“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 

—George Bernard Shaw

Lately, when you’re not working, you’re ferrying kids from practice to rehearsal and dropping them off at sleepovers and playdates. All the kids. All the equipment. You decide it’s time to acquire a new minivan, and you meet Pat, a salesperson at the car dealership.

Buckle up. Pat’s about to take you for a ride through the four obstacles to selling. 


Stranger Danger: Pat’s appearance is disheveled: partially untucked polo shirt and three-day stubble that screams, “I’m going through a divorce!” He’s smiling, but it feels forced and fake. He gives you the heebie-jeebies, but you need a van. Pat looks like he lives in one down by the river.

People want to buy from capable sellers who they believe have their best interests in mind. We want to deal with people who look like we expect them to look, who are relatable, who share our interests, and who possess a sense of propriety that’s appropriate to their position. So far, you don’t really know Pat. Maybe your guard automatically goes up when you’re dealing with sales reps. It’s normal to doubt whether Pat has your best interests at heart. He’s a stranger to you, and he’s a salesperson.

This is how many patients feel when a dentist talks to them about SDB. “What are you trying to sell me now?” they wonder when their only interaction with you is a terse hygiene check. When they say, “Yeah, I go out to my car to take a nap on my lunch break and you respond with, “That’s unsurprising as your ESS is 22. Your diurnal fatigue can be an indicator of SDB, quite likely UARS,” there’s a disconnect.

Not My Problem: Back in the car showroom, Pat guides you to a two-seater Lamborghini. “It’s sexy, and it’s really, really fast.” You tell him you’re expecting triplets, but he just keeps going—horsepower this and speed that—apparently not giving a damn about you or your needs. He’s trying to solve a problem that you don’t have.

Pat didn’t ask if you have kids. Nor did he inquire about your commute time, extracurricular activities, or pets. Answers to these probing questions would have precluded you from being a Lambo candidate. 

How do you find out what your patients’ problems are? What questions do you ask to identify their motives or uncover their chief complaints? Different people give weight to different factors when they make decisions. If you want to sell to them properly, you’ll need to identify their motives, their desired outcomes, and find out what else matters to them.

Rambling on about ESS scores, excessive pharyngeal tissue, and new OAT efficacy studies is the sleep dentist’s version of what Pat just subjected you to. The patient in your chair might not care about the health impacts of untreated OSA. Maybe they just want to spend the night with their new love interest without the embarrassing snoring. Your intentions might be good, but if you’re trying to solve a problem that isn’t the one they want solved, you’re going to cripple collaboration and murder momentum. 

Square Peg: Pat won’t stop pushing the Lamborghini. You tell him you need a vehicle that will carry four kids, but he’s already talking about the rebates you’ll get if you buy before the end of the month.

“These babies become vintage real quick. You could probably sell it in ten years for twice what you pay today. Plus, the interior is genuine albino rhino.” You couldn’t care less. You’re looking for a friggin’ mini-van. This is the definition of the “square-peg-in-the-round-hole” idiom.

Everyone has problems, and everyone has potential solutions, but not every solution can solve every problem. To propose a workable solution, first you have to understand your counterpart’s current situation, their desired situation, and what prevents them from bridging the gap.

Well-intentioned dentists often stroll into MD’s offices extolling the superiority of oral appliances to PAP therapy when trying to establish a potential referral relationship. 

“Doctor Shaddup, here’s the deal: most of your patients don’t wear their CPAPs. That’s why we invented these oral appliances. Here’s what a sample device looks like. Note that it’s a milled device, titratable in less than 1 millimeter increments. The turnaround time is only five days, and it’s adjustable with a simple acrylic bur. We’ll take excellent care of your patients. We take medical insurance, we insist on efficacy studies, and we report on patient progress every step of the way. You should probably just send all your mild-to-moderates over to me. So, when you wanna start sending us your CPAP failures?”

Can you see how this might slam on the brakes in the selling process?

Empty Promises: Buyer’s remorse rears its ugly head every time you get behind the wheel. Pat promised that you’d embody the chutzpah of Cardi B and the glamour of Christie Brinkley in the Vacation movies. Instead, you’re looking into how to sell your kids on the dark Web so you can make the payments. Your spouse left you because of your questionable decision, and your new Lamborghini just sits in the driveway most of the time. Even though Pat said he’d throw in free oil changes for a year, by the time you actually needed one, it cost you $100. You told the mechanic what Pat said, but Pat’s at lunch and they never do free oil changes. You are ready to go full-Michael-Douglas-in-Falling-Down-mode.


Earlier, I wrote that people want to buy from those who seem to have their best interests in mind. Let’s bring it full circle. In the Pat scenario, you got pressured into buying something you didn’t want, from someone you don’t like, and now they’ve failed to deliver. To avoid doing this to others, we should be accountable and upfront. We should say what we’ll do and then doing what we say. When that doesn’t happen, it leads patients to lose trust, and they experience cognitive dissonance. Then we’re opening the door to lawsuits and negative reviews while pulverizing potential referrals and positive word-of-mouth advertising. 

A few days after leaving Dr. Shaddup’s office, you receive two referrals from him. You smirk and nod knowingly, “Damn, I must’ve really killed it with that presentation.” 

Of course, it couldn’t have anything to do with your sleep champion going to lunch with Dr. Shaddup’s office manager. Whatever. Brandie gets both patients appointed. What do you do? One patient balks because your fee is $4,500 and you only “assist” with filing the claim. The other patient moves forward and you deliver the device. However, the promised titration test fell through the cracks and never got done. You are your worst enemy and poor communication is your weapon of war. 

Amidst your rage, it hits you like the final scene of Usual Suspects when Chazz Palminteri realizes Kevin Spacey is really Keyser Soze. That SOB, Pat. You’ve seen Pat in the mirror. If we’re honest with ourselves, we probably play the role of Pat each time a patient declines treatment, an MD decides not to refer patients to you, or an employee refuses to do what’s needed. 

We don’t bother taking the time to relate to the other person by building trust, expressing empathy, and demonstrating shared goals. We fail to explore their needs and their reality, and what’s causing the chasm. Instead of asking questions and actively listening to their answers, we recommend solutions that might not address their unique situation. We push our solutions instead of the solutions that make the most sense for them. Finally, we move on to the next patient, problem, or task without delivering the support and follow-up we promised when we were selling our solution. 

If you want to learn about communications skills to overcome these selling barriers, order a copy of my new book Transform Dental Sleep: The Step-by-Step Guide to Doubling Your Sleep Patients, Increasing Physician Referrals, Simplifying Processes, and Improving Your Life.

The book will you give you actionable communication techniques that can be used when engaging new physician referral sources, discussing treatment with patients, and delegating to your team.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a sampling of some early reviews:


Stay informed about Jason’s books, media, & adventures