When you’re buying a dental practice, one thing you have little control over—but have a strong interest in—is when the selling dentist informs their staff about the sale. Typically, a selling dentist will not inform their staff until very late in the process. This may seem counterintuitive—wouldn’t a conscientious employer want to keep his staff up-to-date about changes that could cause concern or job insecurity? In a broad sense, perhaps yes. But, in the context of the sale of a dental practice, it is usually in the best interests of the employees for the news to be kept confidential until certain things are in place to maintain a steady level of staffing, service, and patient care.
Why Staff is Best Not Informed Early in the Process of Buying a Dental Practice
The staff in a dental office, from the front desk receptionist to the assistant at your elbow, plays a critical role in the success of a practice. First, they are the first and last people patients will interact with, and go a long way to setting the tone for each patient’s visit and for the office overall, whether they are being checked in properly, prioritizing the scheduling of ongoing care, and correctly handling payments and insurance matters. Also, patients interact with staff much more than they do with the dentist. A well-trained, professional, and friendly staff will make the patient’s experience much more pleasant, a key factor in patient retention and referrals.
Because of this, its key to have a staff that is comfortable with each other and with the doctor. This comes from time and experience. High turnover in staff inhibits a smooth operation in a dental office, as new staff members have to spend more time focusing on how tasks should have to be done, take other staff member’s time with questions, and will inevitably make more mistakes as they become familiar with how the office operations (as well as possibly learning new equipment or computer programs).
If staff members are told about the potential sale too early in the process, or aren’t informed in an intelligent and organized way, it’s reasonable for them to be concerned about their job security. This is problematic for several reasons. First, they may tell patients there is another doctor buying the dental practice. Patients who feel loyal to the selling dentist may start making plans about finding another dentist before you and the selling dentist have had a chance to properly position the transition in a letter or other form of communication.
Second, the staff may erroneously assume that their jobs are in jeopardy. While you certainly aren’t going to run the dental practice exactly as the selling dentist has, a smart buyer will recognize that the less the practice changes at the time of closing, the better chances you have to maintain the consistency of patient retention, referrals, and morale that made you want to buy the dental practice to begin with. A smart buyer isn’t going to come in and fire a bunch of people, although certainly adjustments may be made eventually.
Third, if you get a perfect storm of these circumstances—staff leaving, patients being aware the selling dentist is retiring, patients being unhappy about the new and inexperienced staff members who replaced the ones who left, patients being concerned about their treatment plans under with a new and unknown dentist—you have the potential for the inevitable patient attrition to begin before the transition is positioned and properly communicated. This will negatively impact the practices collections before the sale has closed and you might not like what you see.
An exception to this rule may be in a situation where staff members sense a difference in the selling dentist’s habits or demeanor and begin to suspect that change is coming. Under these circumstances, it may be best for the selling dentist to get ahead of the issue. An open conversation can alleviate speculation that may drive fear or distrust. The selling dentist can reassure staff members that they are being considered and taken care of during the transition.
Why not just handle it that way all of the time? Risk. Although the approach of reassuring staff members who are informed earlier in the practice transition process can work out better than you might think, why take the chance if you don’t have to?
How Staff Should Be Informed About the Sale of a Dental Practice
The exact timing may change from situation to situation, however, you certainly don’t want to be brought in to meet the staff before the purchase and sale agreements are signed, deposits are made and non-refundable, and the financing is in place. At this point, the transition details are settled and a deal is in place, subject only to closing. Before that, there is too much uncertainty, as either party may retract. The stress of the transition will be enough for the staff, you don’t want to add uncertainty into the mix by introducing a buyer only to have the deal go south.
The best way to break the news is for the selling dentist to call a staff meeting and let everyone know the same thing all at once. When it comes to introducing the person who is buying the dental practice, you should expect the selling doctor to give an strong endorsement of you, explaining why you were selected as the right buyer—the one to carry on the practice, care for their patients, and manage the staff. At this first meeting, you may want to be prepared with your qualifications, such as a resume or C.V., share some personal information by way of introduction (perhaps show some family photos), and discuss what attracts you to the community and this dental practice. When discussing the practice, you can highlight what you know about the staff as a factor in your decision to buy it, expressing enthusiasm at the prospect of working with them.
ddsmatch Southwest Specializes in Matching Those Buying a Dental Practice with the Right Seller
Selling dentists often have a strong interest in finding the right buyer, one who will take care of their patients and staff, protect the reputation of the practice, and reflect the values on which the practice was built. Likewise, those buying a dental practice have an idea of the kind of practice they’d like. Here at ddsmatch Southwest, we specialize in matching the right practice with the right buyer and helping to facilitate the transition, start to finish.
This can even include running the meeting where staff is informed about the sale. One of our satisfied clients reports that Andy, his ddsmatch Southwest broker, “even helped us when we had to have the meeting with the staff and say, ‘Hey, this is coming down the pipe.’ He ran the meeting and answered questions. A lot of people were worried and things. It just made it a lot easier. A lot of the uneasiness, he calmed it down a lot.”
If you are looking to buy a dental practice, or to sell your practice, contact ddsmatch Southwest today and find out what we can do for you.