“Tales from the Troubleshooter #3”

Recently published on Dentinal Tubules, here’s the third part of Jimmy’s story.

Tales from The Troubleshooter – Case 1. Jimmy’s story.

Part 3. Are they not buying or are you not selling?

The Seven Pillars of Dental Practice Management© are:

  • Vision
  • Financial Controls
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • People
  • Environment
  • Systems

We’re back on track and dealing with the third pillar – Sales. This is possibly the most misunderstood, feared and avoided topic in dentistry and in most other professional services.

There’s a reluctance to embrace the need to have a sales process for  reasons as diverse as:

  • We’re professionals so we don’t need to do that.
  • It’s inappropriate.
  • I couldn’t go on a sales course – I’d rather do another one on implants.
  • We’re really very good at sales, it’s just that our patients really don’t want anything more than basic dentistry.
  • They (the patients) don’t like it when we ask them questions.

…..I could go on.

The real reasons are usually more prosaic:

  • I’m frightened of being rejected.
  • I can’t bear the thought of stepping outside my comfort zone.
  • I don’t know how to react when they say no.

Dentists and hygienists are frequently excellent at communicating clinical “need” and helping their patients to accept the treatment that they suggest. It’s when they take the small step from “essential” to “elective” treatment that they start to lose confidence in their abilities to communicate.

Let’s look at Jimmy’s practice which was facing up to the real threat of under performance for the third consecutive year. There hardly seemed space in, what on the face of it was a very busy practice, for something as basic as “selling” yet in order to compensate for the 10% clawback there was an acute need to increase turnover.

As is frequently the case when during practice analysis I find “busyness” getting in the way of profitability. The mantra of “fill the book” seems to have been passed to infant dentists with their mothers’ milk and it’s their knee jerk reaction to the need for an increase in income. Every practice must see patients so as to be profitable but they must be seen in the right order at the right time and by the right people. For Jimmy and his associate to become more profitable they needed to:
1) Use their time more effectively in order to achieve the NHS targets and
2) Introduce new techniques to increase the private income of the practice.

As with all the Seven Pillars there are overlaps into other areas and improvement in sales spreads across marketing, team, environment and systems.

Time management

  • We analysed the appointment book and were able to reduce no shows by simply ensuring that all new patients and bond-ups were confirmed in advance by using telephone, text messages or email.
  • From the analysis we could see that times allowed for different procedures could be adjusted in order to utilise clinic time more effectively. The ideal is the correct appointment length for each and every appointment along with adequate “buffer zones” and emergency times to provide flexibility. The correctly booked day leaves the surgeon feeling fulfilled but not exhausted.
  • “Fly pasts” – block booked examination sessions were reinstated where the questions to be answered were “do they qualify for NHS treatment?” and “are they ready to start yet?”
  • By “getting hold” of the waiting list the correct number of NHS starts were introduced each month so that the NHS contract was fulfilled and was ready to be completed with a month to spare so that the final month of the financial year could be spent setting up the next year.

Team & Environment
By using team members communication with patients and their parents was improved so that if anyone was not eligible for treatment under the NHS they understood fully the reasons. The benefits of orthodontic treatment were explained and all the private options were offered along with the different methods of financing.

The team soon realised that just two private cases were the difference between  the practice succeeding and failing financially.
A spare room (the old practice manager’s office) was converted into an area for conversation away from clinical areas.

This is neither the time nor place for “sales training” a phrase that alienates many and is misunderstood by even more in professional practices. However when we were getting the team members ready to expand their duties there were a few short lessons they needed to learn.

  • Seek first to understand then to be understood. This is Stephen Covey’s fifth habit and tends to turn on it’s head the conventional view of “get them to understand us first”. This was reinforced by reminding team members of the wise words taught to children of using their ears, eyes and mouth in the proportion that they were given to them.
  • “No” isn’t the ultimate rejection, always leave the door open for the patients to return should they wish to. Information and your enthusiasm will be appreciated, they may not be the right person in the right place at the right time but the knowledge they have acquired may well be passed to a third party who might be keen on what you have to offer.
  • Welcome questions and objections, always ask “is there anything else?”
  • Follow up waverers with a telephone call from the team member who spoke to them, rather than as one on a list for the receptionist.

The results have spoken for themselves.

  • The practice back in profitability,
  • The UOA targets which were 50% behind target half way through the year were reached with time to spare and the new year has started with a bang.
  • Team members are enjoying their new challenges and appreciate being more involved in patient acre.
  • There is an increase in demand for private care which has been achieved with very little money but a lot of common sense being spent on marketing; but more of that next time.
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