Written by Sean McPheat |
11 June, 2019
If you’ve ever had to visit the doctor with a complaint, you will know the processes and procedures they go through to diagnose it and prescribe the answer.
They have studied for many years to become the doctor you see before you and they don’t make rash or early decisions, because they know the repercussions would be dangerous, if not fatal.
When you consider the methods they use to get to the heart of the patient’s problems, it’s unsurprising that they are able to get the diagnoses correct in the vast majority of cases. So, it would be appropriate to take a look at the thinking processes they go through in order to make their decisions. Is there something we can learn from this approach in our sales meetings?
Well, it would be good to consider how a doctor thinks, and there’s no better a person to learn from than Jerome Groopman, who is Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, and author of five books.
In 2007, he wrote the book ‘How Doctors Think’ and I believe there’s a lot we in sales can learn from it. Groopman explains that no one can expect a physician to be infallible, as medicine is an uncertain science, and every doctor sometimes makes mistakes in diagnosis and treatment. But the frequency and seriousness of those mistakes can be reduced by “understanding how a doctor thinks and how he or she can think better”
I’ve taken two or three ideas from his book and show how we can apply the same thinking processes in our sales meetings to get the same kind of results doctors achieve.
1) The fallacy of logic
In the book, Groopman reports a discussion with Dr. James E. Lock, chief of cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. During their conversation, Groopman asks the world-renowned cardiologist about the times in his career when he made mistakes in patient treatment.
To the query, Lock gives the cryptic response, “All my mistakes have the same things in common.”
The recommendations he made were based on a purely logical understanding of cardiac physiology. The crucial point of Lock’s discussion came with his confession:
“Impeccable logic doesn’t always suffice. My mistake was that I reasoned from first principles when there was no prior experience. I turned out to be wrong because there are variables that you can’t factor in until you actually do it. And you make the wrong recommendation, and the patient doesn’t survive. I didn’t leave enough room for what seemed like minor effects. The proposed treatment is very sound logic. But it’s wrong…These children developed right heart failure and clinically they became worse. There are aspects to human biology and human physiology that you just can’t predict. Deductive reasoning doesn’t work for every case. Sherlock Holmes is a model detective, but human biology is not a theft or a murder where all the cues can add up neatly” (Italics ours)
What can we learn from this?
Very often, we think that it’s logical our customer or prospect should make a decision based on our features and benefits, along with what they will do for the customer. If we make the wrong recommendation, we might not cause deaths, but it might not consider all the eventualities that may occur for the customer.
Impeccable logic doesn’t always work for us. We need to consider what else might be driving the customer’s decision. It’s not always neat and tidy. Emotional connections may play a part. Relationships could be more important than logical benefits.
As a sales consultant, your thoughts should be aimed at determining the overall results the customer is looking for from your solution. Just like a doctor would recommend a different solution that doesn’t always seem the most logical, we must check out what options may be available and decide if logic is the biggest determining factor in making the solution work in this instance.
2) Disregard of uncertainty
Groopman recalls that in situations where he had been hesitant to take clinical action based on incomplete data, it had been wisest at times to follow the advice of his mentor Dr. Linda A. Lewis: “Don’t just do something, stand there.” Groopman asserts that there exist situations in which inaction may be the wisest course of action.
What can we learn from this?
Sometimes, not making a decision is better than metaphorically putting a finger in the air, or winging it.
Some situations demand you to stop and consider the options available. ‘Decide in haste, repent in leisure’ is still apropos in many cases. Hesitancy isn’t always a bad thing when the data is incomplete.
You want the customer to make the right decision for their own business as well as their own personal reasons. If it takes another meeting to ascertain the progress a customer should make, then it may be the right decision to hold off rather than make an uncertain journey.
3) Suggestions for patients
Groopman goes further than just talking about the doctor’s thought patterns. Sometimes, we need to look from the other perspectives.
Patients themselves have to be involved in the solution-focused discussions. By doing this, patients are more committed to any decisions that are made. Groopman gives the following tools that patients can use to help reduce or rectify cognitive errors:
What else could it be? This combats the satisfaction of search bias and leading the doctor to consider a broader range of possibilities.
Is there anything that doesn’t fit? Combatting confirmation bias and again leading the doctor to think broadly.
Is it possible I have more than one problem? This is because multiple simultaneous disorders do exist and frequently cause confusing symptoms.
Retell the story from the beginning. Details that were omitted in the initial telling may be recalled, or different wording or the different context may make clues more salient. (This is most appropriate when the condition has not responded to treatment or there is other reason to believe that a misdiagnosis is possible.)
What can we learn from this?
The questions that Groopman asks in that summary can be tweaked and adapted for us to ask in sales meetings.
Questions like ‘What else could work in this situation? How could we adapt our solution to work just as well?’ will aid us in finding answers we hadn’t thought of.
Similarly, broad thinking and finding multiple simultaneous options can help us search for new ideas that often will work in differing situations.
And by retelling the story from the beginning, we help customers revisit their current situation and become clear on what the solution should be.
There’s a lot to learn from how doctors think things through. You’ll know by the way they ask questions that they are digging deep into your pains. They won’t make a diagnosis until they are clear on all aspects of the problem. They will only prescribe an answer when they have covered all eventualities.
This is a good model to follow when we are working with prospects and customers. If we can show just a small part of the thinking process a doctor uses to get to a solution, we will provide not only the right solution for us as a company, but most importantly for our customer’s future.