Reimagine “Sales” to Increase Profits and Benefit Patients
Rushi Trivedi, MS; and Saahil Trivedi, DDS
In any business, profitability is vital. There are two ways to increase profitability. One is by reducing expenses to save money. The other is by increasing income levels. While expense control and proper financial strategizing are critically important, their upside to a dental practice's profitability is limited. Any further growth in profitability must come from an increase in income.
Increasing profitability in dentistry involves three distinct parts of the business: the acquisition of patients, the acceptance of treatment, and the delivery of dentistry. These can be simplified into marketing, sales, and delivery, respectively.
When a practice's profitability is insufficient, oftentimes the focus lands on either marketing or delivery. Practices commonly increase spending on marketing in an attempt to attract more patients, believing that this will contribute to increased profitability. Or, a practice might increase the breadth of clinical procedures it offers, hoping that this will boost profit.
Sales, meanwhile, which as stated above correlates with treatment acceptance, is a term that is generally shunned in dental practice. However, the goal of sales is simply to have patients accept the dentistry they need in order to improve their dental and overall health and function as opposed to only accepting what they think they want, or what their insurance covers. Sales pervades all aspects of life. Any interaction in which agreement is sought requires sales ability. A mother convincing her child to have milk or fruit (needed) instead of soda or candy (wanted) can be considered sales. The mother must be able to "sell" her ideas about health to her child for the child's wellbeing.
Focusing on Sales
Thus, to increase profitability, a dental practice should focus on sales. But why not focus on marketing or delivery?
Marketing works like a switch; by flipping the switch (ie, spending money on the right marketing) patient calls/prospects will begin to increase. Marketing is easy to control. However, what the practice does with the results of the marketing is what actually increases profitability. No matter how many new patients (or even existing patients) come into the office, if the practice cannot get them to accept treatment, it is wasting money with its marketing.
The delivering of quality dentistry is a core prerequisite to success in dental practice. But beyond providing high-quality general dentistry, as far as profitability is concerned, delivery must be secondary to the acceptance of treatment (ie, sales). The authors are referring to the delivery of dentistry beyond the skilled and competent delivery of general dentistry. A dentist can have all the newest and most cutting-edge equipment (such as lasers or 3D printers), or be certified and trained to provide specialized dentistry (such as implants or major cosmetic procedures), but if patients don't accept these treatments, then the increased ability to deliver the dentistry is not actually helping the patients.
Naturally, increasing one's dental ability is a key to sustained success in dental practice, but improving case acceptance must be prioritized in order to utilize the delivery skills. Thus, increasing profit requires being better able to get patients to accept dental treatment. Both marketing and especially delivery cannot be ignored, but treatment acceptance must be a focal point.
To reiterate, sales is simply getting patients to accept treatment they need. Effective "selling" results in patients wanting what the dentist knows they need. The end-result of any sale is an agreement. In the case of dentistry, it is the patient agreeing to pay for and undergo the treatment that is ideal for their dental and systemic health.
While money is a key component of sales, and treatment should be paid for, sales in dentistry is not about money. The focus must be on the patient receiving the treatment they need-not the treatment that insurance will cover, but the treatment that will help restore health and function to the patient's mouth. "Sales" is an essential part of getting patients healthy.
Increasing one's ability to sell is not a matter of buying new equipment or upgrading the office space, but rather simply having the proper training. This training should be received by not just the doctor, but the entire team.
Many doctors play two very distinct roles in a practice: dentist and practice owner. The dentist strives to help patients get the treatment that is going to help them. The business owner focuses on solvency and profit, necessities that allow practitioners to earn a living, support and grow their team, and remain in business to keep helping patients. The role of sales combines both of these responsibilities. Sales makes dentists better business owners, but also makes them better dentists, because their role as a dentist doesn't stop at treatment planning. One's dental skills are valuable to the degree that they are used to deliver the dentistry that will genuinely increase a patient's health and quality of life.
Sales, at its core, is communication, a skill that can be learned and improved. Communication is what allows dentists to convey their viewpoints on the importance and urgency of the needed dental treatment to patients. Creating this understanding is the goal of sales.
The Impact of Selling
Training a team in communication can greatly benefit a practice's profitability, as shown in the example in Table 1, where two offices both spend $10,000 on "new patient marketing." This marketing results in 100 calls to both offices from potential new patient prospects. Office 1 has an untrained receptionist answering the calls and is only able to convert 20% of the calls, resulting in 20 new patient appointments. Office 2 has a trained receptionist who is skilled at converting new patient prospect calls into solid appointments, resulting in a 50% success rate and 50 appointments.
The new patients then come into each office. For the sake of this example, the treatment plans are the same, $5,000 on average. Office 1 does not have a doctor and staff that are trained, and therefore the treatment acceptance is in line with what the insurance will cover and not much more, approximately $1,500 per patient. Conversely, Office 2 has a doctor and team that are fully trained in getting patients to accept needed treatment, and most of these patients get the treatment regardless of their insurance limitations. The practice gets approximately $4,000 of treatment delivered per patient.
The untrained team has turned $10,000 of marketing into $30,000 of collections, while the trained team has turned the same amount of marketing into $200,000 of collections.
The issue with the untrained team is not marketing or delivery of dentistry. Even if they marketed more, their ratio of collection to marketing expenses would not change. If they increased their ability to deliver, their profitability would remain unchanged, as patients are not accepting necessary treatment. The office trained in communication and sales, meanwhile, has collected more than five times as much as the untrained office. It should also be noted that they helped more patients receive the dental treatment they needed.
Benefits of Training
Having a trained team can lead to better efficiency, an improved workplace experience, and most importantly, healthier, satisfied patients. One's ability to sell relies on one's skill in communication, and sales is much more than just treatment acceptance. Training on communication and sales (ie, getting agreement) can aid a dental practice in many ways. It can improve new patient prospect conversion rates (getting a prospective new patient to book and come to an appointment). It can improve schedule efficiency, as getting a patient to agree to and show up for an appointment often requires "selling" them on the importance of the appointment and the doctor's time. It also involves convincing patients who call to cancel/reschedule to come in for their reserved time on the doctor's or hygienist's schedule.
Other benefits of proper training include: strengthening the hygiene department (patients need to be sold on the importance of regular preventative care and examinations); improving skills to get patients to pay for their treatment, and to collect on past due balances for treatment already delivered; learning how to properly greet patients in reception, which helps to set a positive tone for the patient experience; and improving dental assistants' abilities to reinforce the dentist's treatment recommendations.
In conclusion, having a properly trained dental team, including the owner dentist him or herself, is a smart way to increase the practice's income and, consequently, profitability. Improving the entire team's ability to communicate-and therefore sell-has far-reaching benefits for both the practice and its patients.
About the Authors
Rushi Trivedi, MS
Senior Seminar Speaker, MGE Management Experts; Former Chief Executive Officer, Preferred Dental Care, New York, New York
Saahil Trivedi, DDS
Chief Executive Officer, Preferred Dental Care,
New York, New York