I've been a dentist for 30 years. I've lectured a thousand times and I've been on Dentaltown four hours a day, minimum, since 1998. Which is to say, I know my dental peeps.
We couldn't become dentists—physicians, scientists—if at college we were the extroverts who were out drinking and partying all the time. Most of us who made it through dental school, we were the geeks in the library. Which isn't bad, unless we now let that define ourselves in business. You can't believe that because your natural inclination is to be introverted and shy, you'll never be able to schmooze, or to ask patients for referrals: "Oh, I'm not Doc Hollywood."
There's a whole list of incredible actors who have the same personality as your stereotypical dentist or scientist—they're quiet, relatively reserved. But when they get onstage, they turn into "Hollywood." For example, in real life Mike Myers is nothing like Austin Powers.
Develop an affinity for sales
After I got out of school, I moved to the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix, which has about 80,000 people living in about 25,000 homes. Every weekend morning, as soon as it was light and there were people walking around, I'd put on my backpack, pull out a box of gloves and my appointment book, and walk around knocking on doors to introduce myself. I had a map of the entire ZIP?code and crossed out every street I finished.
Two out of three doors were rejections: "You're soliciting as a dentist? That's weird." But you can't let that bother you in sales. People who sell cars know you need 25 "no" answers to get one "yes." If a person says "no," that's still progress because that was their 13th "no," and they need only 12 more now before they get a "yes."
Similarly, it didn't bother me when two out of three people said no way, because every third door would be opened by people who'd say, "Actually, I have this tooth. …"
I'd put down my backpack, put on some gloves, get out my mirror and flashlight, have a look and give them my opinion. If they agreed to come in to the office, I'd pull out my appointment book to schedule them for a 1.5-hour appointment and say, "I have an opening 24?hours a day, seven days a week, until the end of time. Does any of that work for you?" I'd book an hour and a half for each new patient, and I didn't quit on Sunday until the following Monday through Thursday was completely filled up with appointments.
You might say, "But that's not my personality. I'm not Doc Hollywood." Like I said, though, that's not Mike Myers' personality, either—but he's great when he's Austin Powers.
(Look at it the other way: You're not Doc Holliday, either. When was the last time that after work, you had a couple of belts of whiskey and shot five cowboys? It will be a lot easier for you to be Doc Hollywood, and transfer yourself from an introvert scientist into an outgoing salesperson, than it would be to transform into Doc Holliday.)
Building referral relationships
When I got my first laptop, I looked up every business in Ahwatukee, called the owners and invited them to dinner at my house. That's networking—everybody in sales does it, but dentists hardly ever do.
The guy who runs the auto mechanic's shop across the street from my practice flips 450 cars a week in his eight-station bay. We're in the same business—someone goes to his shop and he tells them, "It's not your battery; you need a whole new alternator." Or they come to me and I say, "You've got four cavities, $250 each. You're looking at a thousand bucks here." Auto maintenance is a game of trust, just like dentistry.
We've had dinner with the local pharmacist and his wife every 3–4 years. You don't realize how many people walk into a pharmacy and say, "I've got a toothache. What do you recommend—Anbesol? Motrin? Excedrin?" He tells them, "What's best is Howard Farran. Do you see that Today's Dental building, right next to Safeway?" He referred me so many people that I told him I didn't want to have him over to the house; I wanted to take him to the nicest restaurant in town.
Is that my natural personality? When I get out of work at 5, do I really want to entertain somebody at my house? No, I'd rather sit there and watch ESPN and drink a beer. But that doesn't mean I get to—your net worth is your network, and you should always be building it.
There's no danger in asking
I've podcasted with every dental office consultant known to man, and they all say that on the first day when they observe the practices, they never see a dentist ask patients for a referral. Which is foolish, because a new patient who comes in from a referral spends more money than a new patient who comes in from marketing. They're more likely to trust you from the get-go, because of the recommendation that came from their friend or family member.
Remember, we sell relationships. They're the only way to get higher-fee, lower-volume dentistry and to keep your customers for life. Don't let yourself off the hook! If you're not naturally outgoing, learn how to be. Sign up for improv or acting classes. Get a part-time gig as a bartender, where you'll learn how to talk to people.
I've stood in so many offices where the doctor walks in and just starts looking at the computer to see chart notes. I'm like, "Dude, what are you, a veterinarian? Do you think that person is a St. Bernard?"
Talk to them. Establish rapport. Tell them about their treatment. Ask for referrals. Try to be Doc Hollywood, not Doc?Holliday.