Pick us, Dr. Dentist, pick us! Understanding how dentists make purchasing decisions

Dentists can't afford everything, so if you're trying to get your products into their hands, you need to know how they make a decision. Part one of a two-part series from Rachel Mele of Vennli.

Jun 25th, 2015
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Part one of a two-part series. Part two may be found here.

When I was growing up, my parents gave us a few dollars each week for doing our chores. We had a chart on the refrigerator that told us when it was our turn to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and put out the trash.

Modeling Dave Ramsey, the personal finance guru, my mom and dad taught us to put our money in three envelopes: a save envelope, a spend envelope, and a give envelope. Of course, the spend envelope was the most fun.

Once we had enough money saved up, we’d purchase the newest toy on the market. In those days, decisions were simpler because there were fewer options. (Teddy Ruxpin was the obvious choice for me!)

Today, I have three children who are eager to spend their own “chore cash.” These days, there are hundreds of purchase options for children to consider. The aisles of Toys R’ Us (or the pages of Amazon) are filled with toys of every shape, size, and color. My children are inundated with attractive options. With limited money, how does a child decide which toy to pick?

As a dental executive for the past dozen years, I’ve seen dentists face a similar issue—increased complexity of choice because of an increasing number of competitive options. How do dentists select the best new shiny technology or piece of equipment to purchase when there are limited dollars to spend?

Dentists are faced with this issue every time they attend a dental conference. Tradeshows are fantastic, and each product category has so many great options, so a dentist can only select the ones he or she believes will most benefit the practice. Most sales representatives at these dental conferences are saying, “Doctor, you just need one patient and this will pay for itself!” But, in reality, choices are more complex than that.

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How does a dentist pick and choose amongst the plethora of attractive tools available to them? With a limited budget, how do dentists decide between CAD/CAM and lasers, from practice management systems to patient engagement solutions, or from CEREC/E4D to digital impressions?

Just ask
The sad truth is that, like my daughter, dentists simply cannot afford everything. Therefore, because dentists have to choose between the offerings available to them, it’s up to dental companies to position their products better than their competition. If dentists only have so much to spend this year on new equipment, how will you ensure that they pick you?

Well, you’re in the business of winning customer choices. To do this, you have to understand how dentists make decisions and then build growth strategies to influence their decision in your favor.

The truth is, we can’t assume that we know what’s important to dentists. Our own perception likely differs quite a bit from theirs. And when we have the wrong data going into our strategy, we develop solutions for the wrong problems, wasting our own limited time and resources. Winning the dentists’ choice is too important to our overall financial well being to risk developing strategies based on assumptions. Therefore, in order to understand what impacts dentists’ decision-making, we have to actually ask them.

What do we ask them about? First, we ask what’s important to their decision. At Vennli, we call attributes that customers weigh when making a decision “choice factors.” Some choice factors are more important to customers than others. For example, some choice factors for dentists when deciding to purchase new equipment might be time-savings, impact on patient satisfaction, pricing, etc.

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Then we ask them how our product offering performs on those choice factors . . . and also how our competitors do. Armed with this competitive information, you may realize that much of the value you provide is not actually a competitive advantage—it’s matched by your competition. Ouch. You may also find that you’re focusing on factors that aren’t actually important to dentists and could redirect your efforts in other, more influential, ways.

Dentists have many products and technologies to pick from. It’s more important than ever to ensure your dental company understands the decisions that go into picking those solutions. Growth strategy should no longer consist of gut decisions from sales teams or executives who think they know what their dentists want. Knowing exactly how dentists make decisions will drive a growth strategy that is sure to be exponential.

Check next week's issue of the Apex360 newsletterfor part two!


Rachel Mele is a dental executive, author and international speaker. She runs the dental division at Vennli, a cloud platform for creating and executing growth strategy by understanding customer choice. Rachel grew up in the dental business and has been a dental executive for the last twelve years. Prior to Vennli, Rachel served in sales and business development at Sesame Communications. Rachel was part of the team that led to Sesame’s growth and subsequent acquisition by Internet Brands (owned by KKR & Co.) Rachel started her professional career in the role of practice management consultant to dental practices across the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Rachel has lectured at the GNYDM, ADA, CDA, Yankee, Star of the North and many others. Rachel can be reached at rachel.mele@vennli.com or via her website www.rachelmele.com.

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