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What A Doctor Can Teach You About Effective Selling

I visited an orthopedic doctor to see about my rotator cuff surgery. After years of playing tennis, volleyball, and baseball, I had subjected my shoulder to enough abuse that it was finally time to go under the knife. His questions, and the resulting outcome made me realize that the best sales techniques just might come from your doctor – provided he or she is a good doctor.

When the doctor came in, he asked “What brings you in today?” I replied, “I know I’ve got a torn rotator cuff. When I play tennis each week, my arm is very sore the next day.” The doctor looked at the x-ray image they had taken when I arrived and said, “Yes. You definitely have some perforations in your shoulder. What have you tried to make the pain go away? Have you tried ice? Ibuprofen? How about serving ¾ instead of straight over the top?” I was a bit confused. I was there for surgery. What were these questions?

Get To The Point

Finally, he looked at me and said “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t play tennis for a living, right (I don’t exactly have the physique of a professional athlete – maybe a bowler)? You said that the pain is not waking you up at night, and it’s not impacting your work or personal life. Rather, it’s just soreness that goes away. In fact, it’s not even severe enough right now that you treat it with ice or ibuprofen. What I’d like to suggest is that you try to modify your swing, and take ibuprofen before the match, and ice the shoulder after. If that doesn’t work, and the condition starts to impact the rest of your life, then we can discuss surgery.” He went on to explain that he didn’t want to expose me to the risk of surgery unless my condition was severe enough to warrant it. That was fifteen years ago. I’ve never needed the surgery, and the ice and ibuprofen did the trick.

The Business Lesson

The doctor took steps that you should emulate in business. Specifically:

  • Let Them Sell You: When you arrive at your doctor, notice the first question they ask. It is intentional. They ask “What brings you here, today?” In this context, they are getting you to ‘sell them’ on what you hope to accomplish with them and why you scheduled the appointment. This is often overlooked in business. If you are receiving an inbound request, always start by asking ‘What triggered your call today?’ or ‘Where are you seeking our help?’
  • Probe For Impact: Once I described my issue, he asked me questions to uncover urgency and priority. He got me to describe the IMPACT and RELATIVE IMPORTANCE of solving the issue. In my case, the shoulder injury was not impacting my life beyond a nuisance. Your clients likely won’t spend real money to address an issue that does not have meaningful impact to their world.
  • Identify What’s Been Tried: He asked what else I had tried to address the condition. If the condition has been around for a while and the client has not pursued alternatives, you need to understand why not. If they tried the same alternatives you were going to suggest, you might want to know the outcome before suggesting the same course of treatment.
  • Integrity Wins: The doctor refused to try to sell me on a procedure that I clearly did not need. Of course, as he did so, I kept trying to convince him I needed the surgery. The same thing will happen with your clients. Though he did not end up performing surgery on my shoulder, he built a valuable referral source for many years to come. If I had an orthopedic condition, who else would I possibly turn to in the future? Where do I refer my friends?

Integrity-Based Medicine Is A Good Template

Sure, there are physicians trying to sell snake oil. There are business people in all fields guilty of that mistake. The next time you visit a physician you trust, notice the care with which they take your history. See how they probe for severity when you ask about a condition. Those same methods that build your trust in them, will serve you well in building trust with your clients. Almost all of their questions can be applied to business situations – Though you probably don’t want to tell your client to turn their head to the side and cough.

The next time you meet with a potential client, remember to leave the meeting understanding if their condition warrants your treatment. If you handle it properly, you might earn a bit more than a $20 copay.

It’s Your Turn

What other great questions do physicians ask that can apply to your business?