Our ability to understand customers' problems and help them understand their situation more clearly will set us apart from the competition, yet most salespeople lean on establishing credibility through presentations about their company, it's reputation and the wonderful products and services it provides. Few recognize that building a solid customer relationship begins with establishing relevancy and relevancy grows out of having good conversations, which is not as simple as it might sound. In fact, it's an essential requirement and a major challenge in today's world of complex sales and multicultural business relationships.

Businesses today are not solution constrained. We have the ability to build and offer solutions that deliver substantial value to our customers. Unfortunately, our customers know they have multiple sources, and we all look very similar.

The issue that causes most of our sales problems today is that we are more "diagnose" constrained than solution constrained. We have this great tendency to present early and often, and we propose solutions that don't connect to the customer's reality. They lack "relevancy." Do a mental review of your last presentation or proposal. How much of the content was about you and your solution, and how much of it was about your customer and his business? If your answer indicates the higher proportion was about you and your solution, you're at risk of looking more alike than different from your competitors. Our research has shown that customers today are more likely to decide to take action when they truly understand the risks/consequences of not making a change, more so than by recognizing a solution and connecting it to their business. They are more likely to buy from you if they recognize that you understand their jobs and their businesses.

During a "diagnostic conversation," the full extent of the customer's problem is explored, measured, evaluated, and communicated. The focus is more on the physical symptoms, which are the customer's reality, than on the solution, which is more speculative. Its goal is to raise customers' awareness and understanding of the problems they are experiencing and then make connections to the solution.

The role model that we like to suggest for these diagnostic conversations is that of the doctor. The doctor uses an established diagnostic process that directs the order of questions and measurements. The questions are about observations of physical indicators or symptoms that tie the doctor's diagnosis to the patient's reality.

When we are in the diagnostic mode, we are dealing directly with our customers' reality. That is, we are working with elements that they have experienced in the past, are currently experiencing, or those they believe they will be exposed to in the future. In fact, our customers may not be aware that these elements or symptoms represent problems, and they might be missing a significant opportunity.

The "diagnostic conversation" has three primary objectives:

  1. Uncover the reality of the customer's situation. (Do these symptoms exist?)
  2. Quantify the impact of the problem. (How bad is it?)
  3. Create the "Incentive to Change." (Is it serious enough to take action?)

The challenge to businesses today is to equip sales and marketing organizations to be more diagnostic. To start or increase your diagnostic capabilities, consider these three steps.

  1. Include diagnostic tools in your marketing communications to help your customer develop clarity around the issues you address. Consider a "Seven Early Warning Signals" brochure to help customers recognize the absence of your value.
  2. Have your website guide your customer through an initial diagnosis to create more qualified prospects.
  3. Make sure product training teaches your salespeople the symptoms to diagnose and how to quantify the business impact.

Like a doctor, a quality diagnosis builds exceptional levels of trust and credibility and in business that means greater differentiation, more sales and higher profits.