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I once traveled with an insurance salesperson who was meeting with a well-qualified potential client. After a few pleasantries, the salesperson asked a couple of minor questions and then began hammering the prospect with tons of information regarding insurance options. After 10 minutes, I could see the buyers eyes begin to glaze over.

Thats when I stepped in and asked the prospect, What are you really trying to accomplish here? Whats most important to you? The clients relief was palpable. It brought home to me a timeless truth about selling: Buyers dont care how much you know until they know how much you care.

But I really do care, you may protest. And I believe you. Most salespeople care deeply about their clients. Its just that many of us develop bad habits that create the perception of someone who cares only about making the sale.

Buyer suspicion is high, and for good reason. After all, havent you been pressured to buy something by a salesperson who hasnt taken the time to make you feel understood?

Even the best salespeople sometimes offer solutions before they fully understand all aspects of the prospects situation. And its understandable. Why? Because we live and work in a nanosecond society, which is all about moving fast and saving time.

Potential buyers expect you to have the information they need now, and if you dont provide it, they will go elsewhere. On the other hand, too much information can easily overwhelm the buyer, causing him or her toyou guessed it!go elsewhere.

In the face of this information quandary, what do you do? Im convinced that being a sales superstar is all about diagnosing. You must sift through the information thats relevant to the prospects specific needs, then use this research to prescribe a well-tailored, customized solution.

Of course, you know this already. The key is remembering to walk this delicate tightrope at the critical moment. Heres a visualization device I suggest to clients: Think of yourself as a Doctor of Selling.

Thats right. Picture yourself in a white lab coat with a stethoscope and an encyclopedia of knowledge in your head and a wealth of appropriate treatment options at your fingertips.

Physicians know they must clarify the patients problem and conduct a pragmatic diagnostic process before they can prescribe any treatment. Doctors of Selling follow an identical process: They diagnose potential buyers fully to uncover any needs for the salespersons product or service. Through careful questioning, they assess buyer problems and areas of desired growth, then lead the buyer to recognize those unfulfilled needs themselves.

The primary diagnostic tool of the sales doctor is questioning. Therefore, you must make sure that your questioning and listening abilities are top notch.

Lets admit the truth: Too many salespeople believe the gift of gab makes them successful. They overwhelm, intimidate, and, subsequently, alienate potential buyers.

But top sales professionalsthose who truly earn the title Doctor of Sellingknow that the art of questioning and listening are far more important than the dubious ability to talk them into buying.

Sales doctors practice the 70/30 rule. They talk and ask questions 30% of the time and then listen intently to their prospects 70% of the time. To make the most of the 30% question time period, I advise using the RPM Questioning model: Reality, Pain-Gain and Magnification.

Reality Questions. These questions assess the situation and perceptions of the potential buyer. Theyre generally used at the start of a face-to-face engagement to gain background information, establish rapport and gain credibility.

Pain-Gain Questions. These questions uncover the potential buyers need level as it relates to your product or service. Pain-gain questions reveal the buyer has a hidden need or a visible need, which, in turn, indicates the buyers degree of receptivity. How motivated are they to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be?

Magnification Questions. These rarely used questions help buyers see all the negative ramifications of staying with the status quo. Sales doctors use questions to magnify the problems the prospect will experience if they dont purchase.

Magnification questions also help prospects visualize all the benefits of resolving their problem or experiencing their desired growth if they purchase your product or service. In short, these questions magnify the buyers problem and magnify your product as their best solution.

Do you see the elegant science inherent in this method? Of course you do! Youre a doctor, after all!

, president of Chicago, Ill.-based Inc., is a speaker, sales trainer, coach and corporate consultant. His e-mail address is info@georgeludwig.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, August 19, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.