Becoming the perfect salesperson

22 December, 2011 / Infocus

Are you in sales? I recently asked this question at a presentation I was delivering to more than 300 people from the dental profession: “How many people here are in sales?” Only a few hands went up, maybe less than 20 per cent. So why is it only a few hands went up? And currently, how do you feel about selling?

Well, maybe you don’t see yourself as a salesperson; after all you spent over seven years learning about dentistry, not communication, or business skills. However, every day you have to sell your ideas, whether it be to the patients/clients or to other staff members. If you are not convincing and you are not speaking the language of the person who you are selling to, they probably will not buy into your ideas.

Everyone in your practice is selling an idea every day. Your reception team are the most important people in your team. They can often make or break whether someone visits your practice or not, by the way they answer your telephone.

This article is not going to give you a 180 per degree change in your way of thinking. However, only a small change in your thinking can enable you to become more successful in generating more business and giving the patient what they want. After all, if you are a private dentist it could be that 100 per cent of your income will derive from your ability to influence patients. In the current economic climate these skills may be paramount if your practice is going to survive.

Many studies have been done about what makes a person successful. In fact, here is a simple exercise to do. Think about a person you know who is successful in dentistry and develop a list of all the skills, attitudes and attributes that person has. Once you have done this, list them into ‘Skills’, ‘Attitudes’ and ‘Product Knowledge’.

I bet on the list there are many skills such as good communication and listening skills, and the ability to build empathy with the patient. On the attitudes side, are there things like positivity and enthusiasm? Have they also got product knowledge?

On occasions, when I have a discussion with a dentist, the technical skills are often left out. Although important and vital, technical skills for doing the job only usually account for about 10-15 per cent of a person’s success and, without good communication skills, and the ability to build empathy and patient commitment, you might never be able to put into practice your technical ability.

So why is there sometimes negative thinking with regard to the word sales?

Well, maybe our national media doesn’t help. It seems that whenever we see something in the news about selling, often it is about unscrupulous tactics from salespeople supposedly conning their vulnerable customers. I often think this is unfair, as it is only a very small percentage that might give the many millions of good sales people out there a bad name. If you think about it, without the ability to sell, the whole country would come to a halt and nothing would ever get made.

It may also be associated with the assumption that sales is about pushing something on a customer when they don’t really want it. It is hardly surprising that, when I ask the question, 80 per cent of the room never consider themselves in sales.

What is the definition of sales?

A dictionary definition will tell you that it is to exchange goods and services for money or kind; to convince of value.

There is nothing in the definition that states that it is about pushing people or forcing people into decisions. Let us look at another key word here – the word value. I think value is about finding out what true value is to the other person in their context, or in other words, their situation. So what about changing your mindset from one of selling, or pushing to:

  • finding out what the patient thinks is value (wants and needs)


  • showing how you can satisfy the want/need



  • when he believes you can, that person will probably buy.


It really isn’t about selling it is about being the provider of significant value. To do this effectively, you have to follow just a few simple common sense steps.

These include:

1. Preparing for your appointment – here you can check the previous notes from your patient’s records, have a team meeting for the day and ensure that you are fully prepared mentally and that you are positive about your day. You are serving the public, be excited and positive.

2. Build rapport – spend just a few minutes building rapport and making the patient feel important. Talk about work, then, become genuinely interested in the person and make them feel like the most important person in the world. Put them at ease.

3. Ask questions – after building rapport you can carry on asking questions, but this time about their clinical health. What they like or don’t like about their appearance and what they would like to change. Find out their vision.

4. Provide a solution. Only when you fully understand the patient’s goals do you provide a solution. Use benefits and do not talk too technical. Use evidence to back up what you are saying.

5. Test for commitment – once you have provided a solution, ask the patient if they are happy and what their reaction is.

6. Ask for commitment – if the patient is very keen to move forward, then you can ask for commitment.

So, think about how you can change your mindset. Look inside yourself and ask what is stopping you. If you think you provide significant value to patients, then why not give more patients the opportunity to have more of the same services. You are doing them and you an injustice if you don’t.

Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself, such as can’t or won’t, and change to can and will. Change your mindset to the fact that: “I provide significant value everyday to patients” and read some of the letters you receive from happy patients.

Your team’s jobs exist because of your ability to influence people and, if you think about it, without these skills, the UK economy would come to a halt.

Sales is something to be proud of. Without your ability to communicate well and listen emphatically, patients will not get what they need and, in most cases, want and no one then benefits. It is something to be proud of. When done right, both parties benefit.

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