11 Dec 2015  •  Practice Management  •  8min read By  • Richard Collard

4 Tips for Effective Selling in Dentistry

Richard Collard from Medenta breaks down the ‘trust equation’ for professional business consultants and explains how it can be used in dentistry, offering four tips for effective selling in dentistry.

We all generally agree that ‘people buy from people’ which means that we recognise trust as a key element in any transaction… and it’s the trust thing that is at the heart of dentistry.

Patients (customers or clients as I prefer to call them… there is a difference!) will prefer to visit a practice and clinicians that they trust. A practice will prefer to work with laboratories and suppliers that they trust. Many are the times that I have seen business placed with a particular provider that is more expensive than another because trust has won the day.

You may have the best product in the world, you may work in the most prestigious environment, you may produce clinical excellence and you may have a myriad of qualifications but if you’re light in the trust department then life will be difficult. So what is trust and how do we build it? How can we measure our own trustworthiness?

Maister, Galford and Green have developed what they refer to as a trust equation for professional business consultants, refined by Steve Chalke of the Oasis Trust (a different Oasis to our friends in Bristol!) to be: T = C+D+(R/S) or to put it another way:

[blockquote type=”center”]Trust = Credibility + Dependability +
(Relationship ÷ Self-interest)[/blockquote]

Let me unpack this for you…

1) Effective Selling in Dentistry – Credibility

Credibility essentially concerns whether or not others believe that we have the necessary skills or expertise to do a specific job. Although I have been involved in dentistry for nigh on thirty years, you would be right in not trusting me to do a root filling for you… even though in a previous incarnation I’ve attended loads of endo courses as an exhibitor, got involved in doing some hands-on on plastic blocks and produced some pretty reasonable results.

Talking with me, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m clinically trained (I’m often asked!) but I’m not a dentist. However convincing I might seem, I do not have the necessary training, knowledge and ability to treat you. My friendly personality, natural charm and delightful humour will not be enough! By resorting to dental school I can start to establish my credibility… a certificate and a GDC number is what I need to demonstrate greater trustworthiness and even then I might be better advised to refer you to a specialist! We’ll come back to that point under ‘Self-interest’.

2) Effective Selling in Dentistry – Dependability

Dependability is measured by whether or not a person is perceived as reliable and consistent. It relies upon reputation. In its simplest form it centres around systematically delivering on what we promise to do when we say we will do it. I have to confess to being somewhat alarmed by what I see on too many occasions…as part of my research before visiting a potential new client I visit their website (if you don’t have a website, might there be a credibility issue for potential new clients?).

This exercise can give me an impression (good and bad) of where I’m going but many are the times where the excellent quality of the website and the rhetoric that goes with it are just a veneer for the mediocrity that is the reality once I get there. If I were a patient, trust would start to be eroded…what is being delivered is not what is promised.

If I promise to telephone you next Friday to arrange a meeting for the following week, I would only prove dependable if I do it even if it transpires that it is inconvenient for me to do so. Judgements about dependability are built up slowly over time and the more positive interactions that we have with someone, the deeper impression of dependability there will be. In the end, dependability is a matter of track record.

3) Effective Selling in Dentistry – Relationship

Relationship is essential to trust. What parent would ever consider leaving their young child with a babysitter whom they didn’t know? In order to build and maintain a healthy relationship at all levels of our lives, we have to work at being consistently and intentionally thoughtful, supportive, generous and involved.

[pullquote cite=” Richard Collard” type=”right”]Forming the right kinds of bonds requires the giving of time.[/pullquote]

Most importantly, forming the right kinds of bonds requires the giving of time. In our working situations, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on getting the job done. When we invest time and energy into the people whom we treat and with whom we work, it is highly likely that trust will flourish. The greatest gift we can give any human being is the thing that is actually the most valuable… time.

4) Effective Selling in Dentistry – Self-interest

There’s the old line ‘You know when a politician is lying because you can see his lips move’. But it’s not just politicians. The police, the media, the royal family, the church, the law lords and many more who were once perceived as pillars of society have all tumbled from their pedestals.

There’s no doubt that our world is shot through with cynicism and generally we find it difficult to trust each other unconditionally. We are always looking for the hidden agenda and our society is riddled with individuals saying one thing and doing another.

If trust is built through the combination of credibility, dependability and relationship, then it is always impaired and in some cases completely destroyed by self-interest. Put quite simply, if you give the impression that you are only in the relationship for what you can get out of it then you are making life very difficult for yourself.

Simply appearing rushed can give the customer the impression that we’re not interested in them… which means that we can appear only interested in ourselves and what we get from the relationship. Oh for a pound for the number of times I’ve heard ‘he only seemed interested in taking my money.’

Let me take you back to the end of the first point about credibility. The act of referring a client to a specialist demonstrates a lack of self-interest on your part. There is nothing negative about recognising the end of your own expertise and the specialist skills of another… in fact, it is a very positive step in building trust.

I believe that if you create the type of environment that allows what we have discussed here to flourish, your customers will become clients (there’s a clue to the difference!), they will tell you what they want, they will tell other people about you, they will prioritise treatment and they will find the money even in a recession…in fact, you can even help them with that part! 

Stephen Covey talks of trust having to be earned. He suggests that we all have trust accounts with each other and that we make deposits in terms of character and competency. In other words, we build up the account by doing what we say we will do and by doing it well. From time to time we make withdrawals but we must beware, being overdrawn or, before we know it, the account is closed… lost trust is extremely difficult to restore.


The Trusted Advisor– Maister, Galford and Green
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People– Stephen Covey

About the author

Richard Collard is a business graduate and CTI trained coactive coach with an entire business career spent in dentistry firstly with KaVo and then running his own consultancy and coaching business.

He is a partner and director at Medenta with responsibility for sales, training and product development.


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