Life happens, and big screen TVs go on sale: a look at solution-based selling

Justin Harding reminds practitioners to address patients’ wants and needs.

People have never liked the way amalgam looks. The only difference between now and its introduction is that for a while, another option did not exist.

That lack of an option created a need, and based on that need, composite was born. Both of them serve the same purpose, but composite does so in a more esthetically pleasing way.

While composite is not the sole contributor, its introduction highlights the shift in focus for advancing technology in the dental field.

This shift has moved the emphasis heavily into the advancement of esthetics. Unfortunately, the result is an increasing perception that dentistry as a whole is largely cosmetic.

For many patients, the reason for their visit is esthetic rather than therapeutic.  In fact, it is an increasing perception that the reason for orthodontics is primarily cosmetic and, therefore, discretionary. It is, therefore, necessary to tap into the patients’ purpose at an early point.

Humans categorize things into two distinct columns: needs and wants. Cosmetic services fall into the want category. Since our current approach is from the perspective of orthodontic treatment as a need, it creates misalignment with patient goals. That is because wants and needs are created by fear but are differentiated by emotion. The fear of ridicule, due to a person’s crooked smile, is an emotion-based fear. It’s what prompts individuals to seek you, the doctor, out and hope to engage in a discussion based around a want, not a need.  Too often we are having a need-based conversation, which fails to address the true reason they came to you.

It is important for you to convey what it is that you actually provide.

You provide a solution to a problem. However, in an industry where want is dominant, that solution must address the emotional motivation that created the demand. Too often we present treatment at face value: “You need treatment to ensure the proper long-term function of your teeth.” For patients who perceive your service as cosmetic, correctly aligned teeth for proper function is not what motivated them to make an appointment.  Getting teased at school or being too embarrassed to smile is why they are sitting in your exam chair. That is their emotional motivation, and it is what should be the focus of your discussion.

The problem that we often face is that patients do not readily tell us what their emotional motivation is. In order to determine and address the true goals for your patients, it is important to create a personal environment for them. It’s not uncommon for patients to come in contact with six different people on their initial visit to an office. That’s why it is imperative that your treatment coordinator be the main source of contact and the driver behind your new patient flow. To start that process, the treatment coordinator should reach out to the new patients prior to their first appointments. It should be a personal call, and the focus should be on answering the patients’ questions and building goodwill. When patients arrive for their exams, the treatment coordinator should be there to greet them and introduce them to others in the office. The doctor should be the last new person patients meet, and if there is one person in an office responsible for losing a patient, it’s you. This is about the patient, and it is your opportunity to prove it.

You provide a solution to a problem. However, in an industry where want is dominant, that solution must
address the emotional motivation that created the demand.

When patients get to the doctor, remember this: People will always enjoy a conversation if they’re given the opportunity talk mainly about themselves. Take some time to make that happen. For a doctor that has done thousands of exams, it typically takes patients about 10 minutes. But would you trust a mechanic that popped open your car’s hood, took a quick glance, and told you it would be $5,000? Of course not! Invest the time to make this a memorable and personal experience. Cut out the technical jargon, and ask patients more personal questions. Patients don’t care about how much you know about the self-ligating brackets you’re going use. When you’re asked a question, answer it with a question — never assume you know why it was asked. It’s the only way you will ever find patients’ emotional motivations.

Once you’ve identified the patients’ emotional motivations, you can approach it with the Problem, Consequence, and Solution Method (PCS), and validate their concerns. “Jennifer, I know what it’s like to be embarrassed to smile. Many people have gone through the same thing, including me.” (Problem) “But as time goes on, it’s only going to get worse.” (Consequence) “The good news is we’ve treated many people just like you. Seeing their newfound confidence at the end of their treatment is the most rewarding part of what we do.” (Solution)

By this point, a personal environment should be established, and you can focus on gaining their commitment to treatment. A commitment starts with a personal invitation to join the practice and the opportunity to clarify any remaining issues. “Jennifer, we’d love to have you in our practice. Is there anything on your mind that would keep you from starting treatment with us?” Be prepared to answer patients’ questions, but leave the financial discussion to your treatment coordinator. Once patients are satisfied, make sure to emphasize your involvement with their cases. Discuss the records, X-rays, and any impressions you may have taken and what they mean to you and your team. Let patients know your time investment. If you’re not doing same-day bandings, reconsider! One of the single greatest decisions you can make to instantly increase your business is to offer same-day bandings. Remember, life happens, and big screen TVs go on sale. Your service as a want can be superseded by a new TV, and if your patients leave without any commitment to you, that replacement becomes a very real possibility.

Now it’s time to shift gears and discuss finances. When access to information is almost instant, it is safe to assume that most of your patients have some idea of what treatment will cost. Knowing that, it’s also safe to assume that they have already worked out what will fit into their budgets. So, the financial discussion should be easy, right? Absolutely! Then why isn’t it? Put it into perspective; how many hands of poker would you win if you laid your cards face up on the table? If you’re unfamiliar with poker, the answer is not many. The current approach is to lay out all of the payment options with various discounts and caveats like auto-draft. It’s done that way because assumptions are made about patients, or projections are put onto them. Instead, a successful financial discussion begins with presenting the fee with confidence. “Jennifer, your copay will be $3,500.” The next step is to quietly wait while patients go through the five stages of change (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).  At acceptance, the most common response is an inquiry about payment plans. You must resist flipping over your hand. Instead, answer that question with a question, and give patients the opportunity to solve their own problems. “Jennifer, what did you have in mind for payment?” Unbeknown to you, Jennifer may offer to pay that $3,500 off in 3 months instead of the $99/month option you were about to push on to her.

Of course, not all financial discussions end in a contract. When following up with those patients, it’s inherent that you continue the personal value you and your team have created. In this situation, the Courtesy and Concern (2 x 2) Method is preferred. At 2 days past the visit, you give your patients a courtesy call to thank them for coming in and to answer any of their questions. If they happen to reach two weeks past their initial visit, you follow that call with another call to express your concern for their well-being and, if needed, provide them with permission to seek treatment elsewhere. It is important to remember that when following up in a personal manner, twice will always suffice. Continuing to express your interest in only them and their goals (instead of their pocketbooks) will net more patients in the end.

Technology will continue to advance, and the esthetic trends in dentistry are here to stay. Whenever you find yourself lacking in a certain aspect of your practice, it will always be helpful to recall this rhyme: remaining effective requires perspective. Take a moment to view your practice from your patients’ perspectives. Without them, it wouldn’t exist.

Justin Harding currently serves as a Practice Account Manager at OrthoSynetics. He works with the Practice
Development team to assess practice performance,  grow leaders, enhance culture, and set and achieve goals. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2006 and has over 7 years of healthcare sales and
management experience.

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