Inside the Brains of a Dental Office and the Power of Persuasion

With the holiday season behind us, it’s probably a good time of year to talk about a central marketing truth: the power of persuasion. And if you’re like most Americans you’ve seen the power of persuasion up close and personal in the last several weeks.

Think about that extra hors d’oeuvre you were pressured to consume. Remember that buy one get one free offer you couldn’t resist? What about all those Christmas and New Years gifts that pushed your bank account – and your sanity – to the breaking point? (We won’t even talk about the alcohol.)


In all cases, persuasion plays a big role. And it’s a topic I lecture about often as it relates to dental practices, too.




Because in my more than 25 years of private practice ownership I find that dental offices come up short in executing this basic idea. Yes, quality sells. But so does repetition. Sometimes story is as important as substance – at least when it comes to attracting initial interest.


In fact, to get my students interested in the topic I perform a little group exercise at the start of my marketing lecture. Without explanation I project two large red and blue circles on the wall behind me. Several minutes into my talk I tell my students one circle is bigger than the other. I then ask, “How many think the red circle is bigger?” Invariably I get a show of hands. Then I ask, “How many think the blue circle is bigger?” Again, another show of hands.


Usually the class splits about 50-50.


As you might have guessed, both circles are the same size. All I did was plant the suggestion that they weren’t and immediately peoples’ perceptual abilities fail. No matter how many times I perform this experiment I’m impressed by the results. So are my students.


So what are the lessons dental office managers can take with them and apply on Monday morning?


The ‘Art of the Deal’ and the Words to Back it Up

Dental patient persuasion is most evident when it comes to negotiating price. I often say, ‘I will never have a patient walk out because of price. I can remove that barrier.’


Especially if a patient is paying out of pocket, if they’re a referral –or if you’ve judged the work and time investment reasonable – this is where you want to be the most persuasive. Don’t quibble over a request for 10% or even 25% off. Impress this patient with your flexibility and your generosity. A decision like this could pay for itself in the number of new patients this one person ultimately recommends, not to mention repeated opportunities to suggest additional treatment. Whether you realize it or not you’re selling a narrative by creating a sense that your price flexibility is an amazing deal, making the patient feel special.


Dental practice persuasion is also about how you present information, what you say, what you don ’t say, and the words you choose. Take “socket grafting.“ Instead of discussing “socket collapse” and that tooth loss creates 40-60% alveolar bone loss in the first two to three years and risks a resorption rate of .5% to 1% for the rest of the patient’s life, talk about “socket preservation.” I’ve even created an easy-to-follow script my staff uses to help them along the way.


“Studies show, Ms. Jones, that you lose 40-60% of the jaw bone in that area if we do nothing. (PAUSE) The good news is that we can STOP the bone loss through a process called socket preservation. We put material in there – your own bone cells grow into that space, and have ‘baby and ‘grand baby’ bone cells – and the material dissolves away.”


Think about much better, how much more emotionally satisfying “preserve” (defined as: “to maintain something in its original state”) sounds compared to “graft,” which is defined as “a piece of living tissue that is transplanted surgically.”


Dental marketing is filled with similar examples. All it takes is positive spin and information that benefits the patient (without giving away too much or opening the door to too many questions) and all of a sudden you’ll find an uptick in your close rate. And likely an increase in the number of patients you treat.


For bigger, more complex cases, it’s important you break down what you have to say in smaller, bite-sized bits. Use smaller words. Speak slower than you normally would. Articulate. Lastly, it helps if you remember what I call the 8-point patient engagement list and be:


  • An active listener
  • Welcoming
  • Expressive
  • Empathetic
  • Authentic
  • Connected
  • Likeable
  • Personally well groomed


Treat the Human, not the Tooth

My final point of advice is that sales just don’t happen. It takes hard work and effort. And often I tell my students it takes ditching some of your academic idealism. Trust me, I’ve been there myself. I know what it’s like to be engrossed in textbooks and lectures and see “the disease” or “the problem” before I see the patient. The key is to treat the human, first, and the tooth, second.


As I alluded to earlier, we do this in large ways and in small. We do this by following the above list. But we also do it by never forgetting the importance of our returning patients and the value they represent. Treat them with respect, yes, but also go out of our way to make them feel like they’re your dental office “rock stars!” Remember that statistics show it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new patient than it is to keep an existing one.


Think about how much revenue one single patient can generate? Often it can be in the millions annualized over their lifetime association with your practice.


My point? Go the extra mile for these patients. Offer them enhanced pricing flexibility, send them holiday gifts, create special promotions, grant them the ability to change appointments more easily and even, if necessary, provide more generous payment structures – assuming they’ve demonstrated reliability in the past. (Which they most likely have.)


Whether your patients realize it or not this is a form of powerful persuasion.


Dental office psychology isn’t rocket science. But the power of persuasion is an essential principle all dentists must master if they want their practices to shoot for the stars!





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