By Melissa Erickson
It's a recurring frustration for dentists — a patient hears a thoughtful and appropriate treatment recommendation and pronounces, "You must have a boat (or BMW) payment to make." Seriously? Patients need to come up with a better joke. All joking aside, in a perfect world a skilled staff member will engage a sticker-shocked patient in conversation and support the treatment recommendation, and the reluctant patient may actually consider the value of the treatment as money well spent.
Now entertain the idea that this same dentist will look at you, his or her trusty equipment rep, and say, "Six thousand dollars for one skinny little plastic camera? You must have a kid in college!" Once again, our heroic staff member saves the day by pointing out, "Doctor, I know I can sell your beautiful dentistry with this camera. All we'd have to do is complete one quadrant of crowns, and it's paid for. Then everything we sell after that is gravy." Suddenly, the reluctant dentist begins to salivate over the opportunity rather than grousing over the cost.
A well-trained and friendly staff fosters the doctor-patient relationship, helping to keep patients loyal to the practice and excited to return for their next visit. This same staff can also champion the delicate bond between vendor and decision-maker. In a functional, healthy practice, one or more staff members will naturally have the doctor's confidence. It is a fact that the support of the staff can make all the difference in growing both the breadth and depth of your account. And let's face it, the demographic mix of your average dental staff leans heavily toward female. I am one, and I'll share one of our big, girly secrets — we talk. If we don't like a rep or vendor, we're not shy about telling each other or the doctor. "That stinks!" you may say. But let's talk about how to make that work for you.
A chummy relationship with staff members can provide you with some needed back-watchin' when a competing vendor comes into the office, perhaps to offer some benefit you hadn't even thought of. Your contacts on the staff can be a bastion of loyalty to you in your absence. They can inform you of potential poachers, the nature of what other reps are offering, and even let you know when you need to step up your game. They can tell you when a procedure is taking too long because of a poor piece of equipment or frustrating material, which paves the way for you to put on the superhero cape and provide the solution. Then, they can help you rehearse how best to present the benefit of that purchase to the office decision-maker. This type of support can be more valuable than getting a "Yes" from a purchasing doctor, because it lasts past the occasional sale. It's cheaper than a round of golf, and it will net you some astounding numbers at the end of the quarter.
It isn't enough to have one member of your fan club in each office. Don't be shy about creating multiple staff relationships. "You may have one great, supportive contact at an office," according to Chris Kaufmann, an Arizona Schein equipment sales specialist, "but if he or she leaves the office, you'll lose your cheerleader." Grow relationships in your offices with as many staff members as possible, Kaufmann advises. "This way, if your primary contact leaves the office, you may be able to not only keep that account, but pick up your contact in a new office and open new introductions and opportunities somewhere else."
Don't make the rookie mistake of assuming that a junior member of the staff isn't worth your time. He or she may appreciate your attention, and the savviest of young employees will jump at the chance to learn anything they can, from anyone willing to teach. As they develop in their position, you'll have another fan. Expanding on this idea, Ed Keyser, a field sales consultant with Schein, advises, "Egos aside, you have to create relationships with every staff member. We are planting seeds. We're farmers, developers, and coaches."
It shouldn't be hard to plant a friendly seed, especially once staff members realize how they can benefit from a relationship with a vendor or rep as well. Dental employees know that dental offices tend to see other practices in the immediate area as competition, and frequently dental offices won't "talk" to each other. If staff members experience a job loss, their best contacts with the dental community are the reps and vendors with whom they've formed a relationship. Manufacturer and dealer reps are the boots on the ground in the neighborhood in contact with a large number of employers in the area. A personal recommendation from a trusted rep may persuade a doctor to hire one applicant over another.
Additionally, when the staff realizes that you're a resource for them, especially during emergencies, they'll become conditioned to call you early and often. For years, one dental office manager I know was not a proponent of using one large dental supplier for the office she managed. A rep with a major dental supplier took on the challenge of getting to know her and show her the benefits of being a "believer." One benefit statement made by the rep stuck in her mind, and that was a factual but very humble mention of his years of local experience and numerous contacts.
Early one Saturday morning, a critical piece of equipment failed minutes before the office was to open with numerous new patients and high-dollar procedures on the schedule. The staff was anxious, the employer red faced. Being a Saturday, technical support via phone was not an option. The office manager was responsible for a solution. In a well-concealed panic, she called the rep, never expecting him to fix the equipment, but seeking advice, fast. The rep actually answered the phone early Saturday and not only provided her with timely advice, but with the right person, who arrived within minutes with a complimentary loaner.
A crisis was averted, and the rep visited on Monday with a new solution and a box of chocolates. The office manager never knew how many strings he pulled to make all that happen at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday, but she said that over the years that rep brought so much to their office, helped her to grow her professional skills, and solved so many problems. Now no power on earth will move her away from that rep. You may say that in that office she's his "wingman," er, "wingwoman."
The best reason to work diligently on relationships with the staff is this: the doctor shouldn't have to think about anything but dentistry. Yes, the doctor makes the final decision on whether to buy or not. But in an ideal world, the staff should be fielding concerns, growing relationships, evaluating equipment, materials, and systems for peak efficiency, keeping an eye out for the latest and greatest, and proposing these improvements to the doctor. If you can create a position for yourself as a trusted advisor and informational resource to the staff, you'll create success and security for you and your company.
Melissa Erickson is passionate about all things dental. She manages a successful practice, consults for only a select few doctors, and is an aspiring writer. With more than 15 years in dentistry, plus a few years in corporate sales, she still geeks out over anything dental-related, and is OK with that. E-mail her at [email protected].