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Diagnose: The Desire to Understand

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
February 11, 2010

The fifth attribute and sales-related skill set is the ability to diagnose.

The ability to diagnose follows the ability to close only because the ability to obtain the commitment to explore a future relationship precedes the need to diagnose. After this initial commitment is obtained, future commitments require the ability to diagnose.

The ability to diagnose follows differentiation only because differentiation is often what allows you to obtain the first commitment. The ability to diagnose is often itself a form of differentiation.

The ability to diagnose follows the ability to prospect, because identifying potential relationships precedes the need to diagnose. But not always . . .

Often business acumen, which precedes the ability to diagnose, can be used to diagnose a prospect’s challenges and opportunities from news stories, press releases, or strategic threats. Salespeople with business acumen and the ability to diagnose challenges can use this knowledge as a prospecting tool to open relationships.

What is it to Diagnose?

To diagnose is to discover the cause of or nature of a problem. It is to recognize the signs, the symptoms, or the presence of something. To diagnose is to recognize something undesirable.

To Diagnose in Sales

To diagnose in sales is to recognize a gap between a prospect’s or client’s desired performance and actual performance. It is to understand the causes and nature of the problems and challenges. The ability to diagnose problems and challenges is the first step in closing the performance gap.

Great salespeople have the ability to ask questions that uncover their client’s problems and challenges, allowing them to utilize their business acumen to diagnose the problem.

They are naturally curious, and they use every sales encounter to gain an understanding of their client’s business. This curiosity results in an education and body of situational knowledge that allows them to recognize and identify not only their client’s problems, but also the underlying root causes of the problems and challenges.

Great salespeople hold off on making diagnosis simply because they recognize the symptoms. They postpone recommending a solution until they have fully diagnosed their client’s problems and challenges. This includes looking deeper than the symptoms, and meeting with the stakeholders, the decision-makers, and the decision-influencers to develop a fuller picture and a better understanding. This understanding allows the professional salesperson to make an accurate diagnosis before proposing a solution.

Before a great salesperson makes any recommendation, they ensure with their client that their diagnosis is in fact correct.

By diagnosing well, they professional salesperson develops the dissatisfaction that drives the client to take action, that helps create the framework for a solution, and that helps to build the vision of a better future outcome.

When the Ability to Diagnose is Missing

When the ability to diagnose is missing, the salesperson has trouble discovering the gap between potential performance and existing performance. They lack the ability to discover the underlying cause of the symptoms, if they recognize the symptoms at all.

When the ability to diagnose is missing, the salesperson is often missing the questioning skills that uncover the root cause of the prospect’s problems or challenges.

Often, the inability to diagnose is the result of a lack of curiosity and a strong desire to present their product or solution, instead of doing the more difficult work of building a deeper understanding.

The inability to diagnose is also felt by stakeholders in the client organization as neglect. They are ignored, and the salesperson doesn’t work to connect how the symptoms in one area of the company are connected to, caused by, or impacted by other factors in other parts of the company. This failure to diagnose well leads to huge gaps in the solution the salesperson presents, making it unacceptable to many stakeholders and members of the buying team.

Instead of building a full understanding on which to base a diagnosis, they present a common solution, whether it will improve the performance gap and provide the outcome the prospect needs or not.

When a salesperson lacks the ability to diagnose their prospect’s problems or challenges, they fail to understand or develop the dissatisfaction that drives the prospect to take action.

Without the ability to first diagnose, nothing the salesperson will present will fit the prospect’s true needs.


The ability to sell 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.


1. Do I have the ability to diagnose my prospect’s and client’s problems and challenges?

2. Do I have a curiosity that allows me to develop an education and a situational knowledge that serves as a platform from which to recognize and diagnose problems and challenges?

3. Do I work with all of the stakeholders in my prospect or client companies to understand how the symptoms of a problem in one area are related to activities in other areas?

4. Do I build a diagnosis based on the full understanding of the root causes, and not simply the presenting symptoms?

5. Do I patiently work to understand and diagnose before presenting a solution?

6. Do I work with my contacts to ensure my diagnosis is correct before proposing and executing a solution?

Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 11, 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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