Article Date: 3/1/2005

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Sell Yourself First
Patients come to your practice because they believe in you. Use that fact to your advantage when prescribing.
Gary Gerber, O.D.

My good friend, a successful restaurateur, told me that no one's ever walked into one of his restaurants, drank a glass of water and left. His point wasn't to brag about how fabulous his restaurants are (although they are), but rather to illustrate that when customers enter his restaurant, they've already made a decision to buy. They've done their "research" -- be it hearing about the restaurant from a friend or looking at the menu. And with a patron sitting at the table, there's no need to sell the restaurant.

Person, place or thing?

I've long contended to our clients that patients buy us (doctors and staff) before they buy our products (examinations, eyeglasses, contact lenses etc.) -- people before products. Much like my friend's restaurant, patients who've scheduled an appointment have already done their research (a friend's recommendation, their insurance company's list of providers, their own Internet search, etc.) regarding your abilities, experience and credentials and have decided to buy.

Of course, a patient's "research" can range from minimal ("If Joe liked him, then that's good enough for me") to more extensive, as in spending an hour on the Internet. However, just as with the restaurant, there's no need to sell the practice once you have patients in the office. Therefore, the correct order of selling (sorry, but like the word or not, you're selling yourself and your products to prospective patients) should start with selling the person(s), then the product. If your advertising focuses around unique features and benefits of products, it doesn't mean it's doomed to failure -- it just might take longer to work.

The beauty of assuming

So once a patient is in your office, how can we use the above concept to our advantage? While it's okay to espouse the differences in your practice versus your competitors' practices, don't waste valuable time dwelling on it. Remember: You've already made the sale!

Instead, as patients deliver their chief complaint, you should posture your further questions and recommendations for solving their problems from a position of, "They'll obviously do what I recommend. After all, they already know all about me and my skills and qualifications and have decided to buy." This concept is referred to as "assumptive selling," (i.e., assuming people want to buy what you're selling). When presented this way, you find yourself not selling at all but rather telling and recommending. Consider the following two patient conversations:

1. Selling: "Mrs. Jones, you said you're having trouble with the lines in your bifocals. Have you ever heard of progressive lenses?"

You're probably asking the question because you're hoping she says "Yes." However, consider whether asking this question has any bearing on how you'll proceed. Regardless of her answer, will you change your recommendation to something other than a progressive?

2. Assumptive selling/telling: "Mrs. Jones, you said you're having trouble with the lines in your bifocals. I'm going to prescribe some progressive lenses that will fix that problem. Do you have any questions?"

At this point, she may reply, "You bet I have a question! What are progressive lenses?" However, she already knows that you've recommended them, so as you explain the nuances of how the lenses work, Mrs. Jones is listening from a posture of already knowing that you've recommended them as the lenses that are best for her needs.

Which is better: one or two?

While these selling scenarios may hardly seem different, I can assure you that our experiences with clients shows that you have a significantly higher likelihood of patients accepting your recommendations when you use the second method (assumptive selling) instead of the first (selling).


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2005