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Selling Dentistry Ethically and Effectively

Selling dentistry. It’s an uncomfortable phrase for many health professionals. 

But it shouldn’t be, says Janet Hagerman, consultant and author of the book by the same name, “Selling Dentistry” 

Hagerman stopped by to talk with Amol Nirgudkar, CEO of Patient Prism, and to highlight some of the tips she uses to help practices sell treatment — with heads held high.

Sell ethically, elegantly and effectively

She says there’s a good and bad way to sell dentistry to your patients. The best way is to do it ethically, effectively and elegantly. 

Selling ethically means giving patients exactly what they need, Hagerman said. 

“Of course, we’re not talking about selling anybody anything they don’t need or want — selling them a bill of goods,” she said. “It must be dentistry that’s been clinically diagnosed and documented. Documented — that’s really important.” 

In addition, you have to effectively communicate what is needed to patients who are not used to the industry nomenclature. 

“You can give your patient all this clinical information and for some reason they just don’t get it, or they walk to the front and they’ve forgotten it,” Hagerman said. “So the effective part of selling is when the patient actually says ‘Yes, I get it. I want it.’ They accept the treatment. They book the appointment, and guess what, they keep the appointment and then they pay for the appointment and they’re happy about it. 

“They don’t have buyers’ remorse. That’s the effective part of it.” 

Finally, there’s an elegance when selling dentistry the right way, she said. It means believing in your purpose. 

“I want for the people that I work with . . . all health professionals, to feel really good about what we have to sell,” she said. 

“We live in an amazing age of incredible dental technology that we have in this country to offer our patients. There’s no reason we shouldn’t feel so proud of that and so excited about that.”

 When that resonates with the patient, it also increases trust. 

Consider finding a dental coach who will follow up

When Hagerman consults with dental practices, she spends three days in the office. The first day she observes team-member communication. The next day she conducts a workshop on the best ways to communicate with each other and with patients. And her third day is seeing how well the team has implemented the skills they’ve learned. 

Whether you’re downloading information to your staff from a conference or using a coach, follow up afterward is imperative for behaviors to change, Nirgudkar said. 

“I’ve seen that dentists are incredible at acquiring knowledge,” he said. “What happens when they come back to their offices they get back in the routine and sometimes the education that they have learned never gets implemented in the practice.” 

Use communication to build trust 

A coach can help you communicate to different types of people while building trust for your practice. You can’t use the same script on every patient. Building trust is a process. 

“Trust is an interesting thing because a lot of communication is not overt; it’s not by the words we say,” Hagerman said. “You’ve heard ‘it's not what you said, it’s how you said it.’ So a lot of the things that we can do in dentistry that build trust don’t even have to do with spoken communication. 

“It has to do with how we make people feel.” 

It may seem obvious, but team members need to stay away from criticizing, and instead, accelerate how much they praise each other. 

Hagerman offers an example of praise from a team member you want your patients to hear. 

“‘’I gotta tell you, doctor so-and-so is fantastic. She gives the best shots. You never feel them. Doctor so-and-so is wonderful. His work is so beautiful you’re going to love it.” 

Improve your handoffs to improve trust 

A good handoff includes introduction to the next staff member they’ll see, a communication about what’s been done with the patient and what treatment they’re now ready for and a chat at the front desk asking the office manager to schedule the patient’s next appointment for a specific treatment.

“It’s really important that our patients never have to worry about what was the next step,” Hagerman said. 

Explain, then explain again 

Just remember: repeat, repeat, repeat. Patients don’t know the jargon and usually can’t retain most of what you communicate, so talk them through the steps as you go, Hagerman said. 

It’s like setting the stage for the next step, or treatment. And really all you’re doing is focusing on the patient. 

“One of my sayings that I love is production is a reflection of patient care,” Hagerman said. “Increase your patient care, you’ll increase your production. It’s just the way it works.” 

Meetings make money

 Many doctors tell Hagerman they don’t have time for meetings.

 Well, good meetings turbocharge treatment acceptance, Hagerman said.

 “If you do it properly and correctly and productively, you’ll not only make up for that production, you’ll actually increase your production,” she said.

She offers three types of meetings that can help you improve production. 

  • Monthly staff meetings of up to two hours are a must in Hagerman’s book. They should include a structured agenda that covers the topics mentioned above: Praising team members, handing off effectively and setting the stage for patients on each step of the treatment. 
  • Morning huddles can also be helpful, even if you don’t think you have time for them. Just be mindful of time. 
  • And a third type of meeting you should consider is a dentist-hygiene meeting. 

“It’s important that the doctors — and this is where a coach can come in handy —  to have an idea about what they want from their hygienist and hygiene department. I want somebody to co-partner with me. I want somebody that’s going to help sell the restorative dentistry, because half of our restorative should come from hygiene. 

The doctor then needs to trust the hygienist. 

“The way we develop that is by sitting down and having one-on-one meetings, looking at actual cases, looking at x-rays,” Hagerman said. “‘What would you recommend in this case? This is what I would recommend. Are we congruent? Would we recommend the same things?” 

While hygienist may not be allowed to clinically diagnose, they’ve been trained to evaluate and make clinical recommendations. You need to be on the same page. 

You’re not a dental practice; you’re an artist

“This can be such a strong partnership, it’s like a dance,” she said. “If you’re dancing well —  dancing with the stars —  you can tell that they’ve practiced. It’s almost like each one knows what the other one’s going to do. It’s synchronized.” 

Synchronization matters because consistency matters when it comes to patients accepting treatment. 

Nirgudkar said the best partnerships look a little like Cirque du Soleil. Each part of the act is thought out, seamless and beautiful. It’s art. 

“I think dentists can take some lessons from these guys,” he said. “Let’s create the perfect harmony between our team members. Let’s create the perfect experience at our office. And let’s think of ourselves as performance athletes and artists whose job is to basically make sure that we’re delivering first-class dentistry. 

“And when that happens people are willing to pay the price. They’re not going to say oh I saw an ad for $29 special somewhere.” 

And while dentists may argue about who their competitors are, Hagerman said, it’s usually not the corporate practices or the doctor with the $29 specials. 

“Honestly, the competition is the big screen TV, jewelry, a new fishing rod, our hobbies, our vacations,” she said. “It’s disposable income — shoes. I like to say that most of the people in this country have the money for what they want, whether they need it not. In dentistry our job is to help people want what they need.” 

Nirgudkar sees gaining trust from your patients the same way he views his love for all things Apple. If you can get your patients to care as much about what you believe in as tech lovers feel about Apple, you’ve won. 

And the Apple metaphor works, Hagerman said. 

“You know, Steve Jobs combined the technology with the beauty of aesthetics, and isn’t that what we do in dentistry?” she asked. 

Whether we think of dentistry in terms of art or customer service or trust, selling dentistry is a process.

“That’s what we to sort of strive for in selling dentistry,” Hagerman said. “We want to have the process in place, and we want it to happen elegantly.”

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