16 Aug 2019  •  Practice Management  •  7min read

An ethical selling approach

Running a dental practice presents, for many, a quandary. Managing a business, which you want and need to be successful, with providing a healthcare service to those in need can be an ethical balance.

Certainly for many dentists and practice managers that I meet, there is a reluctance to ‘sell’ to patients. Yet, in order to be able to provide a service and have a thriving practice, you need patients to take up the treatment which generates income.

To find out how you can feel comfortable ‘selling’ to patients, I asked dental business coach Ashley Latter: How can I increase sales without compromising my ethics?

Ashley: ‘This is a question that I am regularly asked: how do you increase sales in an ethical way? The answer? It’s all about communication, building rapport with your patient, asking the right type of questions in the right order, finding out what patients want and offering a solution.

If you follow the eight simple steps below, then not only will you have more patients saying yes to your treatment plans, but you will be able to deliver more of the dentistry that you love to do, and your patients want.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to build rapport. Once you can do this the other steps will be much easier to carry out. The ability to build rapport with people is a key skill. People buy from people they trust and like. It’s that simple. If you can build rapport with your patients, colleagues and suppliers, they are more likely to trust you and take on board your suggestions. Become interested in your patient, and they will become interested in your suggestions.

What is the definition of sales?

A dictionary definition will tell you that it is to exchange goods and services for money or kind to convince of value.

There is nothing in the definition that states that it is about pushing people or forcing people into decisions. The key word here for me is value. I think value is about finding out what true value is to the other person in their context, or, in other words, their situation. So how about changing your mindset from one of selling or pushing to:

• Finding out what the patient thinks is value (wants and needs)

• You showing them how you can satisfy them

• When s/he believes you can, that person will probably buy.

Eight simple steps

There is a simple structure; it really isn’t about selling, it is about being the provider of significant value. To do this effectively, I suggest you follow these steps:

1. Prepare for your appointment – you can check the previous notes from your patient’s records, have a team meeting for the day and ensure that you are fully prepared, both mentally and practically, and that you are positive about your day. You are serving the public so be excited and positive. If it is a new patient, get as much information as you can about the patient from the reception team, this will help you with the next step.

2. Build rapport – spend a few minutes building rapport and making the patient feel important. Talk about their work, their life, and become genuinely interested in the patient and make them feel like they are the most important person in the world. Put them at ease. Most people’s favourite subject is themselves, and, in my opinion, it is the easiest way of getting people to like you.

3. Ask questions – after building rapport you can carry on asking questions, but this time about their clinical health. What they like or don’t like about their appearance and what they would like to change. Find out their vision for themselves.

4. Provide a solution – only when you fully understand the patient’s goals do you provide a solution. Use benefits and do not talk too technically. Use evidence to back up what you are saying, such as before and after pictures, videos, models and testimonials.

5. Test for commitment – once you have provided a solution, ask the patient if they are happy and what their reaction is to what you have suggested.

6. Ask for commitment – if the answer is positive, ask for commitment to the treatment plan you have presented.

7. Communicate informed consent – we all know the importance of informed consent, so make sure you go through the process you have in place to ensure this happens.

8. Follow up with the patient – both during and after treatment keep checking in with the patient about how they are feeling and the progress you are making. 

So, to summarise, build rapport with your patient, ask questions to find out if they have any problems, solve them in a language that they understand and which excites them. If you do this, you will have more patients saying yes in an ethical manner.’


Thanks to Ashley for providing his expertise and advice on this common issue. As Ashley has explained, often it is a challenge that can begin to be tackled by changing your mindset.

When we think of selling or salespeople, it’s probably not a very flattering stereotype that comes to mind. But, when it comes to dentistry, you know that the treatment you are offering is in the patients’ best interests. You are not pushing something they don’t need, but simply providing solutions to their dental problems or needs.

With Ashley’s eight steps above, you can see that actually what selling comes down to, is good communication and relationship-building with your patients so that you can understand what they really want.

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