How to talk to a dental salesperson: Don't scoff; they possess a wealth of information

Sept. 28, 2015
Don't scoff; they possess a wealth of information

Don't scoff; they possess a wealth of information

BY Sharon Efron, RDH, BS

Why should you bother talking to a salesperson? Which location should you keep in mind? Office or a dental conference?

When you're working on a patient and the front desk interrupts you to tell you that a salesperson is waiting to see you, what do you do?

• Excuse yourself for two minutes to check it out or investigate a time when it's good for both of you?

• Assume you know everything, and it's a waste of your time and refuse to see him or her?

• Ask the salesperson to wait until you are good and ready to see them, and then dismiss them quickly when you get there?

• Tell him or her to leave literature, which you probably won't read, or a phone number, which you'll never call?

Well, if you answered any but the first option, you may be doing yourself and your patients a huge disservice. Why? I am a hygienist, and I have also been a salesperson. After wearing both of those hats, I know. I am also a clinical instructor in a dental hygiene program, and I tell my students: "See the salesperson!" I always share what another salesperson once said to a class that she taught: "If you don't know what you don't know, you don't know what you don't know!"


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You may ask, "Why should I interrupt providing hygiene care?" The answer is that there are potentially career-changing reasons. I've learned by wearing all my hats that much goes on and progresses outside the four walls of my operatory. How else would I know what happened last week? What is new since I've been updated? What's coming in the journals that you are not aware of (if you even read them)? What am I missing in a CE class that is sponsored by a salesperson's employer? You need to learn what's new to help your patients, be current, and then use evidence-based decision making when you evaluate the information.

What the salesperson has for you is updated research and product information that may solve a problem in the office or for a patient, or new technology might be available. The salesperson is bringing this wealth of information right to you during an office visit. Yes, you can visit representatives at a dental convention, which is also great. (RDH Under One Roof and the American Dental Hygienists' Association's annual session are two national dental hygiene conferences. The ADHA convenes June 8-14, 2016, in Pittsburgh; RDH Under One Roof is hosted July 28-39, 2016, at the National Harbor in Maryland.) But a meeting that you attend may occur just once a year. You can potentially save the office money right now (What boss would not love that from you?) and not wait until the next visit to an exhibit hall. You would then increase your value to the office and can help both staff and patients.

So, yes, I know you are busy when the salesperson shows up. What are the options? Come out and meet the salesperson, and schedule a time that is convenient for both of you. Or, maybe you will be free in 10 minutes. They probably can, and will wait, for a short time. They may come back to buy you and the staff lunch while educating you. Lunch-and-learns are a great way to do this. Please ensure that all invited are there for this event. That way, you are not responsible for passing on all of the information that everyone else missed. The more ears that hear what is said, the better the message is absorbed and can be discussed and applied.

The following information is good for the actual conversation in the office or at a convention. Once you have your office meeting scheduled or exhibit hall to-do list ready, remember that all salespeople and all companies are not created equal. It remains important to use your evidence-based decision making skills once you begin.

• How was the testing of this product done?

• Is it evidence-based research?

• Who was the test done on? Typodonts? People? Manufactured calculus?

• How many times was it tested? Once? One hundred? Thousands?

• Where was it tested? In a lab? On humans? Only as a take-home test?

Additionally, when reviewing a research paper, read the bottom of the study. It will say "in vivo" (live people) or "in vitro" (in a lab). Lab tests aren't necessarily bad, but may not show the same results in a mouth. Ask yourself: If this is so good, why didn't they test it on people? Why stop at a typodont? These are questions that you can ask. There may be a good answer to explain why. Or, this may be a reason to ask more questions. With a salesperson, you can ask, understand, challenge, learn, and know.

Do you know the difference between the ADA Seal of Acceptance1 and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration?2 Sometimes when something doesn't look so good, it may not be bad. Sometimes it is about laws. For example, the FDA will only let you advertise ONE benefit per product. So if the salesperson says the product has two benefits-and you don't see it on the label-ask why? Is it that the product labeling is constrained by the law? Or, is it that the product really doesn't have a second benefit? It could go either way. On the other hand, drugs marked "OTC monograph final" or "OTC monograph not final" are not checked for conformance to the monograph by the FDA.3

There is a saying in sales: "You get them on price; you lose them on price." It's true. Did you buy the cheapest car out there? Shampoo? Clothes? Of course not. Sometimes you need to pay for quality for you and your patients. Health care is not the time to skimp over three cents. To that end, we don't want our patients to buy the cheapest dental treatment either! So when considering the price, know that the best product for you or dental treatments from you are not always the cheapest price.

When a salesperson next comes to your door, think collaboration and have a conversation. Even if you are not the purchasing person of the office, you can influence the purchaser and learn yourself. Discern if this product or service will help you save time, money, and/or support the improved health of your patients. Ask and review the research; be a well-informed hygienist so you will purchase the right product for the benefits it provides. You can make a difference. Take the time to partner with your salesperson, by treating him or her as you want your patient to treat you. You'll be glad that you did! RDH

Sharon Efron, RDH, BS, is currently teaching clinical dental hygiene at Fones School of Dental Hygiene in Bridgeport, Conn., and at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn. She retired from Oral-B and Procter & Gamble in 2012 after almost 23 years of a successful sales career. She has practiced part time in the same office since 1981. She was president of Connecticut Dental Hygienists' Association in 2014, and is currently the immediate past president, student liaison and membership chair. She is currently part of the Council for Continuing Education for the Connecticut Dental Association. She can be reached [email protected].


1. http://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/ada-seal-of-acceptance-program
2. http://www.fda.gov/
3. http://labels.fda.gov/