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When it comes to making contact with prospective dentist-clients, there's nothing like the power of the personal touch. The beauty of face-to-face selling is that it's an opportunity to customize your message for each dentist. A brochure, direct mail piece, or dental journal ad can eloquently describe your services, but they're static. They cannot respond in "real-time" to a dentist's latest concern. But you can.
An in-person sales call presents the perfect opportunity, but if you're like many laboratory owners, those words alone may strike fear in your heart. Images of pushy, manipulative sales tactics coupled with the fear of rejection often keep owners from calling on prospective customers. The key is to change the way you think about a sales call. Taking the emphasis off persuading a dentist to buy--and focusing on determining his needs and how you can meet them--eliminates that "hard sell" sentiment.
Proper preparation also quells anxiety. "Gather information any way you can, from the office staff or from other clients who may know the dentist. What kind of practice does he have? Where did he go to dental school? What are his hobbies? The more you know about someone, the more comfortable you'll be talking to him," says Chuck Yenkner, president of Business Development Associates, Glastonbury, Connecticut.
And though you don't want to prepare a formal 'script' to follow--that will make your conversation sound forced--you should spend some time developing a framework to help guide your presentation. For example, opening with technical topics is always a good ice breaker because it puts you and the dentist in a comfort zone and takes the emphasis off selling your services.
Also, think about the message you want to deliver about your laboratory: in a nutshell, what separates you from the other laboratories that are vying for the dentist's business? Maybe it's your specialized buildup technique, the guarantee on your restorations, or the fact that you have the only CAD/CAM system in the area. "You have to convey your USP--your unique selling proposition--the thing that differentiates you from your competitors," says Marc Daichman, owner of Asteto-Dent Laboratories, Maplewood, New Jersey.
But don't forget that it's the client who should do most of the talking; think about open-ended questions you can ask him in order to uncover his needs. "For example, find out how many labs he uses. If it's three, ask why and what he's getting from each one," suggests Dave Kasza, vice president of sales and marketing for Drake Precision Dental Laboratory, Charlotte, North Carolina. "Maybe the meeting will be timely and the dentist will admit that he's frustrated with his current laboratory. Don't just say, 'great, it's a good time to try us, then.' Instead, dig deeper and find out exactly what's going wrong and how you can avoid making the same mistakes. Getting information about the potential client is the most important factor in being able to make a sound sales presentation and ultimately a successful close."
Getting in the Door
Cold calls--dropping in on dentists with whom you've had no previous contact--can be particularly stressful, even for experienced salespeople. Since dentists are so focused on maximizing their chairtime, they're unlikely to stop their work to talk with you. For this reason, many laboratory owners don't view cold calls as the best use of their sales efforts and are moving away from them.
A more productive, economical strategy is to establish leads through other methods--a direct mail piece, journal ad or trade show contact, for example--and then use the sales call as a follow-up. At the very least, these marketing strategies establish name recognition so the dentist is familiar with your laboratory when you do drop by or call for an appointment. In the best-case scenario, your initial marketing efforts compel the client to call you. "I always say, I'd rather be an 'invited guest' than an 'intruding pest.' It's just so much easier to sell someone when he's called me first," says Bob Wakitsch, co-owner of Dental Craft Corp., Ringwood, Illinois.
Door-opening opportunities can also be found through networking. Ask your existing clients for referrals; then call those dentists, use your client's name and ask to set up an appointment. Or, use your connections to others who get into dental offices. For example, twice a month, Marc Daichman rides with a manufacturer's representative who takes him on office visits to his dentist-customers; Daichman then does the same for him. "It's very important to network with dental companies and exchange information on the dental community. We've gotten many new customers this way," he says.
There are times, however, when a cold call has merit. "If we're visiting an existing client and notice a dental office we don't service, we'll stop in since we're in the area anyway," says Wakitsch. "Or, if we see that we have just one or two customers in a particular town, we'll do some cold calls to try to pick up a few more accounts and maximize our delivery person's time."
In those cases, it's particularly important to go into the office with something to pique the dentist's interest--for example, an invitation to an upcoming seminar or a "hot" new product. When In-Ceram first hit the market, Mark Jackson's sales representative went to offices with the "In-Ceram Challenge." "We'd take a crisp $100 bill and an In-Ceram framework and ask the office staff to bring it back to the doctor and tell him that if he could break the framework with his bare hands, he could keep the $100," says Jackson, owner of Precision Ceramics, Montclair, California. "Most of the time, the dentist would come out to talk just because he was so intrigued."
Having a unique "hook" is critical if you want to engage the dentist's attention--even when the sales call is not a cold one. "The way to get into the part of the brain that makes decisions is through the imagination. If you don't excite it, surprise it--if it just sees the dull and ordinary--you're not going to capture interest," says Wakitsch, who has studied the effect of psychology and neurology on sales and persuasion and has even used magic tricks during sales calls.
Since dentists are a visual group, bringing sample cases can arouse curiosity. "Use the sample to create a dialogue; ask about his preferences--does he like tight contacts?--and let him know you can do that for him," says Wakitsch, who also suggests that you try to incorporate an interactive aspect to showing your work. "Let him bend a flexible partial so he can see it won't rip or tear. Or, instead of just taking a beautiful crown with you, also take a light source to show how the porcelain reflects light or a microscope so the dentist can check the margins."
Laboratory owner Tom Zaleske has another unique way of showcasing his work: he created slide shows of his work on CDs. Some discs illustrate a particular type of case--implant bar-retained dentures or root-retained attachments, for example--and others document one specific case from start to finish. Not only do the slide shows spice up his sales presentations, they demonstrate another benefit he can offer: "I let the doctor know that as we develop a relationship, I can create a library of his cases on a CD and he can use it to illustrate specific treatment plans to other patients," says Zaleske, owner of Matrix Dental Laboratory, Bensenville, Illinois.
When you're thinking about what tools you can add to your sales arsenal, remember that the dentist isn't the only one you want to impress. "It's so important to acknowledge and work closely with the office staff because dentists are relying on their employees more than ever," says Kasza. "We've gained and lost clients based on staff members moving from one dentist's office to another. You have to realize and respect their value."
Daichman also knows the importance of making office staff members your allies. When he goes into a dental office, he always brings the receptionist or office manager nail files, calendars or other small gifts imprinted with the Asteto Dent name. Also, when he recently got back a lost account with the help of the dentist's receptionist, he thanked her with a $50 gift certificate to a restaurant.
Closing the Sale
For many salespeople, the end of a sales call is the most difficult because they feel pressured to "make the sale" right then and there. Don't fall into this trap; rushing a prospective client into making a decision can undo any relationship building you've done during your visit.
However, you shouldn't leave the office before you and the dentist discuss what the next step will be. "Request some sort of action on his part--is he going to look over the literature you've left on a new product? Or better yet, send you a trial case?," says Yenkner. "Or, try another type of non-threatening close called the choice close: 'Doctor, which of our products do you think you'd like to try? A PFM or a denture?'" Yenker also stresses the importance of follow-up. "I wouldn't let more than a week go by without giving the dentist a call. If you wait too long, the impact of your visit is gone."
If the next step is yours--you're going to stop by with some models or loan him an instructional video, for example--make sure you do it when you say you will. Following through on your promises will show the client he can trust you.
And once the dentist sends that first case, follow-up remains critical. Handwritten thank you notes and personal calls to inquire about the dentist's satisfaction show that you're committed to delivering what you promised. "We want our new clients to know that we're not in this for the 'hit and run,' says Kasza. "Our goal is not just to get a few cases in the door; we're looking for long-term business partnerships."
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