Three steps to the sale

I believe there is a three-step process that drives the sale of anything people buy. If you find yourself having difficulty in convincing patients of your treatment recommendation, then read on.

Many sellers think to themselves ‘my business is different’, but this is a common, mistaken belief. I sell healthcare. I have a colleague who sells quarter-million dollar valves to nuclear power plants. The content really makes no difference.

There are folks within the dental profession who think their particular practice is unique – I’ve heard examples such as ‘I’m in a very rural area’ or ‘my patients are all on fixed incomes’ many times.

However, it really doesn’t matter what you are selling or to whom, and even the local or national economy (short of a depression) doesn’t have to have a major effect on your livelihood. By studying psychology and making ‘direct response marketing’ your passion, like I have, you’ll reap the kind of rewards you’d never dreamed possible.

The three steps to success are:

1. Problem. Tell your patient about the predicament. In dentistry that would be akin to the diagnosis. Complete your examination and relate the problem to your patient. Pretty straightforward.

2. Agitate. This is the step you’re probably not familiar with. More on this in a moment.

3. Solution. In dentistry, the solution is your treatment plan. What do you propose to do about the problem?

You’re of course familiar with steps one and three, but you risk taking the deadly shortcut from one to three without utilizing step two, which is by far the most important part of the process.

To agitate is to explain the possible consequences of non-treatment. Tell the patients what could happen if they don’t do anything about their problem. The tough thing in dentistry is that many of our patients’ problems have no symptoms.

How difficult is it to sell a root canal and crown to a woman who broke her front tooth in half and has a painfully exposed nerve dangling below the fractured remaining stump of tooth? Exactly. But on the other hand, there is plenty of difficulty associated with trying to convince a patient of problems that have no symptoms. No pain, nothing broken, nothing has fallen out. In fact, those 20-year-old mercury silver amalgams seem just fine. Until it’s too late and they split in half, up through the roots and into the bone.

How you agitate will depend upon what you are trying to explain. Let’s say you were trying to express the need of immediate care for a patient who has three 20-year-old mercury silver amalgams with open margins and hairline fractures.

You’d want to show them their tooth with a high-resolution photograph that can be blown up to demonstrate the gory destructive process. Then show them a presentation of amalgam removal on a patient whose fillings looked fine from the outside, but when the silver was out, huge areas of decay and even underlying fractures became evident. The more they delve into this emotionally, the closer you are to step three, recommending care.

The shortcut is a nasty trap to fall into. It’s not that we intentionally skip the middle step, it’s more a case that we’ve never been told about its existence or importance to the sales process. Going from presentation of problem straight to solution can often kill a potential sale.

A few years back I noticed that one of my tyres had gone just about bald. I took the car to a tyre dealer and asked one of the guys to take a look. He was outside with me for no more than a few seconds when he turned to me and said: ‘You’re going to need to replace all four.’

This was a luxury car and each tyre was worth a king’s ransom! The last thing I wanted to do was replace all four. So I asked him the same question you will often hear: ‘How long do you think I can get away without replacing the other three?’

He asked me if I had any kids. I told him two. He replied: ‘You’ll want to replace all four tyres the day before you’re on the tur npike going 70 miles per hour with your kids in the back and experience a blowout which throws your car into a spin.’

I paid up immediately and felt good about my decision to replace all four that day. If he’d gone from ‘the gauge is reading low on these other three as well’ right into ‘you’ll need to buy all four right away’, I’d probably not have bought.

But he told me a story which hit home and sufficiently agitated me emotionally that I felt I’d made the best choice in spending hard-earned money on something I hadn’t even realised I’d needed.

You could take ten years and study the emotional psychological triggers that cause us to act as we do (I did). It would be time and effort extremely well spent.

Time and time again my clients tell me one of their greatest frustrations is knowing all the new clinical techniques available, only to fall short when it comes to convincing the patient to buy. Understanding psychological triggers will be one giant step towards gaining a patient’s trust of your recommended best-care solution.

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