The Real Key to Influence



There are many books dentists can read to get better at presentation.  Most of the books can be found in the Sales and Marketing section of your local bookstore.  It seems that over the years I have read most of them.  Add to those the numerous books on philosophy and psychology and I could write my own book.  Hmm…I already have.

But in all seriousness, one book that was recommended to me years ago by Dr. Peter Dawson was S.P.I.N. Selling by Neil Rackham.

Great book…lots of practical information, but like so many books it falls short on specific advice for my day to day experiences with patients.

Let me give you an example.

S.P.I.N. is a process or series of questions that guides your patient interview.  It starts with Situation questions, Problem questions, Implication questions and finally Need payoff questions.

Essentially it is a guide to uncover the patient’s real problems and for you to fit that problem with your solution (payoff).

The real crux of Rackham’s system comes with finding the right implications.  In other words—what’s the real meaning behind the problem?

This is what most sales trainers call the WIIFM part of the presentation…the benefit.  And this is what they used to call in the Bronx…what separates the men from the boys.

The very best have a way of drilling down to uncover the real problems and their emotional implications.  Most of us have heard the sales saying, “People buy on emotion and justify on logic.”

Well the very best understand that and always think in terms of implications.

For example, I had a patient who resisted getting her front tooth fixed until her husband refused to go out in public with her anymore.  Fix the tooth for health reasons?  For functional reasons?  For comfort and appearance?

No way.

But when the idea of not being accepted came up…she was in my office in a New York minute (second reference to the Big Apple).

Yes sitting high up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is that need to belong.

It is their own particular circumstances and their own story that we need to explore in order to find what moves them.  That is why I advocate a complete examination that focuses on knowing our patients.

As a coach I hear stories like these all the time…specific incidents where the dentist says: “What do you say when they don’t see the problem, or when they tell you this objection or that.”

I tell them there are no words…just a mindset which includes lots of empathy and thinking about emotional implications.

Think in terms of implications — be preventive, so your patients don’t leave with regrets—“I could have had a V-8.”

 In the comments below—leave some specific situations where thinking in the language of emotional implication has helped you or created frustration.

In my next blog post I will give you an example of “selling ideas” rather than dentistry that just might improve your relationship with your laboratory.

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What Dentistry Can Learn From Radiology

Photo by Joshua Polansky

Photo by Joshua Polansky




I am a lucky guy.  My son does my lab work in our in-office lab.  He gets to meet the patients that he is doing the work for.  He’s a lucky guy.  I have told him so, because most dental technicians work in a room all day totally isolated.  If you visit a dental lab you will see technicians sitting at a bench working on models, wearing loupes and listening to their iPods.

Dan Pink in his new book, To Sell is Human, describes the work of radiologists who also sit in dimly lit rooms all day, reading x-rays, CT scans and MRIs.  He says that this job can “dull these highly skilled doctor’s interest in their jobs.  And worse, if the work begins to feel impersonal and mechanical, it can diminish their actual performance.”

An Israeli radiologist, Yeonatan Turner wanted to know more about this so he conducted some research to see if he could “add some gusto” to the job.  As a resident, with the patient’s permission, he photographed about 300 patients coming in for CT scans.  Then he enlisted a group of radiologists for his experiment.

Then the radiologists read the scans, but when the scans came up on their computers, so did the photograph that Turner took.  After reading the scans they filled out a questionnaire.  According to Pink, “All of them reported feeling more empathy to the patients after seeing the photograph, and being more meticulous in the way they examined the scan.”

What happened next was really strange.  Three months later Turner took 81 of the photo-accompanied scans and let the same radiologists read them again…but this time without the photos attached.  This time 80% of “incidental findings” were not reported.  In other words, without the photos there seemed to be a disconnect and there was less scrutiny with the same radiographs.  What Turner determined was,

“Our study emphasizes approaching the patient as a human being and not as an anonymous case study.”

So what can dentists and dental technicians take away from this study?

We must remember to make all of our services as personal as possible.  The more personal we make our services the greater chance of doing a good job and we become better at motivating one another.

Maybe the key to getting better work from the dental lab is to send along a photo with every patient.  Hospitals are now doing it for Pap smears, blood tests and other diagnostics.

For a more complete discussion of Turners work I highly recommend Dan Pink’s new book…To Sell is Human.






Most Effective Way to Educate Patients


Explaining treatment to a patient can be one of the more difficult tasks for a dentist. Finding the right words at the right time in the right circumstance can be unnerving, and it can mean the difference between your patient saying “yes” or “no” to treatment.

We have witnessed an untold number of methods and technologies that attempt to help doctors and their staff educate and persuade patients to accept treatment. Those of us who have purchased marketing brochures, DVD’s, intra-oral cameras and digital radiographs know that visual illustrations and graphics sometimes fall short.

We must enter the mind through an emotional gateway: through metaphor and storytelling.

There is no greater feeling when you use the right words, at the right time. Your patient goes from having that MEGO expression (Mine Eyes Glaze Over) to a look of understanding and acceptance.

One morning last week I was about to do a crown for a patient when he stopped me mid-injection and said, “Hey Doc, all I see is a little hole in this tooth…it doesn’t look all that bad.”

“Uh oh,” I thought. In an instant I explained to him that the little hole was just the entrance to a much larger hole…like the entrance to a cave. Hence the word “cavity.”

Instantly his eyes focused. He saw a reference in his mind. The cavity now had context. He said, “Okay, I get it. Let’s go.”

And so, words saved the day.

Actually “word pictures” saved the day.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What we dentists seem to forget is that dentistry is advanced technology to most people.

We suffer from the Curse of Knowledge.

In another recent case a patient came in with three hopeless teeth. Way beyond repair. Abscessed and broken down o the gum line. He kept asking me if I could save them. What was obvious to me and my staff had him bewildered. He thought dentists could save anything…that’s what we do, right?

His problem originated when an oral surgeon extracted a few teeth years ago and a dental assistant told him that the teeth could be saved. Nothing like throwing your boss under the bus.

This left doubt and mistrust in the patient’s mind.

I asked him what he did for a living and he said he worked in construction.

I needed a metaphor…quickly.

I painted a picture with words of a wooden fence that came down in a storm. The fence posts were split apart at ground level. I asked how he would fix the fence…he just looked at me and understood that these teeth had to come out.

The power of metaphor.

Dentists, especially the successful ones have been using storytelling and metaphor since way before technology tried to make our lives easier. Stories and metaphor enable us to achieve a deeper emotional connection.

Instant clarification.

Can you think of any great metaphors that have helped you explain treatment to your patients?
Here are three more…
1. The TMJ as a camp trunk…with hinges and locks
2. The TMJ as a door (works well, too)
3. Balancing the tires on your car as a metaphor for equilibration