Most healthcare professionals do not consider themselves to be in the field of sales. However, healthcare professionals do sell something so they are in sales! Even if you may not have the titles of “salesman” or “saleswoman,” you are still in sales. Everyone sells something. Kindergarten teachers sell something (i.e., the value of education). What do healthcare professionals sell? We sell the benefits of treating illness and promoting wellness. During the process of educating patients, we are selling! Also, sales is a learned skill not an innate talent. Anyone can learn to sell. Some people may have a more natural inclination, yet anyone can learn the basic principles of sales.
Sales is a not a dirty word. Some healthcare professionals may feel offended by describing part of their work as sales. The word “sales” tends to conjure up very unpleasant words, such as sleazy and coercive. Rather than view sales in negative terms, think of sales as a set of useful tools to educate your patients. I was guilty of having negative thoughts about sales and then I took sales training courses and realized – this is information for healthcare professionals!
The same skills people use to sell cars, computers and televisions sets, we can use to sell the value of our services. This article will focus on the critical sales skill of features vs. benefits.
Features vs. benefits: An overview
Features: physical or tangible elements of your product or service. For example, a car’s features may include four tires, blue color, windshield wipers, etc. For a service-oriented car business, the features would be assessing and evaluating car performance.
Benefits: non–physical, intangible and emotional reactions to your product and/or service. For example, with a car the benefits include: safety features so you will feel at ease driving the car, a snazzy deign so will look cool driving the car, etc. For the service-oriented car business, an example of the benefits could be, “A thorough assessment and evaluation is done so you get just the right adjustment to provide a safe & efficient driving experience.” People buy based on their emotional experiences.
Within benefits, I further divide them into two categories: standard benefits and super benefits. Standard benefits are simple general benefits (i.e. saving money). Super benefits are specific personalized benefits; they could also be considered, “benefits of benefits.” An example of a super benefit is, “Saving money so you could take a longer family vacation.”
Features vs. benefits: Incorporation into healthcare
You believe your patient would benefit greatly from a hip replacement, but he is reluctant to undergo the procedure. You are trying to convince him to have the surgery.
Features: hip joint replaced with an artificial joint often made from metal and plastic components, given general anesthesia, in the hospital for four to six days, begin walking with a walker/crutches/cane, physical therapy begins soon after surgery, etc.
Standard benefit: “You will feel better and have less pain after the surgery.”
Super benefit: (after sufficient healing time) “You will be able to spend more time in your beloved garden with less pain.” or “You will be able to walk your sweet dog, Buttons, with more comfort.”
Your patient just turned 50 and you suggest a screening colonoscopy. The patient has no pre-existing GI issues that would predispose him to colon cancer. The patient has no family history of colon cancer or other significant GI disorders. The patient is reluctant to undergo the procedure. You are trying to convince him to have the procedure.
Features: take prep the day before procedure to cleanse the bowel, no solid food x number hours before procedure, no fluids with red color (e.g., red Jell-O®) before procedure, need to have a person with you to drive you home after procedure, given sedatives prior to performing procedure, etc.
Standard benefit: “Check colon for polyps or other abnormalities.”
Super benefit: “Chances are you will not have a tumor in colon, but why wonder? I know you will be able to sleep better at night knowing everything is clear. You’ll never have that worry in the back of your mind.” Also, add the benefits of sedatives so the pain issue is minimized.
I use the above colonoscopy example in my patient engagement trainings. I have had people ask, “What if the patient is found to have colon cancer. How will you explain all of the ‘You’ll sleep better at night,’ comments?” First of all, statistically speaking, it very unlikely this patient will have colon cancer, especially since it is a screening procedure (no symptoms). Also, keep in mind, I mentioned no family history of colon cancer or other significant GI issues. However, in the very unlikely event the patient does have a pre-cancerous polyp or even stage I colon cancer, you can say to the patient, “You are a lucky man!” Then explain how the procedure caught this issue very early & they have an excellent prognosis.
For every treatment / procedure that you need to sell to your patients, make a list of all the super benefits. Always begin with the benefits and follow with the features.
Many healthcare professionals run into compliance issues with patients due to the focus on features. We need to switch the emphasis to benefits; switch to the emotional components of the suggested treatment or procedure.
Start selling your patients today. Become the #1 salesperson. Your patients will thank you.
Edward Leigh is founder and director, Center for Healthcare Communication.