Creating value in tight times

Nov. 1, 2009
Our reaction to changing times is to pull back and cut out.

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: value, marketing, patient communication, changing times, Bill Blatchford.

Our reaction to changing times is to pull back and cut out. Americans are saving more now, and the media is encouraging activities and choices that are simpler and less risky — planting a garden, doing without that fancy coffee, recycling, and reusing. When the media continues to speak of cutting, pulling back, and doing without, America seems to respond. The intent is good, but it becomes more of a struggle for businesspeople to have their goods and services purchased if people are not spending as they were before.

In the last 15 years, dentistry matched Americans' desire to have things bigger, better, and faster. We could offer a new, beautiful smile. But was it needed? No, but that's what patients wanted and we could deliver. Cosmetics became the magic. It is fun and rewarding, and it works.

Today, times and thinking are changing. Our spending habits are changing. The health–care debate speaks of “cutting health–care costs.” America is transforming and questioning purchases and activities. Does this have value? Will it last? Is it useful? Can I do without?

What will it take for your patients to see value in your skilled work? We must do a better job marketing our services and using conversational sales skills. What would be valuable to your guests? In addition to cosmetics, would it be good to learn some other skills to accompany those which you already have? How would you let people know about those new skills, and how could you market them in light of the new values that Americans seem to currently hold?

We need to learn to create value for people. This is not the time to put pressure on patients about how they need your technical work. Those doctors who have mastered conversational sales and have a skilled team are finding their production numbers continuing to increase. Some doctors had a lower final quarter in 2008 but have since regrouped and picked themselves up mentally. They already had excellent sales skills and can help patients create value in their own minds.

Asking questions is the key. In tight times, some will revert back to basics of pressure sales, which worked after WWII but not in 2009. You may be attracting 20 new patients a month with coupons, yet when you put pressure on those patients, they disappear. Without good sales skills, they do not convert in numbers to justify this type of marketing.

I have always operated on the premise that we do not need dental care. We don't even need teeth. Once you can genuinely accept that paradigm, the sales conversation then becomes about what they — your patients — want. Discovering what patients want does not include your agenda for them. If you are still working up treatment plans for patients who have not said yes or you don't know what is important to them, you are wasting your time. You are pushing your picture or solution on them, and they don't want that. Patients want their solution. Just ask them!

Is it possible for a dental team who was successful in selling before this change in American attitude to become successful in these new times? Some can and will. Others cannot sense the change and will continue to put their patients under pressure.

In a busy dental office, we usually wing it on sales and assume our staff is supporting our sense of service and caring. People see pressure sales as a smoke screen for “I need for you to say ‘yes' now.” Patients do not get angry and leave, but instead say, “I really need to think this over,” or “I want to do just what my insurance covers.” In their minds, you failed to engage them in a conversation or listen to them about what they want.

Mastering sales skills and uncovering patients' values takes time in reading, studying, practicing, and training. If others have learned sales conversations and are successful, could you learn too? Or would you rather reinvent the wheel and feel like you are dragging everyone with you? Reach out and get some help! It is available.

Dr. Blatchford's book, “Blatchford BLUEPRINTS — the Art of Creating Practice Success,” is available at for $39. Profits go to the Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation. For more information, visit

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