Don’t Prescribe a Sales Solution Before You Diagnose the Problem

Imagine this scenario: You are sitting in an exam room at your doctor’s office. Your doctor walks in, says hello, and begins prescribing a treatment. “But doctor,” you say, “how do you know how to treat me if you haven’t asked me what hurts or how I feel?” Clearly, this situation is absurd. No competent doctor would prescribe treatment before interviewing and examining his patient. Why then, do so many sales people enter into meetings with prospective – or even current – customers with a scripted “elevator pitch” ready and a solution in mind?

Let me put it this way: effective sales people, like effective doctors, find ways to cure their customers’ pains. Consider this as a better approach to selling:

Listen first. Be empathetic. Sales prospects (like patients) want to be heard. They want to be understood. They want to find a solution to their need, a cure for their “pain.” Indeed, as Jeffrey Gitomer says in the Little Red Book of Selling, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” They want to buy a solution, not be sold a package built only for the sales organization’s benefit.

Provide feedback. To make sure you truly understand the sales prospect’s pain, repeat to them – in your words – what you heard them say. It’s fair and appropriate for you to say, “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying…” or “I want to be sure I truly address your problem/need; this is what I heard you say…”. Empathetic listening coupled with this kind of feedback and validation leads to understanding. And understanding leads to curing the prospect’s pain and making the sale.

Be a problem solver, not an order taker. Just as a good doctor shouldn’t write a prescription without understanding the patient’s ailment, the good salesperson should never act as an order taker at the expense of truly solving the prospect’s pain. It’s quite possible that you and your company simply don’t have the best solution for what the prospect needs (or within their budget). So, even at the risk of losing a sale, the best sales people know that referring the prospect to another solution provider can be the best way to 1) provide the cure, and 2) build a sales referral relationship built on trust and respect. Great doctors provide referrals to specialists when needed. Great sales people should do no less.

One caveat to the above: just as it is possible that you might not be the right “healer” for the sales prospect, it is also possible that you are simply meeting with the wrong patient. By listening empathetically and asking the right questions, you might discover that the patient you should be seeing is someone else (with decision-making authority) in the prospect’s organization.

So when you are in a sales situation, consider yourself to be a doctor, a doctor of sales, the kind of doctor you would want treating you. When selling, be diagnostic, not prescriptive. Once you truly understand the need and the pain, then you can provide the cure, either via your company’s products or services, or via referral to another resource.

Need help curing your own company’s pain of poor sales growth? Contact one of our Advisors today. They might have the cure, and if not, they can help you find the right sales specialist.