Tell the Seller NOT to Keep the Sale Secret

Brian Hanks General

A few weeks ago I gave you a list of questions to ask the seller during your first meeting. Here’s another one to add to that list:

“When are you planning to tell your staff and patients about the transition?”

The answer should be something like, “As soon as possible,” or even, “I already have.” If the seller says they’re putting off telling anyone until the deal is done, encourage them to reconsider.

But why should you, the buyer, even care? Does it really affect you?

Yes. A thousand times, yes. Eventually, the seller will have to inform the staff and patients about the sale. How should that conversation go? Imagine two staff-meeting scenarios:

Scenario A: “I’ve finally decided to retire. I’ve sold the practice to Dr. Smith, who will take the keys on Monday. Good luck!”

Scenario B: “I’ve finally decided to retire and I’ll be selling the practice. I’m going to start actively looking for qualified buyers over the next few months. One of my priorities will be to find a buyer who’s not only able to make the purchase, but who will also be a good fit to maintain the culture we’ve built here together. You’re a wonderful staff, and with your input I want to do right by you when the transition eventually happens.”

As the buyer, which scenario would you want to walk into? The one in which the staff is a little unsure of what’s going to happen? Or the one in which the staff feels blindsided, angry, and betrayed … and also uncertain of what’s going to happen? Obviously, there’s not much choice here at all.

Still, many selling dentists are reluctant to make the practice sale public, and on the surface at least, their reasons are sensible. They’re afraid that being transparent about the sale could lead to several issues:

  1. The staff gets freaked out and leaves.
  2. The patients get freaked out and leave.
  3. Competitors will swoop in and poach loyal patients.


Each of these concerns is reasonable, but they’re all misplaced to varying degrees. On balance, it’s much better for the seller, and even more so for you, that they be transparent about the sale.

Will the staff really freak out and leave?

Almost certainly not. Obviously, this depends on the staff, but it’s extremely unlikely that there would be a wholesale staff revolt with everyone packing up and leaving at once.

Even if, say, a hygienist decides to go elsewhere when she hears about the sale, this could be a blessing in disguise. What sounds more painful: trying to replace that hygienist? Or trying to work with her immediately after she’s been blindsided by the news of an immediate ownership change?

Presumably, the seller cares about their team. They certainly care about their legacy, in the form of the practice they’re leaving behind. Both of those things are much more likely to be hurt than helped by secrecy around a practice sale.

Will the patients go somewhere else?

Some might! But like a staff member, a patient is much more likely to leave if they feel blindsided by a sales announcement. A short conversation between the seller and the patient before the sale happens can quickly alleviate any concern patients might have about their new dentist.

In the end, a little patient turnover is to be expected in any dental transition. But here’s a dirty little secret of dentistry: most patients aren’t there out of loyalty to the dentist. They usually come through the door for the first time because the practice’s location is convenient, and because it accepts their insurance. To be fair, they return because of the great treatment they got, and the dentist and staff have a lot to do with that.

If you and the practice are a good fit for each other, patients will continue to have a good experience, and very few patients will end up leaving over a change in ownership.

Besides, a little extra patient churn is to be expected during a transition. Luckily, there are ways to mitigate that.

Are competitors going to steal all of my future patients?

This is the one you need to worry about the least. Yes, it’s possible that some enterprising competitor will try to entice existing patients to the competing practice. But like a lot of things that are theoretically possible, this one crumbles under the weight of practicality. Your competitors are likely too focused on the day-to-day of dental care to spend valuable time trying to poach patients.

In your initial meetings with a selling dentist, be sure to ask about their plans for communication around the sale. If the seller is opting for secrecy, you’ll likely be in for some unnecessary headaches down the road. If the seller is honest and transparent, it will make the transition more pleasant for them, for you, for the staff, and for the patients you hope to keep as well.