Ask the Expert

Anthony Stefanou

By Anthony Stefanou DMD, Founder, Dental Sales Academy

No one likes to be told their problems, and dentists in particular don’t like to be told why they need something. Do you?

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

Q: Why is it so challenging to help dentists solve their problems?

A: This is a broad question, but a very important one. For starters, let’s state that one of the three general rules of sales is to solve problems. That, along with asking questions and listening, as well as gaining trust, will probably always be what is necessary to be successful in sales. Having said that, when talking about problem solving, what does this mean specifically when it comes to dental sales?

In our sales training workshops, we spend a great deal of time covering this issue, because it has to first be recognized as a psychological concept, so taking a step back is necessary before providing the answer to why problem solving is somewhat different when prospecting dentists.  The way to truly become effective at implementing the proper approach is to give examples and work on it through exercises. For now, we can address the basics so that we can at least make a slight shift to our approach.

Questions to ask
If you aren’t seeing the results you expect as the problem solver, it is mainly because of the assumptions you are making, which we will get to in a moment. Let’s begin by saying that you can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem is (to the dentist). So, here are three questions:

  1. How does a dentist define the “problem”?
  2. Who is communicating the “problem”?
  3. How is the “problem” being communicated?

When we begin working for a dental company in sales, we learn three main areas: the company itself, the products/services offered, and the competition. That’s fine, and has to be done.

This also usually involves being trained to believe that your company has the best product for the dentist, and the company trainers will tell you so you can tell dentists why. Dentists need your product because it solves “x” problem for them, which dentists aren’t doing well, or can be doing better.

Herein lies the inherent breakdown. Neither the “we are the best” or the “we can solve your problem” works well. Dentists are told by everyone they speak to that the product is the best, and also told that they need the product for “x” reason. Looking at these statements closely, we can see that sales reps are starting with assumptions. It’s almost as if all dentists have the same problem, and if we can just get in front of them and impress them with the answer, we will win the account.

What if you were selling life insurance instead of a dental product. If you started conversations with your prospects assuming they don’t know anything about life insurance, they don’t have life insurance, they a specific type of life insurance, you would probably admit you were off on your assumption, and most likely the sale wouldn’t go well.

Going back to the dentist, when we assume we know their problem, and then we communicate the problem to them, their reaction is to get defensive. No one likes to be told their problems, and dentists in particular don’t like to be told why they need something. Do you?

If we also assume that all the dentists in your territory have the same problem, we get ourselves deeper in trouble. Every dental office is different (this is why scripting and assumptions in general don’t work), and dentists buy what they want, not what they need. Want and need are two entirely different things.

The dentist gets to decide what their problem is, and even if they already know and it is in line with what you think, they have to be allowed to communicate it before you do.

Dentists have a specific way of defining the word “problem” in itself, which generally is different than what reps are taught the definition. It’s not complicated. It simply comes down to the word want. A problem is really getting them to tell you what they want. How do you do that? You ask! Once you get to learn how to tweak your approach this way, things fall in to place nicely.

Here’s what it comes down to:

  • Dentists generally know what they want. If it differs from what they are doing/using, then it becomes their problem.
  • You have to ask and let them verbalize the problem to you. If your product, company, or service can solve it, you know that now because it has been communicated to you.

Whether you were right or wrong about the problem doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you find out what they consider their problem to be.

Sounds simple right? It comes down to a change up front.

You can’t solve a problem unless you allow the dentist to communicate it to you!

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