Why I’m a Terrible Salesman

You might wonder why joining a network marketing company was such a push out of my comfort zone.  I was never any good at marketing.  In fact, I have always shied away from it simply because it never interested me.  But it’s more than just a lack of interest.  It really comes down to the fact that I’ve always worried that if I asked others for business, or favors, or help that I would inconvenience them; and the last thing I ever wanted to be was a nuisance.

Add to that the very common personality trait we dentists have: we hate to sell.  We even cringe when we hear that 4-letter word.

It’s a very deeply ingrained part of our culture.  For years, in our profession we were prohibited from advertising our dental services, and even now some still look down upon that practice.  As dentists, our mentality is that we simply don’t sell, and we hate for anyone to think or imply that we do.  Although some patients might find this surprising, as a whole, our approach is to only recommend what is needed.  But let’s face it, as much as we don’t want to admit it, selling is exactly what we are doing.  We are selling care, a service, a treatment, a result.  If we don’t sell those “things,” we go out of business.  I know it’s hard for both dentists and patients to accept that fact, but let’s be honest about what’s really going on here.  We are no different from any other professional service.  We just approach it in a way that it doesn’t feel like selling in the stereotypical sense because we care about our patients and believe in what we advise them to do.  To many people, selling implies that you are somehow manipulating the buyer, but that’s not always true.  As individuals, we all have the choice to buy something, and we must take personal responsibility for whether we buy or not.

Just because I sell something, doesn’t mean I have to become a salesman.

In fact, my company doesn’t even want me to do that.  When my sister first shared the MLM business opportunity with me, I said, “I’m not good at selling.  You are, so it’s a good fit for you.”

She responded, “that’s not true. That’s just your perception.  But it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to sell this.  You just have to share it.”

At first that sounded cheesy to me, but I’ve since thought a lot about what is required of me in order to succeed here.  I didn’t really understand what she meant about sharing until I had to do it myself.  I learned that our model allows me to literally share my product or opportunity with people, and if they want it, they buy it.  If they don’t, they don’t.  And that’s okay.  I learned that as far as products go, my product sells itself.  It gets to act as the sales rep, so I don’t have to.  I learned that I don’t have to, nor do I want to surprise, convince, or coerce anyone to do anything.  And that works well for me because as I’ve mentioned, I don’t like to sell.  And if my history as a dentist tells me anything, I’m not any good at it either.

I’ve learned that maybe my problem wasn’t about selling itself, but instead it was about how we sell. 

It is just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  If the dental model allowed me to sell with a non-sales approach, I know I can do the same in this arena.  I can grow and face certain fears, but I don’t have to compromise who I am at the core.  I can’t speak for other companies in this industry, but I can speak for mine.  The advice that I get from my leaders is that we want people who want this.  We don’t want to have to convince anyone, and that gives me the space and freedom I need to feel comfortable with it.  In fact, I had to do much more convincing in dentistry, which meant my work was often done on people who didn’t want what I was offering them.  It’s much more fun to provide something people want vs. something people don’t want but need!  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve learned I have to do something.  I have to show up, work, and have accountability.  I have to share the information so others can make an informed decision.  I have to provide a service… just like I did in dentistry.


49 thoughts on “Why I’m a Terrible Salesman

  1. Laura– Nice post–you really get to the heart of the dentistry issue. Dentists face a lot of resistance—it’s the nature of what we do. IPads…a different story. Tires? Another story…but dentistry for the most part falls under the category of s**t people don’t want. Dental school never taught us how to deal with that issue. Here’s the problem…Everything must be sold—and in health care and education it’s more important than tires and tablets (although many would argue that). That’s why dentists get paid what they get paid.
    There are a few approaches we can take if we have a hard time motivating patients (my term for sales—I see your term is to share):
    1. Follow Darwin’s Law of Survival of the Fittest—let nature take it’s course. In the case of tablets..it may be just an inconvenience…tires could get dicey when the treads get too low —and teeth— we’ve know what happens.
    2. Push the latest technology…right down the patient’s throats—seems like the way many “newer” practices are operating these days.
    3. Empower and Educate—I like this one—some may even call it selling.
    4. Mandate treatment– good luck with this one— but don’t be surprised if the government does this with children in the future.

    The way I see it–since the Industrial Revolution ended and manufacturing jobs are at an all time low in America—Motivating people to make good decisions is part of everyone’s job description.
    I knew this a long time ago — dental schools still don’t know.

    1. Thanks, Barry. I saw a post on Dentaltown the other day written by a hygienist that talked about why hygienists should embrace selling. A dentist advised the author to use the term “treatment recommendations” because he didn’t like what the term “selling” implies. I got a little chuckle out of it. I mean, can we be any more controlling about this issue?

      As far as resistance goes… you’re right! So if you think about it, we are actually better at selling than we think. If we can “recommend treatment” aka “sell” something that people don’t want, we must be damn good. I tend to prefer the #3 approach also. Now to only get that into the schools. I think that might be your next mission. 😉

  2. Actually Laura–that is my next mission. I am so disheartened that dentistry gets a bad rap…and that too many dentists can’t make it into a lifelong fulfilling career. There is nothing inherently wrong with dentistry…it’s just that the complete set of skills that are necessary, are not taught. As technology takes over…lab technicians take a bigger role in producing beautiful dentistry and the dentist’s role is becoming more vague. Private practice is being threatened. The role of today’s dentist needs to be expanded—not reduced. A skilled dentist is more important now than ever in providing total quality hedalth care to the public.
    By the way—number three is the ideal way to provide health care—but it’s hard—so most fall back on number one and two.

    1. I’ve been waiting for you to take that mission on. It looks like it’s been brewing for a while, and I think you are the perfect person to lead that. I agree– it is pretty disappointing that many of us can’t make it into a lifelong fulfilling career (fulfilling being the key word!) Even though my aim is to help people recognize that a change out of dentistry can be a great thing, I think we actually have a similar goal. I am also in big support of those that choose to love it. They key is how can we have fulfilled lives. I don’t think dentistry in itself is necessarily the problem here… the training and mentality, yes.

      You’re right. 1 and 2 are the most widely used because it’s easiest, and in some ways, those are the most sales-y (well, 2 is at least. 1 is just lazy or fearful or I-don’t-know-what.)

      1. It has been brewing for a long time. I have felt the same things you have felt for a long time. We come from different generations…Baby Boomers hung in there in spite of all the frustration. It seems that the Gen Y and Xers are doing a lot more complaining. Your blog…especially this post really gets to the heart of the situation. And it’s a situation that only those inside the profession can see and feel. Government, business and the public have no clue to the nature of the problem…and it starts with education and empowerment (number 3…even for us).
        I know that your “work” is deeply important to you…that’s why you write the blog. There are other places just to vent. You are doing a lot for dentistry…by sharing your feelings. Not many have the courage to do that.

        1. IMHO # 3 is being used but in the wrong direction, people is being told that they are entitled to get free health care, while they hang around with new iphones and expensive data plans.

        2. Very true about the generations. I think about that often and saw it a lot with the different generations of docs at Cody (my old office.) Thanks– at least I’m getting some honest conversations started. Glad to hear you think that.

    2. Good to read there is someone making missions, cuz most people is so caught up in motions that never get to see the big picture.

      When you say the role of the dentist needs to be expanded, what do you mean? And what do you mean with skilled dentist?

      1. What I mean is that culturally, as the profession has evolved dentists in general are losing their autonomy. The comfort level in which they make decisions in the patient’s best interest. This requires skills in examination, treatment planning, motivation, influence and persuasion, business skills, management and leadership skills. Add to that the technical skills to carry out the dentistry, or finding a competent specialist to help…all the while without interference from ANY third party. Years ago this was more likely…the path was clear. Today there are many obstacles that make it difficult. My interest is in “work.” Any firm of work…workers have rights…and values…especially health care workers who have tremendous responsibility to the public.
        Mission is a good thing.
        Number 3 is the preferred way…but too many health care providers in our “new system” just can’t make it work…selling, educating, motivating, influencing, persuading…cal it what you like…just not manipulation…because that isn’t about the customer, client or patient…

        1. The trouble with #3 is it doesn’t scale well. it’s hard for public health officials to encourage #3 because it’s hard to get hard data. #4 is a far easier way to “promote dental health”. #3 is also difficult for a single practitioner with a pile of debt to see his way through. It’s a difficult mission Barry you are embarking on, but one that is necessary, thanks for trying to tackle it!

        2. Doug–the 4 approaches that I list are just options–that are actually being used more or less. I believe that #3–educating and empowering people is the best—it will make for a healthier population and cut costs significantly–the problem is that it’s difficult and most health care professional (yes, not just dentists), don’t want to spend the time to learn and apply the skills—so they default to #2—and that gets expensive for the public and leads to profits—which is what is getting taught…then there is #1–which so many people choose although the providers of health care know it’s wrong. Number 4—is coming—first children — then???
          So it’s a combination of all approaches—the key is to find which one works best — locally–and hope that someday we live in a culture that values education and empowerment more.
          I notice that you also commented on “vision,” well that vision may not be realistic —maybe even a fantasy–but having an ideal is a good thing—as you say.

  3. LB – Nice post! I felt the same way when I was in private practice as an attorney. The ethical rules prohibit many types of advertising, yet I was responsible for soliciting (generating) business. It makes sense…if I want to work, I need to generate business. I always felt that I was trying to push something on someone who either already had a lawyer, or didn’t need one at the time. At the end of the day, I think I just didn’t enjoy that part of the job.

    1. Thanks, Jer. It is the hardest part for me too. I was never interested in that aspect of dentistry. I always wanted to just show up and have patients. In fact, I’m that way about the weight loss business too. How do I go up to people and invite them to be a weight loss customer. Exactly why this new biz is a bit out of my comfort zone.

      1. Let me recommend a good book that discusses just this issue: To Sell is Human by Dan Pink…I think it will really help hoow you feel about all of this.

  4. Nice post, I attend MLM conventions as part of my own personal development…. I have learned far more about myself and my own practice of dentistry than almost anything else.
    ” I learned that our model allows me to literally share my product or opportunity with people, and if they want it, they buy it. If they don’t, they don’t.” This is a place that is very hard for a dentist to get to, or maybe just me.. but its taken me years! Dentistry is more than selling a product, it’s selling your ability to provide a service… So it’s personal. For some of us that takes a lot of personal development to get there. I’ve been blogging about what I see lately… That’s why i love photography so much and it’s connections with dentistry… Vision is tough for me… Challenging what I see seems a bit easier.
    I agree with what Tom Peters has been tweeting about lately: “Accelerating tech changes/etc. = Middle class in tank. ONLY answer: Determined/intensive commitment to personal growth. Start date: 1/1/14.”

    1. Thanks, Doug. How interesting. I can see why. A few years ago a gal I worked with gave me some CD’s to listen to from her company because she thought I would find great value in them even if I wasn’t interested in the business. I actually used to think it was all phony, “rah-rah” crap, but now I see how helpful and valuable all that personal development is.

      As far as sharing and leaving the rest for patients to decide goes, I tried approaching it with that mentality for a long time. It was what worked best for me because it allowed me to feel less attached to their decisions. I could then take the stance that I informed them, and now it was their choice to make. It was still hard though b/c in the end I realize I just wanted to control them and make them choose the right/best options. 😉

      I’ve always loved personal development. Here’s to 1/1/2014! What do you mean about “vision is tough” for you? Just curious.

      1. When I think of vision I think of some ideal situation that is opposite of the current situation I’m currently envisioning getting out of. Kind of like a dream. Something that is unachievable based on current circumstances. Just because it’s tough doesn’t mean there isn’t value in working on it. I think there’s a sense(in the personal dev world) that if you vision it it will come true. It’s often a long hard slog to change…

        1. As I said above–vision lives in the world of imagination—a fantasy if you will — Robert Fritz in The path of Least Resistance described it has having a current reality as opposed to the vision—which requires creative tension to close. Learning the skills to empower and educate is more difficult than learning how to place an implant…I learned that in 6 months—educating and empowering—well—I’m still learning.

        2. Ah, I get it. I’m currently reading Jack Canfield, and he’s big on that. I agree that vision can be tough to work towards, but I think the real work to be done is in believing that your vision is possible. If you don’t believe change is possible, you’ll never take the risks. It sounds like you do believe it’s possible though. You might like the book called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It’s about doing a little bit everyday to make your vision reality or to accomplish your goals. It is a long road to change, and that’s what this book is all about.

        3. Laura–thanks for your kind words. I have read The Slight Edge–it is worth reading–and I can tell you are reading your 10 pages per day. Canfield is a good place too—although I prefer his mentor W. Clement Stone. It’s interesting about all this personal development stuff. It has become an unorganized form of religion. The positive thinking movement starting with N. Hill, Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale is so popular throughout the world that it has reached religion status. Does it work? I think so. I especially like the work done by the positive psychologists that have plenty of research behind them. But when you get down to it—what’s the alternative? Even Einstein said that imagination (vision) is more important than intelligence.

        4. Barry- in response to your observation that personal development/positive psychology has become an unorganized form of religion… very interesting point. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I can totally see it. I’ve always been pretty open to this kind of stuff– even back in high school I remember secretly listening to Anthony Robbins tapes that my mom got me! 😉 I picked up a book here and there over the years, but it wasn’t until I became very desperate for change a few years ago that I really dove into this stuff. I think it helps tremendously, and I’m chuckling inside thinking that in a way I’ve found a new religion for myself. Love that Einstein quote.

        5. There is no doubt the people need something to believe in. Scott Peck and the Buddha tell us that life is tough. That is universal. Everyone is looking for hope…fir a hopeful future. That is one of the things religion does for people. Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway used a soccer ball he called Wilson. Does it work? It only matters that it is plausable…if it is it provides the hope and the strength for positive action…vs. what?
          Doing nothing…?

        6. I agree that belief is an integral part of vision and something I had never really considered before… believing that x can happen is a powerful motivator. I’ve enjoyed Shawn Achors work Happiness..I guess the thing that makes vision tough for me is defining what my vision is!

        7. I’ve read both of Achor’s books..they’re okay…but if you really want to go back to the positive thinking movement…it started long before what we see on bookshelves these days…it was John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Immanual Kant, Arthur Schopenauer…to Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey…(Pankey quoted Hill and Barkely quoted Carl Rogers…part of the New School of Thought school in the fifties…my favorite is still Maslow). The point is that it has become like a universal secular religion…does it work?

          I only know like most religions…it’s plausable. Today we find it everywhere…from Nike slogans and presidential speeches…to shelves in bookstores…from business motivation to self help and diet and exercise.

  5. Most people have that believe about themselves, but I dont agree with you, you are good at selling. Selling in dentistry is look down because the field evolved into cosmetic stuff that most people dont need, so when someone say selling people in the field imagine manipulation and bad ethics about the patient need, but if you are a dentist and you are reading this I bet you have convinced little girls that the needle will not hurt, you probably didnt even mentioned the needle. That was the biggest sale right there, selling another product will come easy for you if you really believe in the product, but we need to let go of the fear of being a salesman. Cuz selling doesnt mean manipulation, a sale is an exchange, someone need your product, and you need money to buy other products. And the most important thing is that salesman nowdays are not just people shoving products down your throat, no, most of them are experts in a field and they offer their advise for a living, the same way dentist do. When I was buying my car the guy was really there to help me make the best decition and he knew everything about cars. Thats the only thing he needs to do anyway cuz people that are inside the car store, already want a car. What you need skills on is marketing (and you are great at marketing), presenting the thing in the best way, so that people can see why its good, once you do that, its on them to buy or not.

    1. Great points– I came to that same conclusion after reading one of Barry’s comments. Dentists are actually way better at sales than most because we help people understand a need for something they absolutely don’t want.

  6. As I read these comments my mind wanders to my favorite question:Why?
    I feel that many dentists are uncomfortable with the idea of “selling” because here in the U.S. There is a bias for extroversion. We have this model of what a salesperson is supposed to be and do,,,but it is wrong. Many…most dentists are introverts. There are many studies which I write about in my new book Art of Case Presentation, that confirm that. Many authors today write about the introvert advantage…Susan Cain in her book Quiet, brings the point home. Understanding who we are…in other words, knowing ourselves is the first step in getting comfortable with our role in presenting our cases…and influencing our patients…that is my language.

  7. I am loving this thread. I see a HUGE relationship between Network Marketing companies and dental services. It ALL points toward two critical commonalities: 1) Developing trusting relationships and 2) Helping people solve problems. In both cases, it’s a matter of addressing quality of life issues – not products or widgets or programs. If you TRUST me enough to help you SOLVE issues that prevent you from achieving the QUALITY OF LIFE you want for yourself, we both WIN!!!

    1. Business aside, I was surprised to find out how much the emphasis on personal development in the network marketing industry can really change your life. You have to be willing and open though. Doug is onto something here by following along that aspect of the business, and I’m confident that work he is putting in will ultimately lead him to where he wants to go. I mentioned earlier that the problem of job satisfaction may not inherently be with dentistry. I was implying that it may in fact be with the individual dentists who don’t take the time and effort to (as Barry puts it) know themselves. Most people I know (not just dentists) have a resistance to that, and I’m not sure why. Anyway, you are right. Great insight!

    2. It’s no accident that these people..Drucker, Covey and Pankey thought this way—you can add to the list Leonardo DaVinci…all were wholistic thinkers vs. reductionists. They saw the big picture—they simplify life like so many that reduce issues to A=B. They understood complexity and applied it to their thinking about everything.

  8. I totally agree with Mary Beth…the only comment I would add is that it all starts with conquering “self.” This is what Peter Drucker said when he said all management is self management. It is why Pankey starts with “knowing yourself.” It’s why Covey starts with ” private victories,” before “public victories.” It’s also why Laura referred to herself in the title. Conquering self…could be the most important ingredient to success in any field.

  9. This thread reminds me of a stat I heard the other day… a Salesman that makes cold calls on average will be 10% successful at the second call. By the 8th call that success percentage rises to 80%. The issue is that most salespeople don’t make it to call #3. How many times do dentists beat themselves up because they failed on the first presentation? In the real sales world it can take 8 calls. I’d believe that dentists are well above the average when it comes to “selling” care. I agree with Barry that conquering self is key. You have to believe in the care you offer to keep offering it even after 1,2,3,4 or 5 no’s…

    1. So true! I’ve never thought of it that way. It’s hard to keep going after a lot of no’s, but it’s a good thing that isn’t even an option for most dentists.

      1. The key to success according to everyone from Canfield to Calvin Coolidge is persistence—perseverence—willpower. Most people have no GUTS—Give Up Too Soon.

        1. We talk about that a lot in my network marketing company (not in those words exactly,) but 70% of people join one and don’t even do A THING after that. Then many others quit after a few no’s because it is uncomfortable. This preparation for the rejection gives me the strength and vision to persevere, knowing that it is normal and happens to everyone. And that if I keeping showing up the yeses (sp??) will come. If I let the discomfort of a little rejection stop me, then it is only MY fault if I fail. Maybe we should discuss more of this in dental education. Then more dentists would continue to educate and empower instead of becoming complacent. I know I went through various stages throughout my career, and at times I was complacent, thinking, “they won’t listen to me anyway, so I’ll just settle for filling that cavity.” It was the path of least resistance. Maybe we need to prepare for more rejection, so that we can see how to push past that to acceptance and success.

          And yes, I do my 10 pages of a good book a day… but only 10. I wouldn’t want to get too good. 😉

        2. Jeff Olson in The Slight Edge writes about the 95 out of 100 who can’t make changes. They stay in their comfort zone…but most programs (self-help and I guess the MLM as well…and even Nike say Just Do It), ….most programs really don’t address the human motivation system which lies deep inside the recesses of the brain. That emotional reward center seeks goals we may not be aware of…like comfort…and to overcome that requires strategy…not just affirmations.

      2. I actually think it is an option for lots of dentists…. If a dentist is diagnosing comprehensively and treatment planning the same, but the patient isn’t ready or other circumstances, then the default is to treat the immediate need, which is usually fine. And the discussion about comprehensive care never rolls around, because the patient said no.

        1. Doug…you’re right, and that’s a big problem…maybe THE BIGGEST PROBLEM. What would any industry look like if people gave up. Cars wouldn’t be sold…air conditioners would sit in warehouses. Nothing would move…people must be motivated…that’s the job of teachers, coaches, doctors. When we stop motivating…and give up…who can we blame? The patient? The athlete? The student?
          In my first book I wrote…”At the risk of insulting, we must tell the truth.”

  10. Doug…you bring up a good point about resilience and persistance…two traits that contribute to success in any field. The thread reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell…where you stumble is where your greatest treasure lies. He took that from the story of Alladin’s lamp. Do you remember Alladin’s stumbling before the genie appeared?
    When it came to learning communication skills…that’s how it worked for me. Any dentists who identifies with Laura’s statement of not being a salesman…should think about Alladin.

  11. I have similar work experience as I am a hearing aid audiologist in the private sector, and need to sell hearing aids to people who quite often don’t really want them, it’s so much easier when they do!!

    1. FR- I would think people would want to hear! Ha! But I guess it goes so much farther than that. I didn’t think about it until after the dialogue here, but I think selling something that people don’t want actually teaches us to be better sales people.

  12. I think “used-car” salesman of the world are making it difficult on hardworking honest people that are involved in sales related business. Just let your personality show and don’t let the negativity get you down.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I once had an angry (and completely ridiculous, I might add) patient call me a used car salesman of the worst stereotype– even as a dentist, when I wasn’t even trying to sell him anything. I was actually kicking him out of my practice!

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