Ask the Expert

Anthony Stefanou

By Anthony Stefanou DMD, Founder, Dental Sales Academy

Editor’s note: Anthony Stefanou, DMD, will answer reps’ questions on their dental customers. E-mail him your questions at, or visit

Q: You often describe your training programs as a way to better understand the psychology of why dentists buy. How does the psychology of the dental salesperson factor into the process?

A:  How the salesperson approaches the prospecting process is just as crucial as understanding the mindset of the dentist. The following are three points to consider:

Your basic thoughts about dentists
When working with companies at their headquarters, national sales meetings, team meetings, or when people come to my programs, I often hear: “Dentists are cheap,” or “Dentists are bad businesspeople.”

If that is what you are thinking while prospecting, there is no doubt that it will have a strong effect in everything you do, from the questions you ask, to how you answer their questions, and even how you lead them to cost/pricing. My surveys have shown time and time again that pricing is NOT the number one (or even number two) reason offices do business with you. Yes, dentists operate nationally at almost 70 percent overhead, and yes, they receive little business training in dental school. However, there is a significant difference between being cheap and cost conscious. If you ran a business that was at 70 percent, you would be cost conscious too.

Almost two-thirds of practices are not cheap. They don’t buy the cheapest impression materials if they are doing high-quality cosmetic, restorative, prosthetic, or implant work. They don’t use the most inexpensive labs either. And, amazingly, with little business training, less than 1.5 percent of dental practices fail or go bankrupt — they are almost all profitable. Remember these numbers and look to re-think your thinking. If not, you will find that cost comes up very early on, and that’s not necessarily the best way to prospect. You have the ability to avoid most of the pricing questions, which are generally defensive in nature and often because the messaging is not understood as to how you, your company and product can be what they want to support their practice objectives. This leads us to the second point.

Making assumptions
Let’s stick to pricing for this point. I recently completed a training for a company sales and customer service teams, and one woman said, “Yesterday, I got another call from someone who asked 20 seconds in to the conversation, “How much is your product”?

My question to her was, “How did you answer?”

She said, “I told her the pricing and why it was a better buy than our competitor, because I felt she was shopping around.”

Her response is not uncommon. How did she know the customer was comparing prices? How did she know the customer knew who that competitor was? Did she have any idea as to why the customer felt the product could benefit the practice, which is why she picked up the phone and called? The bottom line is, there were assumptions made that should not have been made.

There are several reasons why someone is asking about price, and it is never a good idea to introduce an office to your competitor. On a broader scale, never assume you also know a practice’s problem. Every practice is different. Even if you are correct about identifying the problem, psychologically if you tell them the problem without them verbalizing it to you, they will still fight you. Making assumptions ends up controlling your process with a prospect. If you’re wrong, you lose the sale. If you’re right, you may still lose the sale if you tell them what the problem is since you assumed you know it. Resist the urge to tell or answer based on assuming you know their situation.

Wipe the slate clean  
Every office is different. Two practices right next to one another on a street or in a building are setup and operate nothing like each other, from their décor, to the number of operatories, to the types of procedures they do, to the insurances they take, to the structure of the team, to the flow of the decision making process and so on.

Expanding on this concept, every conversation you have will be different. Whether you are working the phones or in the field, the discussion you had with the previous office is usually not applicable to the current one. Wipe the slate clean. What the customer wanted, what they asked, why they asked it, and what you asked back was fine, for that situation.

Dentists buy based on your sincere interest in what they do and how your product or company can fit into what they want. They don’t really care about the other practice you just spoke to. It’s easy to get on cruise control or use a script. Instead, focus on who you are currently talking to, and then adjust and adapt the conversation based on what they tell you, and not what necessarily worked a few minutes ago. Yes, there are times when you can describe what worked for a colleague, but if you go in to a prospecting call convinced that they are going to act and buy as the previous customer did, you often will sabotage your own success.  Start every call or visit by asking yourself the following two questions:

  • What is the purpose of this call/visit?
  • What do I know about this dentist/practice?

By doing this, you will be able to more effectively wipe the slate clean and focus on them.

The three points described here are all somewhat intertwined. Simply put, the key to success in selling to dentists is to both understand how they think and to adjust your approach so as to not fall in to bad habits or ineffective prospecting techniques.

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