What should you ask a dental practice seller during a first meeting?

These meetings can feel a bit like a first date. Does she like me? Do I like him? What does he think about me running his practice? How will I compare to other buyers who are looking at the practice?

Your Goal with the First Meeting

Before you think about what questions you should ask the seller, ask yourself: What is your goal with this meeting?

If you think your goal is to grill the seller to find out the negative secrets hidden in the listing, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Your goal is for the seller to walk away from the conversation impressed with you as a buyer and wanting to sell you her practice. You want the seller to have positive feelings about you.

In order to generate positive feelings, I recommend putting your best foot forward and keeping things positive. Specifically, I recommend focusing your questions on three main questions.

Question 1: How Have You Managed to Be So Successful?

Your very first question out of the gate should make the seller feel good and invite positive feelings about you, the buyer. What better way to do that than with a question designed to let the seller brag a little?

How would you feel as a retiring dentist if a younger dentist showed up and focused their time on nit-picking your practice numbers? Not good.

Conversely, how different would it feel to have a younger dentist ask you, the sage veteran, for advice on how to be successful and what you did? Here you come, the discerning buyer, smart enough to know an amazing dentist when you see one. You’re ready to sit at the feet of Yoda and learn the ways of the dental force.

This is not a sneaky or dishonest approach. The seller IS successful at something. At a minimum, they’re running a dental practice that you’re interested in buying. They’ve attracted patients, they’ve hired and managed staff, and they’ve kept a business alive long enough to sell it to someone else.

Start the conversation with a little humility on your side of the table and acknowledge that there is a lot that you could learn from someone with as much experience as the seller.

You might phrase the question like this:

  • “How does it feel to be where you’re at in your career selling a successful business?”
  • “Congratulations on making it to this point in your career. How were you able to do it so successfully?”
  • “It seems like there is a lot of interest in your practice, which makes total sense. How does it feel to be in your position?”
  • “I was so impressed with your practice as I looked things over. How were you able to do so much better than the average dentist?”

 

Question 2: Ask About Something That Impressed You

Keep things very positive with your follow up questions. I recommend thinking of three to five aspects of the practice you liked and asking about them.

Will you see things you hate or you’re not sure about? Of course. But leave those out of the conversation for now. On average, dental transitions take months. There will be plenty of time for you to dig deep into the negative aspects of the practice later.

Positive follow up questions might sound like this:

  • “What are you most proud of in the office?”
  • “Who are your star employees and how have you helped them grow?”
  • “What do you like most about your patients?”
  • “What kinds of procedures and work are you the proudest of in this office?”
  • “I noticed ____ and really liked it, what was your thinking there?”
  • “I really like the layout of the office? Did you design it.”
  • “Yelp and Google show a ton of good reviews. Patients really like you and your office. What positive feedback do you hear most from patients?”

Question 3: What Are You Planning to Do After You Sell?

Feel free to ask the seller about her plans after she sells to you. This question serves two important purposes. First, it gets the seller thinking, even if only subconsciously, about what is exciting to them after they sell and don’t need to come into the office every day. (And those positive feelings are associated with you!)

Second, it’s important for you as a buyer to know what the seller’s plans are after the sale. A transition can look very different if the seller is planning to stay in town versus move away. Sellers who want to work for a bit after the sale will have different priorities than those ready to hand you the keys and walk away.

Questions around their plans after the sale might sound like this:

  • “What are your plans after the sale closes?
  • “It must feel good to be where you’re at in your career. What’s next for you?”
  • “Are you excited to sell? What are you looking forward to after you don’t need to come into the office as much?”

More than anything, you want the seller coming away from the conversation thinking, “Man, this buyer is really sharp! I’d love to have him buy the office!” Not only will that attitude preserve maximum goodwill for you should you end up buying the practice, but it will also give you some negotiating power down the line. And, of course, we’ll find all kinds of answers to more detailed questions through both financial and in-person due diligence. But the first step is to build the relationship and secure yourself in his mind as the ‘ideal’ buyer.

You will see some things you will want to change. And you will need to know details about clinical fit and treatment philosophy. But why bring them up at this stage? This is someone’s baby they’ve had for decades. Focus on the positive. Show some deference. Leave the conversation having impressed the seller.

We’ll focus on questions to avoid asking the seller in the first meeting in another post.

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Know someone considering buying a practice? Have them reach out directly to me via email, brian@wilnaudesign.com to help them through the process.

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