The contrast principle

Don’t let the simplicity of this little ‘gem’ fool you. It is by far one of the most powerful psychological tools you will ever come across.

‘The contrast principle’ is used on a daily basis all over the place. Even if you understand and recognise it, even if you know it’s being done to you, it just plain works on us all. Dr Robert Cialdini, psychology professor at Arizona State University, writes about it in his book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion. So too does one of the world’s greatest marketing geniuses, Joe Sugarman in his book Triggers.

If you’ve got something to tell someone that you know is going to shock them (especially in a sales situation – and make no mistake, we are selling), try starting with something even bigger and more shocking first.

In dentistry we are often guilty of underselling, offering something which falls short of the best-case scenario. We often do this because, frankly, we’re afraid of being rejected if we suggest what we truly feel to be the very best option.

There are many times you can use the contrast principle in your practice. One of the simplest and most effective ways is during the presentation of cosmetic dentistry. If you look at the cosmetic anterior maxillary ‘Smile Makeover’ veneers that are done today, most often docs are doing just six teeth.

Why? Simple – rejection and fear. The dentist is afraid that if the patient hears a number too high it will shock them. The truth is, you are going to shock them no matter what number of veneers you quote. Most patients have no clue how much veneers cost. When they hear how much they are, they are shocked – whether it’s $5,000 or $10,000 they are in disbelief either way.

Dr Cialdini speaks about the theory of rejection and then retreat. Think about your ultimate smile makeover. Let’s say, for example, that when a patient of yours, Mrs Jones, smiles, you can just barely see the mesial of the upper molars. Thus at least some portion of the anterior maxillary 12 teeth are visible.

Then suggest 12 veneers. No, I’m not nuts. It’s exactly how you can get your best result aesthetically. And if she rejects it (which many will), you have somewhere to retreat to. Show her smile on screen in full colour high-resolution photography. Then say: ‘Mrs. Jones, you’d look incredible, drop-dead gorgeous with straight white teeth. A full smile makeover. I’d recommend we place beautiful bright white porcelain veneers on the 12 teeth that show (pointing to the monitor on which she can see her own smile).’

Whether she asks, or you volunteer it first, you quote the fee. Let’s say they are $1,000 each, so you quote the $12,000 for the top front makeover. She’ll either keel over in disappointment and shock or, occasionally, she will shock you and ask if there are ways the finance could be spread out. You will occasionally find patients simply accepting cases you otherwise would never would have dreamed of presenting.

Previously I was an accreditation examiner for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry for six years and we didn’t often see six-tooth cases presented by the applicants. You will, on occasion, end up with incredible cases that you otherwise would never have had the chance to perform because you weren’t offering them.

Of course, many of the patients simply won’t be interested or able to do the case with 12 veneers. ‘Doctor, I truly wanted to get this done but I had no idea how expensive it could be. Isn’t there some other alternative we could do?’ At this point, even though Mrs Jones may have been hoping for a $5,000 fee (some number out of the blue, but in her head prior to your visit), she is now preparing herself mentally to accept an $8,000 fee.

You then proceed to sit her back. Take another look at her teeth while chairside (if you don’t, she’ll wonder why you didn’t just recommend the smaller case to start) and say: ‘Well, from looking at the teeth on the outside edges of your smile, if we were to just whiten these two on the right edge and the ones on the left, we could possibly get away with doing just eight veneers. That would still look great and would end up costing just $8,000. In fact, if you were to use our pre-pay courtesy, you’d save another 5% by paying all at once, so the case would cost you just $7,600.’

Moments earlier she’d heard $12,000, now you are down to $7,600. Though she may have initially hoped for $5,000, you will be amazed at your increased case acceptance of eight veneer cases by adopting this sales method.

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