restaurant (if you value that experience).
We even have a positive wording for positive sales experiences as well. It's called shopping.
In other words: Sales can be associated with good experiences and be something positive.
If there are good and bad sales experiences. The question arises: What differentiates the good- from the bad sales experience? And is there potentially anything we can learn from this. That can be transferred to a dental practice?
How we make decisions
Let me zoom out a bit.
The human brain has 2 halves:
The left brain: Deals with rational, logical, mathematical thinking.
The right brain: Deals with emotions, aesthetics, desires and dreams.
It has been scientifically proven that humans cannot make any decisions with the left part of the brain. It is always the right part of the brain that makes all our decisions!
We often imagine that our buying decisions are based on rational choices and dis-choices. But the truth is that the left brain cannot make decisions! When we make a decision with the right hemisphere, the decision is momentary and (almost) always irreversible. Once the decision is made, the right brain activates the left hemisphere to get all the rational arguments that will back up the choice we just made momentarily and irreversibly.
As you can see. There is no such thing as a rational choice. Every choice is made with the right side of our brain, which is the emotional, imaginary and creative part of the brain.
The above may also explain why we have such a hard time making our patients accept the treatments we propose in private dental practice. Especially when it comes to the more complex and expensive cases.
As dentists we have gone through a schooling that favoured people with strong logical and rational qualities. Throughout our time in dental school. We never had to bother convincing patients about the benefits of spending a lot of money on their oral health.
If we were lucky we received a few hours of theoretic psychology about patient communication. Usually this part of the education is centered around patient education and resolving conflicts.
Let me think about it
Rarely has the psychology education anything to do with sales. The first time we experience the need for sales skills. Is when we meet the first patients in private practice, asking us how much the crown will be or if insurance will cover the costs.
At this point our only skills are patient education. Which works fine with minor cases. But as soon as the treatment becomes just a little complex. The patients start to say funny emotionally things like: "I need to think about it" or "I will need to talk to my spouse about it". As you and I both know. That is a paraphrase of: "No thanks".
Throughout dental school, we have been trained to identify errors and find rational solutions to specific problems in a very short time. This leads us to present treatment the same way we think about our objective findings in the mouth. Which is logical and rational.
When we try to present our findings and recommended treatment to our patients. We naturally lean towards our educational background and make our recommendations based on rational and logical arguments.
Doing so we are challenged by these facts:
Patients don't want to hear about their own faults and mistakes.
No human being wants to spend money on anything they need.
No one wants to buy what they need. We all want to buy what we want.
Our biggest challenge is therefore to help our patients want to invest in the treatment they need. If we do not master this skill. Our patients lose the opportunity to achieve ideal dental health.
You and I know this is a huge public health problem. But the ordinary fellow citizen doesn't know it and perhaps they don't even want to know it. Because this would require them to make a decision that might be in conflict with all the other things they have chosen to use their hard earned money on.
Patients do everything they can to act in accordance with the self image they try to impose on everyone around them. Since every human tries very hard to make the self perceived image live up to reality. It is very difficult for us to change a publicly announced decision. Which is an opportunity for us when we work with case acceptance and no-show rates in our practices.
A very simple piece of advice is to let the patients express the benefits of a given treatment. Let them spend time in the creative part of the brain, envision themselves with their dream smile. Let them articulate their dream and the benefits the realisation of the dream would cause. As soon as the patient has told you and your assistant about this, the probability of case acceptance increases dramatically.
If you would like to know more about how to improve the communication with your patients. Please sign up for the blog. That means you will receive an email every time we release a new post in english. Feel free to look around the site. It is filled with free content on case acceptance, practice management and dental marketing.
Should you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at any time.
Jesper Hatt DDS
P: +41 78 268 00 78