What Your Doctor Can Teach You About Sales

Think back to when you last visited your doctor.

If we watch how our doctor uncovers our need, we can learn a lot. As a patient, you are your doctor’s prospect. You suffer from pain. You’re willing to talk to your doctor because you want to resolve the pain, solve the problem. But you do not yet know or realize the specific nature of his problem.

Although, if you are like Eileen, my wife, you have already begun research at WebMD to inform yourself on potential solutions.

As salespeople, we need to think and behave like doctors, asking detailed questions to identify specific symptoms and use the information we learn to diagnose a cure.

Your products and services may be that cure.

Nothing matters in sales unless you uncover and understand prospect needs.

Then you show your prospect it is unsafe to stick with status quo, commit to meet his needs, and tie your products and services to those needs.

Bring Credibility and Trust

The first step in the diagnosis process is giving your prospect a level of comfort, just like your doctor. This effort establishes credibility early on.

Comfort can lead to credibility; it is an authentic way to put your prospect at ease and open a line of communication for him or her to speak with you about issues and problems.

Quickly demonstrate your understanding of his or her situation. When I see my doctor and gain the sense he has dealt with my situation before, my trust level rises that he will solve my issue.

As we teach in MERGE, you must do your homework ahead of time. If you have done your homework and prepared for the meeting, you should have developed a series of questions to ask and drill down on the seriousness of your prospect’s need.

There is no excuse for failing to do research today given all the valuable tools on the internet. I dedicated an entire chapter in MERGE to the research process, and do again in my soon-to-be-released MERGE 2.0.

Do your homework, build your knowledge and you put your prospect at ease so trust can form around your expertise and professionalism.

Uncover Needs with Guided Questions

Once you have established credibility and trust, you need to gain a sense of the prospect’s current situation. What is it that he needs to fix accomplish or avoid? Your doctor asks specific questions before she recommends diagnostic testing.

Ask closed-end questions to verify information that you know what the prospect knows. This technique engages the prospect as he or she answers yes questions.

The questioning sequence is quite important. For example, you might ask: I noticed that for the last four quarters the company’s revenues have been flat, did I read that right?” Of course, you knew that and so does the prospect who nods yes.

Then move into open-ended questions to open the line of communication wider and discover where a need resides. For example, What impact has flat revenues had on your company?”

As your prospect answers, you can begin to clarify the situation. You might ask, “As it relates to the flat revenue situation, what is your goal right now? What is stopping you from reaching that goal? “What steps have you taken to overcome this obstacle?”

These questions pinpoint your prospect’s major need, as he understands it, and gives you a glimpse into his vision for a solution, based on his current thinking.

Now that you’ve determined the most significant issue or issues as the prospect understands them, you can probe a bit deeper with ever more specific questions.

You’ll begin with some questions about the past to give you a baseline. For example, if you’re selling sales training, begin by asking about how well your prospect’s salesforce performed in the past; how well they are performing now; what were his expectations of performance; how his customers reacted to their performance, and so on.

This line of questioning will give you a solid grasp on how the prospect’s needs changed recently (if at all) and where he stands about the goal you uncovered in the last step.

Remember, your doctor will have asked you when your pain began and how has it changed over time.

Sell the Problem before the Solution

Recent research by CSO Insights, Sales Benchmark, and others confirms what a growing number of sales managers have observed already: more sales fall to “no decision” than to the competition.

Here’s why B2B salespeople need to focus on selling the need to solve the prospect’s problem before they sell their solution. 

Your doctor avoids recommending a course of care, medication, or surgery without reaching an agreement with you on the diagnosis, the problem.

I spend a good deal of my practice on client win-loss analysis. Surprisingly, many don’t pay attention to the no-decision loses. If they did, they could dramatically improve sales performance.

Why do prospects revert to a no?

Avoid Four Reasons for No-Decisions

One, they’ve not recognized the need as large enough to focus on. People are compelled to solve big problems. They may not see the need that you see, or they have other priorities that swamp the one you’re working on.

Two, the risk of change. The risk of change plays an increasingly significant role in buying decisions as final approval draws near. Prospects begin to question the proposed solution, doubting it will solve the problem. Many hide the wounds of projects that ran too longcost too much, and failed to deliver hoped-for results.

This aversion to risk is a natural part of the decision-making process, and salespeople need to plan for it. Also, they need to accept that whoever approves the budget looks for reassurance; his company’s investment must deliver the desired outcome. Or jobs could be on the line. Show new clients your proven process helps to ease and manage the challenge of change.

Third, status quo is safe. It is people’s comfort zone. Especially in large B2B sales with major organizations, people do not want to make mistakes. But you must make the status quo unsafe if you intend to advance the sale.

You need to help your prospects identify, calculate, and articulate the painful consequences of staying put. Offer them a no-risk escape route to safety.

Finally, the fourth reason behind a no-decision, the problem was not a priority. Salespeople can implement an effective sales process, offer the best solution to an issue, win the recommendation of their internal champion/coach and the decision-making team, yet still not be awarded the business.

The prospect decided that solving a different problem had an even higher priority.

When qualifying opportunities, salespeople need to pay close attention to linking the problem they are working on to a critical business initiative.

Don’t overinvest energy in problem-solution fit or your chance of selection. Instead, work even harder to ensure that your champion/coach holds power to elevate your opportunity to the top of the list of prospect priorities.

Of course, it is best to avoid the no-decision-do-nothing zone altogether. You can do that from the very first sales interaction when you follow these seven steps:

  1. Establish credibility and trust by doing your research
  2. Uncover priority needs or problems through sequential questioning
  3. Sell the problem before the solution
  4. Determine the prospect’s conviction to solve the problem
  5. Link the problem to a critical business initiative in the company
  6. Make the status quo unsafe
  7. Confirm the prospect’s motivation and ability to act

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve graduated from the sales equivalent of medical school.

And you’re ready to ask for the order. Ah-h-h, another cured patient in your practice.

Well done, sales ninja.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

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