Once upon a time, in the golden age of dentistry, patients chose a single dentist. They trusted his treatment plans, never shopped around, and were willing to do whatever it took to improve their oral health. Flash forward to today’s patient who can comparison shop anything online to find their best price. As a result, you may devise a treatment plan only to be told ‘no’ as a patient seeks to find that same treatment for less money somewhere else. Sometimes that ‘no’ is directly told to you but many times it comes indirectly as a ‘I have to check my schedule’ or ‘let me talk to my spouse’. To many, the perception is that Dentistry has been commodified and you can only compete on price and wait times.
Does this story ring true for you? If so, then you know that the golden age of dentistry is long gone. The current state is more complicated than just the pure commodification of dentistry. But the fact remains that many dentists have trouble getting patients to agree to treatment plans, even when they’re the best possible plan for a given patient’s situation.
To improve your acceptance rate, you may have to step outside your comfort zone and combine the best attributes of a salesman with patient education. In addition to how they educate a client on their product or service, a good salesman as to believe in their product. They believe at their core that it will improve their customers’ lives, and takes the time to learn how to present his product to their customers. You can do the same thing with dental treatments. You probably feel like you don’t have the time to sit through sales training or read books on making a sale, but here are a few hints to help you present treatment plans more effectively and set the stage to hear a YES.
Start by having the patients commit to their values, goals, and objectives for dental treatment. There are two reasons for this. First of all, you can’t really come up with an appropriate treatment plan until you know what a patient’s goals are. A patient who wants to ‘do whatever it takes to get my mouth back in shape’ is going to be open to a different treatment plan than someone who ‘wants to do as much as I can to maintain functionality, as long as it’s under $1,000,’ for instance. If you can’t nail down where a patient is coming from, you’re likely to waste your time creating pie-in-the-sky plans that they’ll never agree to accept.
Committing, out loud, to a set of goals also makes your patient more likely to commit to a plan that meets those goals. They won’t change their mind, because they’ve made a commitment and no one likes to be seen as unreliable.
Find out where your patients are in their decision process. Have they decided that they want you to treat them, or do they have other consultations lined up? Are you the first consultation or the last one? If you’re the last one, good for you. You have a chance to ‘close the deal’ since they’ll have all their points of comparison already.
If you’re first, you’re not going to get the patient to accept treatment until they’ve weighed their other options. After you present your plan, try to get them to agree to another appointment to come back and discuss it in light of the information they get at their other consultations. That way, you’ve moved yourself into ‘last place.’
Use physical models to make comparisons. People have an easier time making decisions when they have concrete props that they can touch and manipulate. If someone is simply talking at you, you may feel confused, pressured, and therefore less likely to agree to treatment. This is why good salesmen always have a demonstration, and why you need something similar for your dental patients.
Suppose a patient is trying to decide between implants and a bridge. Have detailed, touchable models of both available, so that they can see, feel, and understand the difference. The extra information will help them feel more sure of their decisions about treatments and will keep the presentation from sounding like gibberish to them.
Set up clear comparisons. People like to have options, and they make decisions by comparing all of possibilities. A good way to ‘sell’ a necessary but expensive treatment is to compare its short, mid-range, and long-term costs and benefits to the short, mid-range, and long-term costs of doing nothing.
Or, you can compare a modern treatment with fewer side effects and a lower failure rate to an older, less expensive, but more failure prone treatment. The key is to present options clearly, honestly, and without pressure. This lets your patient make the choice that’s best for them, and most of the time, they’ll end up agreeing with your assessment of the situation.
Be ready for a No. The best salespeople always have a Plan B or are prepared if their client says No. We have to do the same for dentistry. Our goal is to ensure patients leave our practices in better oral health than when they came in. If your ideal treatment doesn’t work for them, what else could you do for them that would leave them in a better dental state than they are now? If they can’t do the crown you are recommending, what could you do instead? A build up, right? You could remove the caries from the tooth, eliminate the risk of infection if left untreated and have another opportunity to build your relationship with the patient, reduce their uncertainty about the crown they need. By having this option at the ready, you can tap into a moment of power that exists immediately after someone rejects your proposal. If, in that moment immediately after the ‘no’, you ask for something else like your plan B, then you’re likely to get a ‘yes’.
Getting patients to say yes to necessary treatments can often be the hardest, and most thankless, part of our job as a dentist. However, in the long run, incorporating good ‘sales tactics’ into your treatment plan presentations can help your patients embrace necessary procedures and improve their outcomes.
Entrepreneur, author and practicing general dentist, Christopher Phelps, DMD, CMCT works with professionals across the country in identifying their marketing hurdles and showing them how to succeed and grow in an otherwise tough, competitive economy.