Treat Customers Like Patients To Help Them Make Sound Buying Decisions

Customers don’t know what they want. It is a sad truth, rarely verbalized. Help treat their pain through insightful questions, thought through before the meeting

Customers are like patients. Sell to them like a doctor. When you are feeling unwell and visit the doctor, the only thing you know is what ails you, say, an ache (or swelling), but you don’t know why. This symptom is what you inform the doctor about. Contrary to what you may think, the doctor does not know why you have that symptom either. How can he? He’s not psychic. He finds out why the anomaly is present by a process of elimination through insightful questions. And this is the lesson salespeople, especially those in business-to-business (B2B) selling, should adopt.

Customers don’t know what they want. It is a sad truth, rarely verbalized. Customers know only the symptom of the problem. And just as with the patient, the symptom is usually the discomfort they feel which they then present to you as the problem. For instance, the buyer says he wants to buy a drill. Showing him the array of drills you have for him to choose from is treating a symptom. Exploring why he needs the drill, via questions (like, “May I ask whether it’s for heavy woodwork or light household duties?”) may reveal that what he wants is to hang pictures-now that is the problem. It wasn’t a drill he wanted in the first place! It was the holes in the wall that the drill makes that he wanted. Now that you know that his problem is to hang pictures, you can, for instance, offer stick-on hooks or suction pads both which are non-intrusive and maybe the buyer prefers. Just as with patients, customers tend to self-‘prognose’, and sometimes, self-diagnose. Only, as buyers, they do it more frequently, because it is not the state of their health that is in limbo. So it is not far-fetched in this Information Age for the buyer to insist that they want a website which you proceed to set up for them, only to discover that what they wanted was a blog; or, insist they want a Twitter and Facebook account but have no one to update it! Sometimes, white elephants are not borne out of corruption but out of the inability by the seller to get to the root of the problem (possibly driven by a short sighted craving to close).

If a patient tells the doctor to prescribe for him Augmentin (or some other medication) because a Google search did the prognosis and revealed the diagnosis, do you suppose the doctor will proceed to write out the prescription on demand? Of course, not. He will still explore the symptom and arrive at his own conclusion. Likewise, when the client says that they want to install two through way lifts (the kind that opens from either side) don’t be too quick to agree. Explore through insightful questions thought through in advance of the meeting.  The product may attract the highest rate of commissions but you may end up discovering that what the client meant was a see through (glass wall) elevator. In sum, he used your jargon wrongly. And you only discover this two months later when the custom made lifts have been imported and are now on site! The errors of a misdiagnosis in B2B selling can be painfully expensive. And guess who the buyer will blame for the wrong diagnosis? You!

Still, wisdom should be exercised in this ‘doctor approach’. When I say I want to buy the bigger 100 million shilling holiday home next door to your client Kageche, who referred me to you, and I was wondering which account to wire the 70% down payment to, there’s little “root problem” we are getting into here.  My symptom is more or less the problem-I want to self-actualize which I do so by keeping up with the Kageches! So just point me to the right account and close.

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