When my son was 6 years old I took him to our dentist for his routine cleaning and exam. After I signed him in, he grabbed my hand and led me across the hall to the optometrist’s waiting room and sat down.

When I asked him what he was doing he said, “The smell tastes better over here.”

I remembered his comment recently when I spent some time with a dental practice coach who worked for a medical office practice management firm. He told me about a dentist he worked with who was very good and had been in practice for three years, but his business wasn’t growing as he envisioned.

Following a study of the dentist’s practice, the coach found that the dentist never established a real vision for his practice and never clarified specific goals. His staff scheduled patient appointments, he saw each day’s scheduled patients, and the staff collected as much as they could from the patients and billed the rest to insurance companies. His patient appointment cancellations were high, as was his staff turnover. To make matters worse, his collection rate from the insurance companies and his patients was low. He needed help.

After seeing the results of the study, the dentist signed up with this practice management coach and his company. The coach helped his new client establish a long-term vision for what he wanted his practice to achieve and also helped him establish the goals he needed to accomplish in order to get there.

They developed a brand for his practice — You’ll Leave Smiling! This was used in direct mail campaigns throughout the community. Goals were developed for increasing patient appointments, reducing patient cancellations and collecting more of what patients owed for their dental care. Each of his staff members was given specific goals, and the dentist scheduled weekly staff meetings to review how everyone was doing.

Everyone in the office, from the hygienist to the receptionist, was trained on the kinds of care and dental services the office could provide to patients. Then they were trained on how to ask questions to find out what the patient’s expectations were and what they wanted from the doctor and staff. The staff was then coached on how to help patients see the benefits of getting the care they need, and in turn feeling and looking better.

Finally, the dentist and his staff took a training course titled, Getting Your Patients to Say Yes! Prior to this training, the dentist simply outlined to his patients what care was needed and then explained why they needed to have it done.

Many times the patient, overcome with anxiety and concern about the cost, said, “Okay, let me think about it,” which is patient speak for, “Please let me leave so I can go to a Starbucks, get this dental office taste out of my mouth and forget about all of this.”

To which the dentist responded, “Okay, call us for an appointment when you’re ready,” which is dentist speak for, “All he wants to do is leave and go to the nearest Starbucks to get the dental office taste out his mouth. I should have listened to mom and gone to chiropractic school!”

As a result of this training, the dentist or hygienist now explains to the patient what needs to be done and the benefits of the care. They review how it will help them get what they want, feel or look better. Next, they discuss payment options that fit the patient’s budget and review appointment dates that work within their schedules. Finally, they ask if they can schedule the appointment.

If the patient says, “Okay, let me think about it,” the dentist or hygienist responds by asking questions to uncover the true concern, fear or issue. When the patient seems satisfied, the dentist or staff member asks again if they can schedule the appointment.

In short, the dentist and his staff became more proficient at establishing goals, uncovering patient wants and needs, matching their service to give them what they want, and convincing them to say “yes.”

Hmmmmmm … Create a vision, set goals, find out what patients want, provide it and help them to say “yes.” Sounds to me like everyone in that office benefited from learning and practicing the skills of the very best salespeople. And I’ll bet they don’t have to look in the optometrist’s waiting room across the hall for their patients.

Dan Norman is a sales performance expert, a professional speaker, a columnist and the author of Top Ten Selling – The Lumberjack Chronicles. He has hired and developed thousands of sales representatives and hundreds of sales managers. Throughout his career, Dan has made a science of understanding the fundamentals of what it takes to be the “best-of-the-best” in sales and management performance. To book Dan Norman to speak at your next event, visit www.toptenselling.com or call 407-566-9741. (C) 2009 Dan Norman. All rights reserved.