Millennial parents have a different approach to investing in their children's dentistry than their baby boomer parents. Here are things to consider when presenting treatment plans to this new generation of dental consumers.
In any business, there are five key systems in the customer transaction:
- Marketing—getting them in the door and keeping them
- Selling—getting them to buy
- Scheduling—getting them to agree to a delivery date
- Production—getting them to accept the product or service
- Collection—getting them to pay for it
A single “no” by the customer at any point along this progression automatically stops this forward pathway. The goal, of course, is to get a “yes” at every system to complete the transaction. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it isn’t, particularly when the venue for the transaction is a dental practice. Why? Because communication is involved and dentists and staff often do not have great communication skills when it comes to selling. They never expected to be “salespeople.”
In dentistry, we tend to pay the most attention to marketing, production, and collection. Selling—otherwise known as case acceptance—and scheduling often tend to take a back seat.
Dental trade magazine articles that focus on case acceptance often limit discussion to adult treatment. After all, that’s where the big dollars are, right? And the fact that kids’ teeth often fall out on their own probably contributes to the lack of attention given to case acceptance with pediatric treatment. As a result, selling parents on treatment services for primary teeth can be challenging for the dental practice, and even if successful, considered low in production.
In previous articles for Dental Economics, I’ve discussed how “pedonomics”—my term for the economic impact of pediatric dentistry in today’s general and pediatric practices—can substantially impact your profitability. Making pediatric dentistry better, faster, and easier with the new game-changing pediatric dentistry products, technologies, and techniques is the hallmark of successful pedonomics. But even practitioners of pedonomics often give little attention to the key factors of selling and scheduling.
Understanding the millennial parent
Millennial parents are Internet search engine junkies who like to “feel informed” and be “right.” Many times, a millennial parent will blame “genetics of soft teeth” in their family while ignoring the roles played by their child’s high cariogenic diet and poor oral hygiene. They know better, but don’t want to show their lack of control over their child’s diet and hygiene. They also know that primary teeth eventually fall out, but we know that caries can progress and cause unnecessary discomfort and pain prior to exfoliation. Achieving case acceptance with millennials without saying, “Yeah, but . . .” in response requires informing them without making them wrong.
Because millennial parents pride themselves on being informed, they love having the facts. And if you can get them to embrace the right facts, you’ll be well on your way to closing the sale.
A fact-based approach to successful selling
Selling pediatric dentistry to millennial parents will be successful if you can get them to agree to these 10 facts. (Don’t worry - it can be a surprisingly quick process.) I often like to get agreement on these as I do my “codiagnosis” of having the parent look in the child’s mouth and view the radiographs with me.
- Caries can occur in children at an alarmingly high rate. It’s an epidemic today. Agree?
- Caries in your child can be prevented by simple diet control and a home oral hygiene program. Agree?
- Caries can be identified visually and radiographically. Agree?
- Caries can be treated to restore both esthetics and function to your child’s mouth. Agree?
- Any anxiety your child might feel about the recommended treatment can be addressed with safe, modern care methods, such as nitrous oxide or no-memory oral drug sedation. Agree?
- A program can be designed to have your child remain caries-free following treatment. Agree?
- Refusal to accept the recommended treatment can lead to serious dental problems and possible pain that will need treatment at a later date. Agree?
- Financial arrangements can be reached to make treatment affordable. Agree?
- Many other parents have faced the situation that you face and have been satisfied with the care our practice provides. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Agree?
- It’s time to get started! Agree?
Please note: trying to proceed to the next fact if you don’t get agreement to the fact you’re discussing is futile. Overcoming a parent’s objection can be accomplished if you know how to ask the right open-ended questions. And the “right” questions are ones that never, ever make a parent wrong. For instance, if a parent responds to fact No. 7 by saying something like, “The baby teeth will fall out, so why bother to fix them?” I tell them that is a great question and one I hear all the time. However, I then add that in my experience, the caries will continue to accelerate and cause pain well before the tooth falls out. Since no parents want their children to have toothaches, getting agreement to fact No. 7 should not be an issue.
Next on the schedule: scheduling
Even though you’ve secured acceptance for the treatment and the financial arrangements, you’re not home free until you get the treatment scheduled. This requires another agreement. By all means, do not ask, “Do you want to schedule it?” Instead ask, “On what day would you like us to perform the treatment?” If it’s a preventive service (e.g., sealants) or a minimally invasive restorative procedure, ask, “Would you like to do the treatment now?” The fact is that many millennial parents will opt for convenience and choose same-day care. This eliminates the need for future appointments, which is economically beneficial to your practice and convenient for the parent.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest in practice marketing unless you and your staff are prepared to achieve a high level of case acceptance and, if possible, to offer same-day care for simple procedures. Remember, the most important day in your scheduling system is today. Make it the most productive day you can.
Sales experts can tell you most buyer’s remorse comes when consumers have time to think about the planned purchase and when they haven’t been given the opportunity for instant purchasing. In pediatric dentistry, selling often involves one parent (usually the mother). If that parent can’t make up their mind on case acceptance or scheduling in your office, then they have to be the salesperson at home. And many times, that parent will be unable to overcome the objections of the parent who did not have the benefit of your selling efforts. As a result, the great sales job you do in the office can be undermined at home by a doubting parent. By offering and securing same-day treatment, you can eliminate the doubt factor often experienced after a successful sale is challenged at home.
Closing the sale in pediatric dentistry can be achieved with a high degree of success if there is a bond between the doctor, staff, and parent. Using a disciplined communication approach to get agreement to the 10 facts presented in this article, making sure the parent is never wrong, and applying same-day care where appropriate will result in higher parent satisfaction and greater practice production and profitability.
Roger G. Sanger, DDS, MS, is a pediatric dentist and cofounder of one of the largest private pediatric dental groups in California, with both pediatric and general dentists practicing in multiple offices, two surgicenters, and a hospital practice. He is the course director for the Institute for Pediatric Dentistry and the director of Pediatric Sedation Dentistry for DOCS Education. He is also the author of The Entrepreneur’s Children’s Dental Practice.