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Lessons From A Salesman

Vivek Shukla

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Everyone is selling something or the other all the time, and even a doctor sells the idea of a healthy life to his or her patients. Therefore, it is imperative to learn what effective salesmanship is, says Vivek Shukla

Sales is no longer considered a dirty word. Gone are the days when salesmanship was associated with conning, manipulation, lies. If you look at the word’s origin, to sell means ‘to serve’. I can extend the quote from Shakespeare and say, ‘The world is a big market and we are all salesmen’. Come to look at it, a father sells the idea of education when he asks his son to study hard. A lover sells the idea of a happy future when he proposes marriage to his beloved. An employee sells the idea of a salary raise to his boss. Every doctor sells the idea of a healthy life to his or her patient.

My point is, in a broader context, everyone is selling something or the other all the time. Therefore, it is imperative to learn what effective salesmanship is. A good salesman can go places irrespective of what his profession is.

Having led and coached salespersons in various industries, here is what I think every doctor should know about selling:
Listen With All Heart And Soul: Listening is more important than speaking, as it tells us what to speak. Yet, people are always speaking their minds without caring for what others have to say. As salesmen, people are always trained to listen actively. If a salesman is harping about the new credit card that his company has come out with, he better listen as to where that card can be useful to the client in his day-to-day life.

Doctors should be no different. They must learn to listen to the patients with ‘all ears’. On the contrary, a recent study revealed that the doctor interrupts his patient’s opening statement 72 per cent of the times. Doctors should give them the greatest gift that mankind has to offer – an experience of being heard. A good doctor, in my opinion, is the one who gives the patient an experience of being heard and understood. It is an art to listen. Just because we have two ears sticking out at the sides of our heads, doesn’t mean we are listening with full attention.

This is how we generally listen when someone is sharing their pain and agony with us – we pretend that we are listening but in our mind we are saying – finish fast so that I can talk. Doctors usually think – I already know what your disease is and what I have to prescribe. I listen to these symptoms umpteen times every day and its nothing new to me. The day a doctor ceases to talk with himself in his head while the patient is speaking, his practice will be open to huge possibilities. He will then put aside all the ‘in-head’ conversations and will start listening. The patients will be extremely happy with him and he will be delighted to recommend him to others.

By far, the most liked characteristic of a good doctor is that he is a good listener. He leans forward, has a smile, maintains eye contact and listens to his patients as if that is the only thing to be done at that time. He also frequently repeats back to the patient to find out whether he has heard him correctly. He does not fiddle with his pen nor does he glance at the papers on his table. He seldom interrupts the patient to give his advice. He just gives his entire attention to the speaker. Sometimes when the patient is drifting away in his conversation, he brings him back to the point tactfully by asking a smart question or by making an interesting observation based on what he just heard. This way, he is able to listen and yet keep the speaker on track.

If you don’t read this article further and just take ‘listening’ actively as a practice, it will be sufficient for your growth as a doctor.
Be Genuinely Interested In Them: As a doctor you are dealing with human beings. I am sometimes appalled to see doctors treating patients as objects rather than human beings. Where is the human touch that is so sacred to the noble profession? Successful insurance agents know the entire family of the client as if they were a part of the same family. Similarly, a good physician is the one who knows his patient as a person. He knows what he does in life. He knows what his son is doing these days. He may even know the name of his dog.

Yes, his skill as a doctor is important. A competent doctor is the one who will diagnose and treat a disease with accuracy and at the same time will have a great personal bond with each of his patients. If your previous patients do not enter your chamber with a smile on their faces and if they do not establish an instant eye contact with a warm smile, I think it is time for introspection for you as a doctor!


The writer is a Healthcare Marketing Consultant based at Dharamshala.
E-mail: [email protected]

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