Do Doctors Hate Selling?

One of the greatest medical mysteries of our time is the aversion doctors have toward selling.
Doctors “sell” all the time, but they hate “selling”.

Yet without selling the practice fails to grow. Payrolls can't be met. Services can't be delivered. Patients won’t get well.

What’s the disconnect?

In his 2015 book entitled “Adversaries Into Allies: Master the Art of Ultimate Influence”, sales guru Bob Burg argues that effective selling “... is about moving others to accept our ideas whether we’re deciding which movie to see with a friend, selling our product to a new prospect, or trying to get a better service from a difficult rep, we are selling on a constant basis.”

Effective doctors understand this. They ‘sell’ everyday. They persuade patients to comply with drug regimens. They convinced obese overweight patients on the importance of exercise. They nudge without needling.

The best doctors use a full repertoire of sales tactics (stagecraft) to effect good patient health.

  • Professional demeanor
  • Intimidation
  • Cold rationality
  • Good, ol’ fashioned guilt

When dealing with patient behaviors, a great doctor pulls out the stops. She truly believes in the ‘product’ she is selling.The conviction and confidence of her sales pitch comes through and can literally save a patient's life.

However when it comes to transactions that involve money, using any such tactics suddenly seems unethical. A medical device, a surgery, a treatment regimen can be absolutely necessary and highly efficacious, yet the doctor is reluctant to use those same powers of persuasion since he is the one that will get paid.

The issue is especially important for dentists, since 74 million US patients are not covered by insurance. So, as a matter of survival, dentists need to learn how to convince patients to obtain the necessary treatments they require, when no third party is paying the bill.

The Three E’s of Selling Dentistry

In her 2014 ebook, Selling Dentistry, author Janet Hagerman describes the three essential elements of ethical selling.

The first “E” is for ethics: treatments must be clinically indicated, objectively supported with documented examination findings, radiographs, periodontal screenings and other concrete diagnostic tools.

Hagerman’s second “E”, is being Effective.

As she explains:

“The difference between selling and educating is that the very definition of selling results in a specific action of Acceptance in exchange for monetary compensation. We can educate and motivate all day long, but how effective are we if our patient does not say yes to recommended treatment?”

In other words, monetary compensation does not necessarily undermine medical judgment or ethics. In fact, it can be argued that, for clinically indicated treatments, case acceptance and physician compensation is a fair and justified reward for good patient health.

Finally, Hagerman argues that the third “E” stands for “elegance”

“Sales skills will never be effective if they seem contrived forced awkward or fake. To be successful your approach must be genuine and confident yet calm and reassuring.”

Improving Your Selling Skills

As the publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine for more than 30 years, Chuck Lauer has spent a generation observing changes in the medical industry.

“Physicians are in a great position to sell... but it's not so easy to be successful.. it's much harder than it looks”

While some people think physicians are not natural born salespeople, they do have some great qualities that sales make people successful.

  1. Excellent listening skills
  2. Superior intelligence, especially deductive and inductive reasoning to diagnose medical conditions.
  3. Confidence
  4. A caring, empathetic attitude
  5. Ego: a desire to achieve

Well these skills are necessary to be a great salesperson, they are insufficient if they are accompanied with off-putting personality traits that alienate patients.

Finally the most important aspect of selling is actually closing the sale. This can be quite challenging even for sales people with years of experience. You have to get the patient to agree to treatment. So you need to understand how to cure that universal patient condition, cold feet.

Patient-to-Patient Selling

A relatively new phenomenon of selling is employing social networks where patients convince other patients through word-of-mouth endorsement.

This is the most powerful form of selling and it can be influenced and managed. In fact, PatientPlus is developing systems that accelerate the referrals, making it easier for enthusiastic patients to connect with your practice, and rewarding them when they do so.

Most doctors recognize the power of an online review to influence patient behavior. A bad review is likely to cause an otherwise strong referral from calling for an appointment. In fact 75% of patients surveyed said as much.

What about the good reviews? How can a good review turn into more new patients?

In a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, researcher Fred Reichheld established the concept of a net promoter: how many people would willingly promote -- minus those that may possibly detract from -- your practice. The “net” difference is an indication of the relative satisfaction of your customers.

Interestingly, if patients are asked a single question about their satisfaction with your practice, on a scale from 1 to 10, anyone who gives you a score of less than 7 is likely a detractor. Tough crowd.

These patients are not particularly thrilled by your service and in all likelihood they will not visit again. Further, they may damage your practice reputation through negative word of mouth.

In fact, you need to achieve a score of 9/10 or 10/10 before patients will become truly enthusiastic promoters of your practice.

These net promoters are not just the ones that leave you a 5-star review. These are the ambassadors that can absolutely grow your practice with positive word-of-mouth.

This is perhaps the best argument for embracing salesmanship in the practice of medicine. As an effective salesperson, you create more satisfied patients. And, in turn, you create passionate, enthusiastic sales people who can grow your practice.

Even better, our own audits of procedure revenue versus the marketing channel (source) of new patients found a remarkable statistic: patients who are referred by other patients are three times more likely to accept cases versus patients won from the internet.

In summary, being a good salesperson makes you a better doctor. So long as your clinical recommendations are sound, selling helps patients get better.

Further, by making those patients healthier, you are recruiting a new generation of salespeople. And the patients they bring in will be pre-sold on your clinical recommendations.

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Are you interested in a new platform that helps you recommend necessary procedures without giving patients the "hard sell"? Click here for a demo of the PatientPlus system.

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