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Lessons With Teeth

Morgan McArthur, DVM for Vetscript

4 January 2001


My dentist is a real sharp operator,” a friend observed.

He does his exam and then we have a chat about what’s going on with my teeth. He explains my oral state of affairs. This guy even draws pictures to help me understand what’s happening. Most importantly, he spends time with me going over options for my gob job.”

But while he’s doing all that I know what else he’s doing – he’s setting me up to sell something. I’ve been to sales school. I know these things. And even though I know what’s happening, when he’s done talking I’m still ready to spend money to get some work done. This guy is good!”

Um, with all professional respect, what exactly does a dentist have for sale?

Another friend added that New Zealand dentists had to scramble for survival with the arrival of water fluorination in this country.

Survival? Maybe. Maybe not. However, consider what happens if a good chunk of your livelihood comes from routine drilling and filling of teeth and suddenly the incidence of dental cavities plummets.

What would you do? Hope to restore that lost business by opening a discount candy store down the street? Let business backslide because times ain’t what they used to be? Or awaken to applying your talents and training in other ways to meet customers needs (i.e., become a ‘sharp operator’)?

I’ll suggest that the third option is the best one. No business is exempt from change and operators who don’t respond to it may find themselves scrambling. For survival.

Look at our profession. What happens to companion animal practitioners if annual vaccinations are shifted to a three-yearly schedule? Or, worst-case scenario, those vaccines become available OTC, as has happened in parts of the USA? On the other hand, what impact has the lay scanner had on a predictable stream of income for large animal practices?

Allow me to suggest some characteristics common to successful professionals in a fluid world.

They have an active, adaptive mindset. They’re looking around the edges of conventional thinking for new ways to present products and services. Those who rest, rust.

They understand that their knowledge, experience and expertise are services, not commodities. They realise their worth.

They recognise needs that their customers may not even be aware of. Yet. They look into the customer’s situation as experts and may couch their observations as an interesting story. They then use the educational moment to offer a solution to the problem. They sell their value.

Those last four words are most valuable. If we don’t recognise our value and sell/tell it to the world it will remain a well-kept secret. Someone may ask you: Um, with all professional respect, what exactly does a vet have for sale?

Before you respond, answer another question: are you a sharp operator?

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