The myth of ethical selling

by Blog, Business growth, Communications

The myth of ethical selling    By Jonathan Fine. November 30, 2016.

There’s often a communication problem between patients and clinicians in dentistry. A healthy industry has grown up around this core challenge for the clinician — the ever uncomfortable need to make hard sales — and coaches fall over each other to serve up gimmicks and techniques to help, often under the “ethical selling” rubric.

I’m afraid that the ethical selling banner is a bit of a myth though. Since my debate with Martin Kelleher I’ve been reflecting on the kind of advice most dentists are getting and I think better communications are often confused with sales gimmicks. Gimmicks and scripted sales techniques don’t work in dentistry because dentistry’s about trust and fear, and to appeal to someone’s sense of trust and allay their fears you need quality communication.

In fact, gimmicks aren’t much use anywhere; like I’ve said before, whether you’re selling bridges or fridges the truth is always your most powerful tool. Kelleher complains that too many clinicians sell the best skills they have over what their patients need, and he’s right, but I think this happens less out of a cynical profit motive on the part of busy clinicians than a simple failure to explain options clearly and suggest the best route for the patient.

There’s a tendency to oversimplify the answer to this and to hire a gifted sales coach to help your team of clinicians increase their conversion of treatment plans through a semi-scripted, structured presentation of the treatment options. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this provided the goal is better communication first, and better conversion rates second, rather than an obsessive approach to treatment plan conversion. Where that happens the best interests of the patient are clearly not being served.

Choice of language in the surgery is probably the real key to better communication yet I’ve seen some toe-curling scripts that make me feel really uncomfortable. If a lot of clinicians aren’t great communicators, teaching them to be better has to be good for the patients, otherwise what’s the point? There’s lots of courses that will help you, but watch out, because many reduce the complexity of the clinical environment to something that’s far too simplistic. All that does is undervalue your services. Remember, the truth sells — your job is to tell it well. That’s all.

Sadly the language used in many scripts I’ve seen is inappropriate and at odds with practice brand values and ethical values and frankly not just wrong but completely unnecessary. If your team’s had sales training, ask yourself two questions:

Is our script corny enough be used in a 1978 used car dealership?

Are we oversimplifying our services?

If it’s a yes to either, you might have unwittingly swapped bad communication skills for flat out inappropriate communication, when your best bet all along was to just be honest and authentic. That can take some training too, but only once, because once your team get the hang of it they’ll get more comfortable and natural with time. If you’d like a review of your team’s communications, give me a shout.


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“I’ve seen some toe-curling scripts”

Jonathan Fine, MD

Author: Jonathan Fine