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a blog by Chris Barrow

The psychology of sales reluctance

There are very few subjects which can be guaranteed to arouse more emotional response than the subject of “ethical selling” within the context of dentistry or, for that matter, any healthcare service. I have been talking about selling in dentistry for 15 years and yet still find that same deeply rooted prejudices and opinions as to exactly what selling is and whether it ought to be allowed in a dental practice. I remember causing quite a stir at one of last years Practice Plan marketing days when a delegate in the audience announced to the rest of the room “well if somebody gave me a business card with their photograph on it then I would think that it was crap and would never visit the practice”. To which my response was: “Well in that case the business card has done its job because it has correctly identified that I am not the dentist for you and, more importantly, you’re not the type of patient that I want to see.” The lady in question seemed quite indignant for a few moments but then thankfully she did actually see the point and commented to me later on in one of the breaks that she fully understood the fact that different types of practice will appeal to different types of person. Even a week ago (in October 2010) I was back on the subject of “ethical selling” when another delegate in yet another workshop group announced: “Well at our practice we are signing up a lot of new patients who are coming to us because they complain that at their former dental practice every time they visit it feels as it somebody is trying to sell them something.” So far, so good – the feedback was accurate and undoubtedly true. However, I was somewhat surprised to hear the same delegate then go on to say: “I don’t think people like that Arthur Daley style that a lot of dental practices seem to be adopting.” I was not offended by this comment but some of the other dentists in the room were. It’s far too easy to associate the word selling with connotations such as: 1. Arthur Daley 2. Silver tongued, sweet talking salesmen in shiny suits and crocodile shoes 3. Timeshare, double glazing, used cars, life insurance 4. Intrusive phone calls at dinner time asking whether you would be interested in a service for which you have no desire. I would be at the front of the queue in criticising this approach. I grew up in financial services and after spending the first 10 years of my life as an office boy to office manager I decided to branch out into the sales side of things in the late 1970s. It was clear to me from a very early stage that sales people fell into two distinct categories: 1. The aggressive, greedy, abhorrent, fast talking go getter and 2. The professional, thoughtful, conscientious and well prepared trusted advisor. I joined a very young life insurance company in the early 1980s – largely because I knew it would move me outside of my comfort zone – and there were times that I felt as if I had fallen in amongst a den of thieves. This was in the days before the Financial Services Act and some of the business practices that I saw during those years disgusted me – I could tell you some very tall tales over a late night pint. However, I made a choice myself to move away from the “direct sales” environment and move into more professional communities. It was for that reason that I was one of the founder members of the Institute of Financial Planning in 1987 – the first group of fee based financial planners in the UK. You may have noticed that that is why I recommend people like Martin Haines and Ray Prince because they work on a similar basis. There is plenty of evidence around as to the correct way to deliver “ethical sales” and I don’t really need to go into the nuts and bolts of it in this particular post. What I would like to address though is the prejudices of those people who think that anybody involved in sales automatically falls into the “gladiator” category. I object to being described as an Arthur Daley salesman and I also challenge those who think that any form of selling automatically falls into this category. There is no doubt what so ever that I have been an advocate of people attending Ashley Latter’s sales course for the last 10 years – I still do every single week because it is still the best sales training course in dentistry. I also advocate that dental practices leave no stone unturned in seeking out opportunities to ethically sell their products and services to their patients. There is absolutely nothing wrong or unethical about giving patients information which can help them to fulfill their desired outcomes. If that means making them aware of products and services that they didn’t know you could offer – then that is ethical selling. The minority of patients who object to any such approach can happily inform the staff at the practice at which point such information will be withdrawn or, vote with their feet and go to another practice. However, I am delighted to be able to say that I work with dental teams who are brilliant at selling and do so in a way which is entirely acceptable to the patients that they deal with. I get tired of those people who will automatically jump to attack any mention of selling and suggest that because dentistry is a branch of healthcare then no attempt should be made to education patients as to products and services available. That attitude belongs to a world in which the range of products and services offered by dentists was so narrow that there was little point in even embracing the concept of sales. Back in the 70s, 80s and 90s there wasn’t too much to talk about – but how times have changed. It would serve some individuals well if they could change with the times also.

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