Gatekeeper: Approaching the office manager

Nov. 1, 2013
I'ts no secret that a dental office manager is busy. We wear many hats and are constantly in the middle of a ring of difficult people.

BY Bridget Fay

I'ts no secret that a dental office manager is busy. We wear many hats and are constantly in the middle of a ring of difficult people. There is always a patient, employee, or doctor that makes running an office insanely difficult. Just the other day, I stayed two hours after all the staff and patients left because it was the only opportunity to get some work done without being interrupted. Having said that, I believe that when office managers are hired, handling sales calls and sales representatives should be addressed in orientation – wait a minute, we don't get one! Scratch that, and let's move on.

The role of technology in the dental office is usually a debate that happens between the office manager and the dentist. Entire webinars are created just to deal with the giant gap that exists between the two, and often dentists haven't a clue what their office manager actually does throughout the course of the day. We welcome the idea of services that will get us off the phone, out of the mailroom, and in the business of collecting money. We read and see amazing programs and watch demonstrations that would free up enormous amounts of time.

The biggest challenge is getting the doctor on board, because one of the hardest things to do is to convince doctors to spend money on something that they don't have their hands on every day. A shiny new laser? That's a different story.

While most office managers are women, a large majority of sales representatives that I've encountered have been men. This relationship is vaguely similar to a romantic relationship. The woman wants attention, but the man wants to get to the TV (and by TV I mean doctor).

Personally, I like it when sales reps come in. I have the opportunity to vent and I can basically hold them hostage until I'm ready to talk about what they have to offer. But all office managers are busy. Two staff members called out sick today, the upset patient that complained about the front desk still needs to be called, the doctor wants to reschedule two fully-booked days next week for a last minute CE course (which you still need to register him for), the accountant called and needs 18 more reports, and Sally forgot to clock out for lunch. Last month. Twice.

This is really just scratching the surface, but I can attest to the fact that everything happens at once. Come in and ask us how we are. Sometimes we are just really happy to see a different face, especially if you remember our name and you were really nice to the front desk. But ultimately, we are stressed. It would make things better by knowing a sales representative is truly concerned about trying to make things easier for us.

I am not a fan of cold calls – and I never will be. Our office is in a city, so I am fortunate to see a lot of representatives in person. I realize it is not always possible for a representative to be local, so cold calling requires a lot of finesse – and by that, I mean adding an immense amount of personality and individualization to a call. I recently came back from a conference and was inundated by follow-up calls. I was very honest when addressing whether or not I thought it was a good time for that product and whether or not it would be beneficial. If our office had the funds to buy every recent and improved product on the market, we would have to start selling old equipment in a weekly yard sale in the parking lot. We won't be able to convince the doctor to sign up for everything so we have to make decisions on what and when. And if you are not sure it would be right for us, then it may not be the best idea to target our office. Maybe you know of someone that sells a product that would be more appropriate. Be honest and realistic about products and services.

My wish as an office manager would be that we give each representative a chance and there will be world peace. I realize that this is not an option and I have the luxury of having a business office that handles a lot of the administrative duties for me. And I voluntarily take the task of communication between the representatives and doctors. In fact, I have it listed as one of my qualities on my resume because I know what an issue it is. The bottom line is that we want life to be a little easier in the office for us. Office managers are way more interested in the technology that will do our recalls for us, assist with social media, and in general speed up the revenue cycle. Getting through us might be difficult, so try to work with us instead. Even though you may be selling a product for the dentist, be creative and figure out how it will make life easier for the entire staff.

Bridget Fay is an office manager for Richard Byrd, DDS, PC. She has been in the dental field since 2003 and has been an office manager since 2005. She is a member of the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM) and plans to become a Fellow of AADOM (FAADOM) in 2014. In addition to her work as an office manager, Bridget is in charge of social media for OneMind Health.


Monday morning at 9 is not the best time to call or stop by, and depending on the office manager, you may be pushing your luck to even get someone on the phone to make an appointment. Calling every week is probably reasonable if you have already made contact with someone or you are waiting for more information.


As I mentioned earlier, I like it when someone is here in the office. A friendly face stands out to me a lot more than a message or phone call. Show up with food whenever possible. Happen to overhear that the office was having a "Biggest Loser" contest? I would recommend bringing fruit instead of donuts! Want to take it even further? Support local business in the area – their food is usually better. Following up is also a tough call because every office manager has a different idea of where the line between persistent and annoying lies. Try not to get to that point by being honest. Recognize that we are busy, and if the doctor has decided not to pursue the product, you will touch base at another time. It is hard to speak for every office manager, but sometimes if we know something is going to happen, it will happen sooner rather than later.


When it comes to the "point of no return," remember that each office is different. Get the feeling that Deborah doesn't exist? She probably doesn't! I have heard of offices making up a person that isn't real in order to avoid sales calls and visits. There is a point at which something has to give. I am guilty of just not returning calls anymore. It's not because I'm annoyed or lazy; it's because I know the product isn't right for us or we are financially not ready, so out of sight, out of mind. It's usually not intentional.


If the front desk is your problem, remember that they love free stuff and coupons. Food falls under this as well (see above). Offices just want to be appreciated and have some stress relieved. The front desk sees a variety of personalities and attitudes. They will sniff out your arrogance before you even step out of your car. Go in trying to make friends. It might work better than demanding to see the dentist. Even if they say the office manager is not available, don't immediately spin your heels and run out – stay and chat a little! Ask questions that don't indicate you are there for one reason. I must say that my favorite representatives are the ones that are super friendly, aren't pushy, and understand where we are coming from.