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3 Ways to Improve Your Ability to Diagnose for Salespeople

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
March 6, 2010

To diagnose in sales is to be able to discover the root cause of your client’s business problem or challenge. It is the ability to recognize what is undesirable by the signs and the symptoms. But to diagnose is not to prescribe the cure—that is a very different outcome!

1. Suspend Your Judgment and Be Open To Exploring

The first way to improve your ability to diagnose is to learn to suspend your judgment. Just because you have seen the signs before, and just because you have been able to make an improvement for a client who shared these signs and symptoms, does not in any way suggest that what you have done before will work in this case. It might work, and it might not. It might need minor changes and modifications, and it might need to be scrapped for a whole new solution. You must be open to exploring.

To really perform a great diagnosis, you need to be able to stop yourself from the tendency to draw analogies from one set of circumstances to another long enough to make sure you really understand the root cause. The symptoms and the signs, the causes of the dissatisfaction, may be the same while having very different root causes.

In fact, you may have the right solution in mind. Your first assumption may be correct. But doing a great diagnosis requires you to develop the ability to suspend judgment until you fully understand what it is you are seeing and what it means. It means taking time to notice the distinctions and the nuances that differentiate two root causes that coincidentally share symptoms, and only determining the best way forward after having done so.

2. Remember That You Are Not Treating an Individual

In sales, we tend to talk about our clients by using their company name. It is almost like that company is an individual entity. And in some ways, it is. But a company is really a staggeringly complex number of parts and systems that are all interrelated. Problems in one area have way of spilling over into other areas.

That is why an excellent diagnosis considers the effect of the solution on the whole.

The dissatisfaction in an organization can be found, the symptoms identified, and the root causes discovered. But this doesn’t mean that the diagnosis is over and that it is time to present solutions. To be really great at diagnosis, you have to understand how your solution will impact the rest of the organization. When you make a change here, what happens over there? You need to be aware that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Like gravity, the law of unintended consequences is a hard law to break.

A doctor who did a poor diagnosis once prescribed me anti-convulsant drug. One of the primary side effects of the drug was that it caused kidney stones, and it was recommended that the drug not be given to patients who had a history of kidney stones. A familiarity with the side effects and a single question would have discovered that I had had a kidney stone removed in the past. Fortunately, I read the accompanying documentation.

Make sure your diagnosis extends to all parts of the organization before prescribing your solutions. Make sure you understand how what you will provide will impact other areas of the organization and that you make the adjustments necessary to ensure that you don’t improve something here by making something worse somewhere else.

This means taking time to understand. It means postponing your desire to sell your solution. It means being professional.

Remember that you are not treating a single entity. You are treating a complex array of interconnected systems.

3. Build a Diagnostic Tool

You can build a diagnostic tool of your own.

Make a list of the questions that you need to ask to not only identify the symptoms, but to get to the cause. Your questions need to confirm not only what you can visibly see and measure as the symptoms, but also what is the root cause of the symptoms.

  • Profit margins are down.
  • Customer service scores are too low.
  • Client churn is too high.
  • Shipping times are too long.

All of these are simply symptoms. To discover the root causes you have to continually track down the “Why?” And you have to keeping asking why, following the path wherever it leads you. Why are profit margins down? When did profit margins drop? What is causing them to be lower than you need them to be? What caused that change?

To do this work, you have to be a good detective, following the trail of evidence, asking the question “Why?”

If you have been in sales for any time at all, you have surely followed this path to discover that the root cause was something other than what you had originally believed. If you have been at this game a long time and you are completely honest, you can recall times when you discovered that you didn’t really know what the root cause was until after you installed your solution.

Make sure your questions don’t simply confirm that your solutions will work. Ask questions that confirm all of the areas where and why your solution may be wrong! This may help you prevent unintended consequences.

Make a list of the questions you need to ask to discover the root causes. Include questions that confirm that by providing a solution that improves the root cause that you improve the root cause and the symptoms. Questions like: “So if we were able to improve this, would it automatically improve profit margins?


Selling requires a strong ability to diagnose the client’s problems and challenges. By diagnosing their problems and challenges, and by developing a full understanding of their root causes, the professional salesperson can build a solution that perfectly matches the client’s needs, improving their performance and providing them with the outcome they desire. Follow these steps to improve your ability to diagnose!

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 6, 2010

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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