Why you can’t win on price any more
Why you can’t win on price any more
Corporates have the marketing budget to do nationwide banners, TV ads and ads in national newspapers and glossies — you simply can’t compete with that kind of brand recognition.

By Luc Wade, Marketing Director at Hive Business.

From here on out it’s hopeless to compete on price as an independent dental practice because in 2016 the slow but relentless march of the corporates finally crossed something of a Rubicon: Bupa bought Oasis. Oasis was the second largest dental provider in the sector serving two million patients and, having spent £835m on the acquisition, Bupa will now leverage its trusted brand across the empire as quickly as possible. Meanwhile other corporates like Centre For Dentistry, which runs practices inside Sainsbury’s stores, are delivering value to people who find it easier to trust larger, well branded providers over their local, independent counterparts.

Corporate dental businesses are first and foremost competing with you on price and because of their scale it is unlikely you will be able to win. Say you did want to base your business model on attracting patients who are seeking the lowest price for treatment. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but are you geared correctly for it? Forget volume and capacity problems, will you be able to compete with their bulk purchasing power for equipment, materials and supplies? Or the higher discount structures offered by suppliers like Invisalign, for example? You could minimise costs by using less expensive materials, less reliable equipment and cutting staff hours, but be warned this will lead to a more generic and sterile experience, not to mention low morale among your team. It’s a brave choice and I fear people will likely choose the practice with the more familiar branding that offers similar pricing.

Corporates have the marketing budget to do nationwide banners, TV ads and ads in national newspapers and glossies — you simply can’t compete with that kind of brand recognition. They will be relying on superior brand equity that’s been accruing for a lot longer than you’ve been around (Bupa was founded in 1947, Sainsbury’s in 1869) and a sophisticated retail strategy with premises located in prime retail areas with high footfall. However, if you refocus your marketing efforts and compete on an experiential level you can win big because, despite all their apparent polish and shine, the corporates can’t compete with you on the patient journey.

There is an opportunity for independent practices to appeal to their catchment market’s sense of place, showing local sensibilities in their marketing collateral and a level of quality in their customer service that the mass-produced corporates cannot possibly achieve. If you can deliver remarkable experiences all you need to do is let your patients build your reputation for you by word of mouth, social media and online reviews (which have become indispensable to consumers). Reputation is central to patients’ perception and will keep you out of the war on price.

If you are ready to take the fight to the corporates the place to start is with an audit of your brand proposition, your front of house areas and your website, so get in touch if you’d like to book this in with Hive to make sure you start 2017 on the front foot. As the adage goes, the best defence is a good offence…

Call us onBy Luc Wade, Marketing Director at Hive Business.

One of the exquisite tensions of our job, being a company that specialises in helping dental practices grow, is the one between clinicians and sales. We know, it’s awkward mixing clinical integrity with the grubby world of revenues and profits. However, unless you fancy living in North Korea there’s no choice, it has to be done. And to that end we’re offering sales training days with Martin Crump, who’s helped leaders in John West foods, the NHS and Babcock Marine (who repair our nuclear submarines) sell their points of view in better ways. He’s also helping Rodda’s, a company close to our Cornish hearts, make some big changes (of which more below). We asked Martin some questions to give you a feel for his approach…

Why are dentists squeamish about the word sales?

They think of the double glazing salesmen sitting in your house and not leaving till you’ve signed, and feel really uncomfortable. Fair enough. But the interesting thing is that in reality we’re all selling all the time. Maybe not a product but an idea and a point of view. You might go home and sell the idea of a holiday to your partner.

In a dental practice anyone who answers the phone is selling. It’s better understood as influencing: you’re changing someone’s belief from, “I’m not buying that treatment plan,” to, “OK, yes, I do want that…” For this to happen everyone on the team needs to believe in what they’re selling.

How do you help dental teams change what they believe?

I work with the whole team for a day and we look at how each person sees the world differently.

People’s perceptions are different, and if they have a set of perceptions and beliefs around sales that say it doesn’t work, that means patients won’t believe them or buy off them because even when they try their best they won’t be congruent. That of course reinforces their belief that sales doesn’t work…

How do you know people will come round to the idea of sales?

I join people in their world and then lead them to where I want them to be, so they can see I’m not asking them to be untrustworthy. It’s influencing with integrity.

At the practices I’ve worked with all team members have loved what we’ve done because I pace and lead them through the process. We start by saying you do this anyway, the difference is you don’t do it consciously with an outcome in mind. They end up feeling strongly about what they must do differently – and then go away and do it.

How do you develop a sales culture in a dental practice?

One way is by introducing goals. We look at the ways in which you’re selling already and become aware of the opportunities to improve.

For instance, your receptionists will no doubt be trying to make a good impression each time they answer the phone, so they are already selling. But what if the goal was to finish with a booked appointment each time the phone rang?

Is there a process to hitting sales goals?

No. There’s no script that works because the customer has to feel your authenticity and there’s no script for being authentic.

If sales is a process it’s a process that you already do, all the time. Why would you be comfortable answering questions about your practice for a friend down the pub but not an enquirer who has called with the same questions?

Often there’s a dysfunction around the idea of sales that has to be tackled so team members can feel free to be themselves with customers. Bringing that dysfunction into your awareness means you can influence it. Then we introduce things like stories and case studies to help team members feel they have material to draw on that is authentic, so rather than saying, “Buy this treatment…” they’re saying, “We had someone last week who had your problem and they felt really happy about this treatment…”

What kind of feedback do you get on your sales training?

The only negative feedback I’ve ever had was someone who left halfway through and said: “I wouldn’t recommend this course to anyone because it changes the way you think.”

It’s true, it does. If you think differently you will behave differently, and that doesn’t matter whether it’s in sales, procurement or leadership.

I’m helping Rodda’s [the world’s largest producer of clotted cream, based in Cornwall] through a cultural change at the moment, from being a production focused business, where they bought milk to fulfil their orders, to, as of April 2017, a sales focused business, where they have to shift a minimum amount of product because of a new deal on their milk where they now buy directly from the farmers. It’s seven days a week now, focusing on sales and managing people differently, a real perception shift for a 125-year-old company. Getting the team to believe in this growth and buy into it themselves has been critical, and inspiring.

Are there any long term benefits of developing a sales culture?

Just like the work I do on negotiation skills and procurement training, this is all about thinking about the person on the other side. You’re selling a point of view, and if you do it with empathy and congruence the person on the other side will become an advocate.

In dentistry that means they start referring friends and family to your practice, which is the most cost effective way of revenue growth. Once you’ve got the referral, it’s a circle: they telephone the practice and you’ve got to convince them they’re doing the right thing, and every interaction they have when they come in must meet their expectations. Quite rightly the nurse and the dentist are going to be focusing on the clinical side, but the new patient doesn’t understand the clinical side, they just remember the experience, and how they feel as they walk out the door.

Is there a better way for dental clinicians to think about themselves?

You’re giving patients the opportunity to improve their lives, but you probably see your purpose as very clinical. Of course it is, but changing people’s lives makes you think differently about what you do, and changes your motivation and that of your team.

When you think differently you talk and behave differently; more empathic, more congruent. That feels better for the patient. All dentists know they change people’s lives, and they will admit as much in the end. It’s not the first thing they say but it should be.

If you would like more information about Martin’s sales training please get in touch on 01872 300232 or email us at hello@hivebusiness.co.uk.

The information contained in this article is based on the opinion of Hive Business and does not constitute formal tax advice. Any tax outcomes will be based on individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation, which are subject to change in the future. You should seek specific advice before embarking on any course of action. Hive Business does not provide regulated Financial Advice, including advice on investment, insurance or lending products or their suitability for you. This article is provided for information only and does not constitute, and should not be interpreted as, investment advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or otherwise transact, or not transact, in any investment including Bitcoin and other crypto. Any use you wish to make of any information contained within this article is, therefore, entirely at your own risk.

By Luc Wade Marketing Director
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