You’re working with a patient, and your office manager peeks in to tell you that a salesperson is here to see you. You can do the following:
- Excuse yourself for two minutes to schedule a time when it’s good for both of you.
- Assume you know everything, and it’s a waste of your time/refuse to see them.
- Ask them to wait until you are good and ready to see him/her, and then dismiss them quickly when you get there.
- Tell them to leave literature, which you probably won’t read, or a phone number that you’ll never call.
Well, if you answered anything but first choice, you may be doing yourself and your patients a huge disservice. Why? Because: “You don’t know what you don’t know, if you don’t know that you don’t know!”
Prior to my current role as a dental hygiene educator, I was a salesperson for over 20 years. And my intent for writing this article is to share insights into the value of partnering with your sales’ professionals so you can provide optimal care for your patients.
For example, when I was practicing full-time, it was extremely challenging to keep up with all the changes and progress happening outside the four walls of my operatory. How do you know what research came out last week? What is new since the last convention? What’s not in the journals yet (if you even read them)? What am I missing not taking a CE class? You need to learn what’s new to help your patients, be current and then, use evidence-based decision making when you implement.
What the salesperson has for you is up-to-date research and products that may solve a problem in the office, or for a patient. There might be new technology. And he/she is bringing it right to you during an office visit. Yes, you can visit at a convention, which is also great. (RDH Under One Roof is coming up!) But that is once a year. You can potentially save the office money (what boss would not love that from you?) right now — and not wait until that convention visit. You would then increase your value to the office, and you can help your staff and your patients.
So, yes, I know you are busy when the salesperson shows up. So what can you do? Come out, meet them, and schedule a time that is convenient for both of you. Or, maybe you will be free in 10 minutes. They probably can and will wait for a short time. They may come back and buy you and the staff lunch while educating you! Lunch-and-learns are a great way to do this.
Please ensure that all invited are there for this event. That way, you are not responsible for passing on all the information that everyone else missed. The more ears that hear what is said, the better the message is absorbed and can be discussed and applied.
The following information is good for the actual conversation in the office or at a convention. All salespeople and all companies are not created equal, so remember to use your evidence-based decision making skills once you begin.
- How was the testing of this product done?
- Is it evidence-based research?
- Whom was the test done on? Typodonts? People? Manufactured calculus?
- How many times was it tested? Once? One hundred? Thousands?
- Where was it tested? In a lab? As a take home test?
Additionally, when reviewing a research paper, read the bottom of the study. It will say “in vivo” (live people) or “in vitro” (in a lab). Lab tests aren’t necessarily bad, but may not show the same results in a mouth. Ask yourself: If this is so good, why didn’t you test it on people? Why stop at a typodont? These are questions that you can ask. There may be a good answer to explain why. Or, this may be a reason to ask more questions. With a salesperson, you can ask, understand, challenge, learn, and know.
Do you know the difference between an ADA seal1 and an FDA seal2? Sometimes when something doesn’t look so good, it may not be bad! Sometimes it is about laws. For example, the FDA will only let you advertise one benefit per product. So if the salesperson says the product has two benefits — and you don’t see it on the label — ask why. Is it that the product labeling is constrained by the law? Or, is it that the product really doesn’t have a second benefit? It could go either way. On the other hand, drugs marked "OTC monograph final" or "OTC monograph not final" are not checked for conformance to the monograph” by the FDA.3
There is a saying in sales: "You get them on price, you lose them on price.” It’s true. Did you buy the cheapest car out there? Shampoo? Clothes? Of course not. Sometimes you need to pay for quality for you and your patients. Health care is not the time to skimp over three cents. To that end, we don’t want our patients to buy the cheapest dental treatment either! So when considering the price, know that the best product for you or dental treatments from you are not always the cheapest price.
So next time a salesperson comes to your door, think collaboration and have a conversation. Even if you are not the purchasing person of the office, you can influence the purchaser and learn yourself. Discern if this product or service will help you save time, money, and/or support the improved health of your patients. Ask and review the research. Be a well-informed hygienist so you will purchase the right product for the benefits it provides. You can make a difference.
Take the time to partner with your salesperson, by treating them as you want your patient to treat you. You’ll be glad that you did!
Sharon Efron, RDH, BS, is currently teaching clinical dental hygiene at Fones School of Dental Hygiene in Bridgeport, Conn., and at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn. She retired from Oral-B and Procter & Gamble in 2012 after almost 23 years of a successful sales career. She still does some private practice part time in the same office (since 1981). She was president of Connecticut DHA in 2014, and is currently the immediate past president, student liaison, and membership chair. She is currently part of the Council for Continuing Education for the Connecticut State Dental Association and is consulting for Connecticut Dental Health Partnership. She can be reached [email protected]