Diagnose & Close - What sales people can learn from good doctors

by Steli Efti
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Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and, within a minute or two, they’ve already diagnosed what’s wrong with you?

It usually goes something like:

Doctor: “So what’s the problem?”

You: “Well, I’m coughing a lot and…”

Doctor: “Say no more. Take two pills three times a day and you’ll be fine.”

How did you feel in that moment? Probably not great.

Even if the doctor’s right, it’s nearly impossible to trust that diagnosis. There’s no way they know enough about your specific situation to reach the correct solution.

The same thing applies to sales

Sales rep: “So what’s the problem?”

Prospect: “Well, we’re looking for an automation tool…”

Sales rep: “Say no more. We have the perfect solution for you. No other software does what we do.”

How much is a prospect going to trust this statement?

If you’re the sales rep in this situation, what do you actually know? You can’t even tell me what kind of automation they’re talking about, let alone how they plan to use it. You don’t know anything about their current obstacles, workflows, or budgets.

And here’s what that prospect thinks of you:

You’re not friendly. You’re not empathetic. You don’t care about them. And you don’t take the necessary steps to understand their problems. There’s little chance you’re going to convince any prospect that your solution is right for them.

I’ve talked about this before, but salespeople usually fall into one of four categories:

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Hostile + Strong

The type of salespeople I’m talking about right now are in the Hostile + Strong camp. They’re the ones who used to dominate sales—the Wolf of Wall Street types, the ones who bullied prospects into submission.

But that sales model is slowly dying, and the main reason is because prospects today have more power. Transparency has played a major role in this shift—it’s easier than ever to find the information you’re looking for, and to publish an opinion, experience, or review that’s accessible to the world.

Back in the day, the Hostile + Strong could just move on to the next village, but that’s no longer the case. It’s getting harder and harder for salespeople to bully their way to closed deals in a sustainable way.

Friendly + Weak

Here’s another quick story. One of my oldest brother’s kids wasn’t feeling well, so they decided to see a doctor. Their regular doctor wasn’t available, so they went to the hospital instead.

They waited for hours and when they finally saw a pediatrician, she drove my brother crazy. Why? Because she was firmly in the Friendly + Weak camp. She ran some preliminary tests, asked a few questions, and eventually determined my brother’s kid had an ear infection. All good so far.

But once she figured out it was an ear infection, she got all wishy-washy about the solution:

“You know, I’m more of a homeopathic doctor. My background is a little bit different than other doctors, and I’m not sure if we should treat this child with homeopathic remedies or traditional medicine. Maybe we should wait a couple more days for your regular doctor to be available. I’m really not sure about the best course of action.”

Obviously, my brother wasn’t very happy. There wasn't a single part of him that thought, “Wow, this doctor is so open-minded and self-aware. She’s having a moment of doubt and sharing that moment with me. How refreshing! How honest!”

No, my brother was like, “This is bullshit. I’ve been waiting for hours. It’s a Sunday. My kid’s in pain. Tell me what to do. You’re the expert here. I came to you for help.”

When you’re Friendly + Weak, you do a disservice to your patients. They don't want to be confused about what to do next. They want you to be strong. Once there’s a diagnosis, the next step is to actually solve the problem. Find a cure and take the necessary steps to make your patient feel better.

This is where many startup salespeople go wrong

They think that because the world’s tired of Hostile + Strong sales reps, they need to sell in the exact opposite way.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s smart to be a friendly salesperson who’s dedicated to customer success. But when you’re weak and overly apologetic, that’s a big problem. When you allow prospects to dictate sales conversations, it’s difficult to close deals. Too often, the Friendly + Weak get taken advantage of.

Hostile + Weak

If you’re in the Hostile + Weak camp, you’re pretty much an asshole. Don’t be Hostile + Weak. There's not much else to say about this one.

Friendly + Strong

The future of sales—and the future of successful salespeople—lies in the Friendly + Strong camp.

I hope you’ve all had the experience of going to a doctor who truly listened to you. They didn’t seem rushed or preoccupied. They didn’t rattle off solutions before you even walked into the room.

They put down their charts and looked you in the eye. They asked follow-up questions. They cared about your responses.

How amazing did that feel?

And when they diagnosed your problem, they likely said, “It’s going to be all right. I know how to fix this. Here’s how we’re going to treat this.”

It's awesome to have a doctor who listens to you—who takes all of your answers (and symptoms) into account—and explains with strength and clarity exactly how they’re going to fix your problems.

You need to approach sales like a Friendly + Strong doctor

You should be kind. You should help and empower your prospects. And, in the end, you should approach solutions from a position of strength. After all, you’re the expert. You're the one who understands your product or service best. You’ve mastered a skill that allows you to help others. It’s on you to prove that expertise. It’s on you to build trust.

Nobody’s walking into a doctor’s office and saying, “Okay, Doc. Here’s what I want you to do.”

There’s a lot of information out there, but no matter how informed prospects are, they’re not going to be experts in everything. It’s your job to guide them through the sales process.

Ask the right questions. Listen to their concerns. Provide clear and powerful solutions to their actual problems.

Ultimately, prospects just want a salesperson they can trust. So if you want to succeed in sales, learn how to empower your prospects. Learn how to create value for the businesses. And most importantly, learn how to be Friendly + Strong.

The secret to any successful sales conversation is asking the right questions. Download 42 of my favorite B2B sales questions right now:

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