Salespeople often get a bad rap—for being too pushy, too manipulative, too flat-out obnoxious. And many times, that negative association is well deserved. I mean, when’s the last time you picked up a telemarketing call and said to the person on the other end of the line, “Thank you so much for interrupting my family dinner! Of course I want to take advantage of this one-time credit card offer!” The problem is, sales stereotypes often prevent legitimate professionals from effectively promoting their services for fear of coming off as too “salesy.” This is especially true in the physical therapy world. After all, you became a PT to treat and heal people—not to wheedle them into giving you their money.

But like it or not, if you’re a private practice physical therapist, then you’re also a salesperson—or at least, you should be. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t effectively communicate the value of your services to potential patients, then they’re not going to see therapy as a worthy investment of time and money. So, rather than avoiding the sales game altogether, you should instead focus on selling the right way (hint: no sleazy sales speak). Here’s how to embrace your inner salesperson without actually sounding like a salesperson:

1. Say “you,” not “I.”

Of course, you know how awesome you are at what you do, and you want the opportunity to use your skills to help people. But to a potential patient, a sales pitch laden with me-centric—rather than you-centric—verbiage can come off as egotistical. Plus, it could make your prospects feel like you’re more interested in their checkbooks than their health. And as this article points out, “If you are driven by quotas and your own bottom line, you will not be successful.” So, when you’re talking to people about the benefits of your services, refrain from launching into a long-winded monologue of self-promotion. Instead, take the time to build meaningful relationships with people. Learn about who they are as individuals, including the challenges they face. Then, once you’ve established some rapport, communicate why you feel they would benefit from physical therapy and how you would craft a program suited specifically for their needs.   

2. Be a storyteller.

Speaking of touting the benefits of therapy, while numbers and percentages might work well in scientific journals, real people are more compelled by real stories. So, if Steve the Skier starts talking about that nagging knee pain that always flares up after a long day on the slopes, tell him about a skier you successfully treated in the past (without using any names or other protected health information, of course). According to this article, “When presenting a solution, one of the best things you can do is tell stories that the prospect can relate to that draws similarities to their situation.” The author recommends approaching sales interactions with a “facts tell, stories sell” mindset because “it helps people to imagine how what you have to offer is applicable to their situation.”  

3. Sell the outcome.

The point of a sales pitch is to differentiate your services from all of the competing solutions available to prospective patients. And when push comes to shove, the real reason that a patient would choose one practitioner—or one type of medical care—over another is, quite simply, the results. That doesn’t mean you have to throw out a bunch of statistics (see the storytelling section above), but you should definitely steer clear of vague language that does nothing to highlight your unique talents or offerings. As Dr. Steve Young explains in this blog post, “Simply saying you are the best, offer the best service, [or] have special certification is not enough. Selling your service is all about selling the result.” He goes on to provide a basic template—which I’ve paraphrased below—that you can use to craft a statement that does just that:

We help [this group of people] achieve [this benefit] [better, cheaper, faster, easier, etc.] even if [limiting condition].

Here is an example Young provides: “We help post-surgery patients recover completely from their surgery faster even if they hate exercise, lack motivation, or are just not coordinated.”   

4. Lend an ear.

Because you’ve helped so many patients achieve amazing outcomes in the past, you might be tempted to cut prospective patients off before they’ve barely had a chance to introduce themselves. After all, you’ve heard it all before, and you know exactly what you can do to help them. But even if your eagerness is well-intentioned—the faster this person becomes your patient, the faster he or she can begin healing!—resist the urge to completely hijack the conversation. By exercising good listening skills, you’ll make your prospect feel totally heard and appreciated. As this article states, “People are more likely to feel comfortable with the solution you offer if they feel like they’ve been heard.” That doesn’t mean you have to completely clam up; just use your air time wisely (i.e., show the other person that you’re listening and processing what he or she is saying).  

5. Know when to let go.

Even the best salespeople on the planet don’t have 100% close rates. Let’s say you’ve followed all of the above advice right down to the letter, but your prospect still seems more interested in his or her shoelaces than learning more about the benefits of physical therapy. When you can feel a sale slipping through your fingers, your gut instinct might be to switch to a more aggressive, “hard sell” approach. Resist this urge! If someone isn’t interested in hearing about your services, then that person definitely isn’t interested in being badgered into acquiring your services. Don’t attempt to sell people on something they don’t want or need; instead, politely thank them for their time and remind them to keep you in mind if they ever do have a need for therapy services.

How comfortable are you in your “sales” hat? What sales strategies have you used successfully? What do you need help with? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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