Perceived capability and the mother of all questions

In our Bristol workshop yesterday, a discussion on the “ethics” of selling prompted me to ask permission to ask a very direct question of the dentists in the room.
Permission granted:

“How much was the biggest treatment plan you ever sold to a patient?”

The answers ranged from “never have” (from a hospital-based NHS dentist), through “£350” from a young associate working in the Health Service, to an average of about £3,000 around most of the room.
There was a sharp intake of breath when one of the dentists announced “£33,000” and then looked at the floor like an embarrased school boy found with 12 bars of chocolate in his satchel.
The dentist concerned was a little reserved – shy even – but principal of a rural practice inherited from his father (who was present and sat next to him).
My £33k dentist happens to be an all-round nice guy and very self-effacing.
I asked for a little background on the “sale”.
This was a lady in her early 50’s whose marital circumstances had changed and she, by her own admission, had to “start dating again” – hence the need for a signature smile.
This whole episode reveals some interesting points:

  1. for the rest of the day my £33k dentist feels very pleased (quietly so) with himself – moral: there is an internal self-confidence that comes with knowing that such “cheques” are out there in the market place, that they exist in your country town and that you can receive them;
  2. I asked the non-dentists in the room (team members) “if you wanted a signature smile, who would you ask” – and, no surprises, they all pointed at my £33k guy – moral: there is “perceived capability” in having handled the big cases beforehand

This further reminded me of a question we designed at Monday’s Mastermind meeting – imagine a patient who is dentally fit (in your esteemed opinion), has been visiting the practice for years, never asks any questions, always says and does the right things – no trouble at all.
But this same patient has:

  • just divorced and wants to start dating OR
  • paid off their mortgage
  • finished school fees
  • retired early
  • has a daughter about to marry
  • is visiting a relative in Oz
  • wants promotion and has an important interview
  • is about to start public-speaking regularly

there is “a reason” – but how do you determine that during a routine dental examination, without being pushy?
Here’s a first draft of a question:

“Since we last met, has there been any change in your personal or professional circumstances, that would warrant a conversation about your dental appearance?”

It’s not polished yet – and I’m open to feedback – but I’d love some of you to try that – £33k may walk in your door today.
Simon Hocken (with whom I co-present the Mastermind Group) adds

I think the other principal that “biggest cheque” illustrates well is 80/20 “rule”. When I did biggest cheque with my dental business network last week, (generally higher gross’ers) the light-bulb moment for them was that between 40 and 80% of their gross was/could be created by around 20 of their patients. So, the best use of their time was to build relationships with the next of these 20 patients and sell the big tickets. The rest will come anyway and have small tickets.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.