What should you ask a doctor (or any client, for that matter),

when you go on a sales appointment looking for new business for the advertising agency you work for?


To start with, you should consider that a doctor is a different type of client, because they often don’t like to think of themselves as selling, advertising or marketing their services to their patients.  A doctor is a similar to a school or a church in that way, and for that reason when you talk to that type of client about advertising, you may want to soften your approach and shy away from the words “selling” and “target market” when possible.

I think one of the reasons that certain businesses prefer not to be thought of as “selling” is because they are perceived by the public as providing a service to the community (by the way – the way a business is perceived by the public is called “positioning” and if you sell advertising, sooner or later you are going to hear that word and need to know what it means).

Despite this hesitation, doctors, schools and churches have to get money from somewhere to be able to pay their bills and cover their operating expenses, just like any other type of business.  Regardless of that, certain professions often shy away from that “positioning” and so when you’re selling a potential client in one of these industries you should consider how you might adjust or soften your approach, before your first appointment.

In fact, before you go to visit any potential customer, take a minute to think about their target market and how you will refer to them during your first sales meeting.  In the case of a doctor, instead of talking about their potential customers as their “target market,” you may just want to refer to them as their “patients” or “potential new patients”.

So what questions do you need to ask on your first appointment with a doctor?  How should you approach this or any new customer?  Be sure do everything you can to make them comfortable – help them to answer the question if you get the feeling they don’t know what you’re talking about and or haven’t spent even 1 minute thinking about the answer.  No matter who you’re selling – it’s critical to make that person feel good about themselves.  Encourage your potential new client to talk about their business or themselves – and reinforce what they’re saying by nodding or agreeing or telling them how impressed you are by their credentials.  Be careful you don’t make them feel like they’re stupid in any way.  No one ever dates, refers or buys from someone who makes them feel poorly about themselves – and that goes for any potential customer or relationship.

Try to be as quick and succinct as possible – doctors are always in a hurry.  You may want to start your conversation by asking how much time the doctor has, so you know how many questions you’ll have time to ask.  Listen and look for the doctor’s responses as that will tell you a lot about if they want to hear more or if they want you to wrap it up (take a look at this write up about “non verbal communications” as that may help you to recognize when a potential client is reaching their limit).  http://www.blatner.com/adam/level2/nverb1.htm

The following are just a few suggested questions – you don’t have to ASK each and every one of them IF you get this information thru your general conversation with the doctor and of course you may think of other things that you can ask your client based on where your conversation goes.  You obviously don’t want your customer to think you’re reading from a script nor do you want them to think you’re forcing yourself to follow a list of questions.  Just use your head and try to get some basic information – with the ultimate goal of bringing your boss the basic information they need to create a quote for your new client.   Be sure and ask the client for their contact information and ask for a copy of their business card (and the business card of their secretary if you can see that she’s the “doorkeeper”).

So here are a few questions that will help you with your appointment:

After the introductions and pleasantries you might say:

Doctor, can you give me an idea of what type of practice you run here? 

If the doctor doesn’t tell you how he’s better or different in his answer, you might ask:

What do you consider to be your significant margin of difference? 

Sometimes this throws the doctor for a loop because they have no idea what you’re talking about – so you can encourage them a little by adding:

What makes you different from or better than other doctors? 

Then you might say:

How do you want the world to think of you or your clinic?  (this is the “positioning” I was talking about earlier)

To help them figure out what you mean by this question , you might also add:

Do you consider yourself a “one stop shop” where you have all the services a customer might want under one roof?  OR do you specialize in certain services that required specialized training before you could offer them to your clients?

Do you have any special certifications or awards or have you received or any media or industry recognition

(Such as were you listed in the “Top 100 doctors in Houston” list? NOTE only say this if you see some kind of certification hanging on the wall – you don’t want to embarrass them if the answer is NO….NO I haven’t received any special recognition….that won’t go over very well.)

To help the doctor think of a few things that might separate him from his competition, you might say:

Are you the only doctor located near the patients you’d like to reach (such as are you located near the University of Houston or some other area or landmark)? 

Do you speak a second language that might help us to target a particular group of patients? 

Do you specialize in any form of treatment or disease or a particularly cutting edge services that not many other doctors provide? 

These are all things that we might use in advertising, when we talk about the doctor, to get the attention of potential patients and other doctors who might refer business to him (or her). 

OK so next question might be: 

What type of patient would you like to appeal to or get more of? 

Sometimes the doctor has no idea who he wants to go after so you can tell him or her that if they don’t already know who they want to target, that we can help them to figure these things out because that’s what we specialize in – medical marketing and strategy

Also, sometimes a doctor wants to target both the end consumer (patients) and other doctors…..so depending on what the good doctor says to the above question you might add: 

Do you want to get referrals from other doctors? 

How have you reached your potential customer in the past?

It’s always good for us marketing people to know if the client has done any advertising prior to this (the reason for that is twofold – a) we want to know what advertising tactics or projects to recommend to the client because if they just had a website done then we don’t need to quote that for them and b) if they’ve done any work prior to this – we need to see it to see if it’s good enough to build upon that look and feel or if it needs to be redone completely.  You probably won’t be able to make this judgment yourself in the early days of you trying to make a sale but don’t let that worry you – the point of your meeting with the doctor is just to find out what he needs quoted and what his budget and time frames are.  We will do the quote for you so you don’t have to worry about that now.  


Questions you should be sure to ask your new potential client:

What advertising have you done in the past?

Do you have an existing campaign? 

Were you happy with the results you got from that advertising? 

Do you have a record of how these campaigns did (or this campaign did) or do you have a system in place to track the incoming leads for your advertising? 

Remember “Ad Tracking” is something we can do – we can help them to determine if their ad dollars are working – so by asking this question you may be underlining what their old agency didn’t or couldn’t do, without saying anything negative about them at all!

Do you want to continue any current/existing campaigns (or your current “look and feel”) or do you want us to create something new for you? 

Do you have any samples of that work that you can let me take to show my marketing people?  (be sure and thank him or her profusely)

Of course we can and want to make a recommendation to them about their branding (their “look and feel”) so unless the old ads are particularly fabulous we are probably going to want to do something new.  You don’t need to say anything negative about their existing ads – if you don’t like them just say:

Thank you, I’ll give these samples to our VP Marketing so she can take a look at them and if you’d like she can give you her feedback on them. 

Remember you never know if their ugly website or brochure was designed by the doctor’s daughter – the last thing you want to say is anything negative about them or their ads.  EVEN IF THEY SAY THEY DON’T LIKE IT – you can just shut up and go on to the next question – or if you must say something say:

Well I know our team really knows what they’re doing so I’m sure they can do excellent work for you that accomplishes your marketing goals – did I mention the advertising awards they’ve won?

Then ask:

Do you have an idea of what your budget will be for this? 

If they ask you anything that you don’t know the answer to – just tell them:

I will make sure to ask that question to our Marketing VP, Emily Andros – so let me just write it down here and I’ll get back to you. 

Can you give me your email address and confirm your phone number for me? 

When I call would you like me to call directly to you or should I communicate with your secretary?  If so can I have her number? 

Do you have a deadline on when you’re going to need your project to start?  Or

Do you have a date by which you’d like to see your project completed? 

Are you going to be the person making this decision?

Are you interviewing other firms or are we the only agency you’ve spoken to?

 That’s it!  Thank them for their time and leave your business card.