The Dentist as Salesman: 4 Tips for Improving Your Approach


Striking the balance between patient care and building a business.

For my day job, I write internal communications for the marketing department of a financial firm. But I freelance a little on the side for this fine website and a few others. I would like nothing better than to freelance full-time. I love to write, and while traditional print journalism has changed dramatically, the opportunity to write online has more than made up the difference. So why do I hang onto the corporate job? Because freelancing is only half about writing. The other half is about selling yourself to prospective clients. I find that I much prefer the writing aspect to the sales aspect.

Dentists running their own practice for the first time often discover a conundrum that they may not have anticipated: As a practice owner or partner, you are no longer just a dentist. You are now a business owner as well. With that territory comes the added challenge of not just practicing great dentistry, but also running—and, if you’re ambitious, skilled, and lucky—growing that business.

Your comfort level with suggestive selling

As with many small businesses owners, you may find yourself in the sometimes difficult position of suggesting services that patients don’t necessarily need to maintain their health, but may want anyway. Teeth whitening is a good example, but there are many others.

This concept is more art than science, of course, and your willingness and effectiveness in engaging in suggestive selling will vary widely depending on your personality and many other factors. But no matter your comfort level, there are some strategies you can pursue to help you find the balance.

1. Know your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a great dentist and a terrible salesperson, consider leaving the “suggestions” to other members of your staff or other dentists working in your practice. That’s not to say that you should just throw up your hands and say, “Nope, building the business isn’t for me.”

2. Get some training. Even the very best salespeople don’t exit the womb with sales skills. There are a ton of advanced learning courses that can take you through sales basics. Remember, too, that you’re a dentist first. You probably don’t want to come off as a used car salesman. But some very basic training on techniques that could help you build the business may really help you.

3. Get closer to your patients. One of the first things you learn in sales training is how to read the needs of your customers, and adjusting your techniques based on those needs. Engaging your patients in good conversation shouldn’t be done for the primary goal of add-on selling, but it most certainly is an add-on benefit of actually listening to your customers and understanding their needs.

4. Avoid scare tactics. Nobody likes to be guilted into doing anything. Telling your patients about your teeth-straightening services is one thing, but giving a gory demonstration of the long-term effects of having some teeth out of place is less likely to lead to a sale and more likely to lead to a damaged relationship with your patient. Empathize with the patient, where appropriate, and avoid using pejorative terms or condescension.

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