What’s The Diagnosis?


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My wife hates going to Doctors—I actually think that’s a basic intelligence test, I don’t think anyone likes going to Doctors. It’s impossible to get appointments, costs are skyrocketing, and the experience–well, I’ll stop there.

About 6 weeks ago, I noticed her limping, so I asked if she was having problems with her leg or foot. She said she’d tripped earlier in the morning when she was on the golf course and her foot was bothering her. We both thought it would go away, ignored it for a few days, but then the pain was getting worse. I said, “Go to the Doctor, have him check it out.” She refused, making some excuse and saying terribly disparaging things about them being worthless and wasting her time.

I did notice she was doing a lot of web research, and we started to talk about what she was discovering. She was narrowing in on identifying the problem. She found some articles where the symptoms seemed to match hers. She thought, back; years ago she had a similar problem. That time it had been a neuroma (Don’t ask me what that is), the doctor had treated it with some medicines and it had disappeared. Based on her web research and the alignment of symptoms with what she found on the web, she called the doctor and went in to see him.

As she describes it, she told him that she had done a lot of research, as well as having had a similar problem years ago. She described the problem and the treatment, asking him to prescribe the medicines she had before. I know if she could have, she would have bypassed the doctor, but she needed to see him to get the prescription.

The doctor nodded saying he understood. He asked if she would mind if he asked a few questions about her pain first. She replied impatiently, “I know what the problem is and what you need to do. Would you just prescribe the medicine!” The doctor must have been a saint, he persisted. He said that he didn’t doubt that she had a good understanding about what was going on, but he just wanted to verify it for himself. He went on to ask a few questions about her pain, and inspected her foot. He pressed a certain spot on the top of her foot, she let loose with a flood of screams, threats, and invectives that apparently made everyone in the office blush. Patiently, he responded, “I guess that hurt.” He asked her forgiveness but said, I’m going to take an X-Ray. My wife’s a tough character, she said, “You’re just trying to run the billing up, I already know the problem. It’s a neuroma, just stop wasting my time and give me the medicine I need.”

The doctor responded, “Well if it was a neuroma, the pain you would be experiencing would be at the bottom of your foot. It turns out the pain is on the top of your foot, so it can’t be a neuroma, it has to be something else. I’d like to examine the problem a little more just so that you get the right treatment.” It turned out she had a minor fracture of one of the bones in her feet. Apparently when she tripped on the golf course, one of the bones had fractured. The medicines that she thought would fix the problem would do nothing, she would have to wear a soft cast for a number of weeks to let the bone heal. It tunred out the problem could have gotten much worse if she hadn’t gotten the soft cast.

My wife’s story is not different than most others. With so many good web sites, and so much information, we always try to research and self diagnose. We aren’t experts, but it’s easy to find information on the web, so we think we can do a large part of the diagnosis ourselves, reducing the amount of time (and money) we spend with the doctor. We only need them for the treatments that we have already determined from our research.

We are seeing much of the same thing with the “new buyers.” As with many of us dealing with doctors, the new buyer doesn’t want to see a sales person–for many of the same reasons, the experience may not be very good. Some data indicates that buyers can complete 60-70 percent of their buying process before first seeing a sales person, narrowing their consideration to a few alternatives based on their diagnosis. The new buyers believe they can correctly identify their problems, pains, and needs and define the needed solution. They believe through web research, they can eliminate or minimize the need for sales people.

In many cases, this trend is probably appropriate. But these are probably limited to the simplest types of situations, areas where the risk is very low, or situations the buyer has been through frequently, so they are very experienced or knowledgeable. Alternatively, they may be buying products that are commoditized so the variation in solutions might be very small and their knowledge is very high. (By the way, this isn’t new, Neil Rackham and John DeVincentis wrote about this in 1999 in Rethinking The Sales Force, but the trend may be increasing. By the way, the book offers great advice for sales in dealing with these situations.)

However, complex B2B solutions may not be that easy to diagnose, particularly if you have never had any experience in solving these problems, buying these solutions, or there is rapid change and innovation in a particular category of solutions. Just as with people self diagnosing medical problems, B2B buyers may not know the right questions to be asking. They may reach incorrect conclusions. They may be relying on bad information or data. The customer may think they know everything, but they actually may not. Or they may not know it at the level of detail that is critical for them in solving the right problem in the right way.

Just as it is irresponsible–even malpractice for a doctor to blindly accept the self diagnosis of a patient, it is irresponsible for sales professionals to blindly accept the diagnosis of the “new buyer.” Because buyers believe they can defer seeing a sales person until they are 60-70 percent of the way through their buying process, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for them to do.

Sometimes we have to disrupt the buyer’s thinking, regardless of where they are in their buying process. We can disrupt them before they are even in a buying process with new ideas, we can disrupt them at any point subsequent to that. It is never easy to get people to think differently. It is never easy to get them to slow down, shift directions, consider alternatives, or even think they may be wrong.

But great sales professionals do this! They do it because they know it’s where they create the greatest value for their customers. They recognize that “teaching moments,” may occur at any time. They do it because they want to see the customer achieve their goals and produce results. They do it because they don’t want to see the customer make a mistake–something that may cost them tens, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars — or even the viability of their businesses. They do it because they don’t want to see a customer miss an opportunity–with opportunity costs that could be millions or more.

Customers are anxious to have sales people who have earned the right, correct them and make sure they are properly identifying and diagnosing the problem. They want to rely on the sales person who has proven they can expertly identify, diagnose problems and provide solutions. Sales people earn this right through their credibility–their expert knowledge of their products, of the customer’s business, of their customer’s markets, of their customer’s customers. Great sales people earn this right through building a track record and a trusted relationship based on performance and results — not golf games. Great sale people earn this right by creating a great customer experience–creating great value in every interchange with the customer.

Perhaps like the bad experience many of us have with doctors, customers are deferring the engagement of sales people until they are 60-70 percent of the way through their buying process not because they want to, but just because the performance of their sales people has been so bad and they do not create value. Perhaps it’s because of those sales people who do not know how to identify, diagnose and solve the customer’s problems, but can only respond to the customer requirement.

But does it have to be that way?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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