- What is a prescriptive sales process?
- The fallacy of “traditional sales,” (and why prescriptive selling is better)
- The problem with traditional sales is that it makes buying hard, prescriptive selling solves that.
- What prescriptive selling looks like:
- To get started with prescriptive sales, define your customer and your solution before you ever meet them.
- Then you find people who meet your customer’s description…
- …and prescribe your offer through a confident sales conversation.
- The prescriptive sales process will work for you
We recently worked with a doctor. She helps patients with testosterone deficiency and has new, innovative techniques. Her approach makes treatment more manageable and effective, but it involves a cost. So she wanted to learn how to “sell” her treatments to her patients.
It turns out, though, that she didn’t need much help. Why not? Because the way a specialist doctor prescribes a treatment is actually the most powerful sales method there is.
It’s called prescriptive selling, which entails applying specialist thinking to business.
What is a prescriptive sales process?
Prescriptive selling focuses you on delivering a specific solution to a specific type of customer. Start by specifying your prospect, the problem you solve for them and the specific solution you offer to solve that problem. When talking to your prospect, your sales conversation “prescribes” the solution, and you make an offer. You don’t convince your prospect you prescribe a specific solution to their specific problem.
Prescriptive selling puts you on the same side of the negotiating table as your prospect. You end up working together to solve problems rather than the traditional sales approach of convincing the prospect to buy.
Research and our experience show that this is a powerful sales strategy that benefits the seller and the buyer. It’s easy to see why; prescriptive selling puts you on the same side of the negotiating table as your prospect. It positions you as an expert offering a solution, like a doctor, rather than a salesperson pushing a product.
This post describes the predictive sales method, how to get started, and how to use it for you.
(Free tool to get started, the Irresistible Value Statement template, download here.)
The fallacy of “traditional sales,” (and why prescriptive selling is better)
What we call “traditional sales” is a process of fitting the product (or service — we don’t differentiate) to the needs of the prospect.
Doing so usually involves asking lots of questions to identify the “sales pain” and then packaging a solution so that it appears to address that pain. The underlying idea is that you can sell anything to anybody; you only have to know what their sales pain is and show how you solve it.
The analogy we use for this comes from used car sales. The head of a family of four shows up at the dealership trying to push a two-seater jalopy. The salesperson asks about this person’s life, gets into details, makes friends, creates obligations, and eventually convinces the head of the family that the two-seater is precisely the right purchase.
We hear this process all the time. One way to identify it is when people say, “I listen to your needs and put together a solution around your needs.” That gives the impression of a tailored solution that will address the buyer’s specific issues.
In reality, though, this salesperson is saying, “I don’t know. I’ll go figure it out for you.”
Or, in used car salesman terms, “I have a two-seater jalopy. I’m going to figure out how to make it work for your family of 4.”
The problem with traditional sales is that it makes buying hard, prescriptive selling solves that.
Nobody wants to make buying hard, but almost everybody does it. It comes inherently.
The myth is that tailoring a solution to the customer is better and easier for them. But it isn’t. It makes customers think. They have to describe their needs, imagine a solution, work with the provider to define a scope, and manage the solution — all things they don’t want to do.
Sellers think they are being responsive, but buyers perceive it as complicated and confusing…and confusion makes sales harder.
Research conducted by CEB (now Gartner) and published in the Harvard Business Review figured this out. They found that a “responsive approach typically depressed purchase ease,” while “a proactive, prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86%.” Prescriptive selling increases the ease of purchase.
Oh, and importantly, they also found that suppliers who make the buying process easier are 62% more likely to make a sale.
On that, I have to disagree with the researchers. Prescriptive selling is many times more effective in our experience. We get 3-5 times more results in our business through prescriptive sales. Our Irresistible Sales and Marketing Masterclass results show that our clients get similar results (but we don’t have publishable statistics yet).
The researchers also found that “customers who complete a prescriptive, easy sales process are less likely to regret their purchase or speak negatively of the supplier, and are more likely to repurchase than customers in conventional sales interactions.”
Our experience aligns with their findings on this one precisely.
What prescriptive selling looks like:
Consider a simple scenario, hiring someone to build a website.
The responsive approach asks you lots of questions:
- What do you like?
- What do you want it for?
- What technologies do you want?
- How often do you want to update it?
- What can you afford? What is your budget?
Many providers will get technical and make the buyer try to figure out what they are talking about.
A prescriptive selling approach goes something like this:
- “Well, for people in your industry trying to do what you want to do, the best website looks like this, built on WordPress. It should generate four leads a month, and you will need to post four times a week. It will cost $15,000 plus $2,500 a month for content.”
Which is easier to buy?
Often when I present this example, people raise a price concern.
They don’t want to tell their prospects what the price is in case it won’t fit with their budget. But that makes no sense: if you need $15,000 to make the right website, why even talk to someone who can only afford $5,000? They aren’t your customer. Better to learn that early and move on.
Putting this in doctor or used car salesperson terms, it looks something like this:
While the used car salesperson tries to convince you that they are what you need, the prescriptive sales approach focuses only on the problem you solve.
Our client, the one selling testosterone treatments, does not try to convince anybody that they need testosterone supplements. She tests their blood and assesses their symptoms. Only when their symptoms and bloodwork confirm that the patient has the problem her innovative technology solves does she prescribe the technology.
That is a powerful sales technique, and it will work for you too.
To get started with prescriptive sales, define your customer and your solution before you ever meet them.
This is counterintuitive to most entrepreneurs, but it is critical.
Get clear about who your prospective customer is. Start by identifying your best and favorite clients. If you don’t have any clients, define your ideal client.
Yes, I know this is hard. Think of it this way: you are doing the work your prospect would otherwise have to do. Doing it in advance makes the process easier and less confusing for them, increasing their probability of buying.
Make this about the person, not about the business. Remember, a business can never buy. A business only exists on paper. So, get crystal clear about the person who is buying your services.
The more specific, the better. Doctors have specialties; what’s yours? You cannot target “small businesses” or even “owners of small businesses.” These are way too broad. Instead, you might target:
A middle-aged male CEO who spends way too much time in the office trying to figure out his website. He likes technology and can easily get sucked into it, but it isn’t his business. He works too hard and isn’t getting results from his website. He knows it needs to be better but doesn’t know how to make it so. He sells professional services, has two employees, and wants to grow his business. He reads books by Mike Michalovicz and Seth Godin.
This is probably still too broad; we find that our avatars get longer and more specific over time.
Read more about creating your avatar here.
You also want to get specific about the problem you solve for them. In this case, I am sticking with the website example, so the problem might be that this avatar needs leads and a digital presence that drives those leads to his business. Therefore, he needs a website that ranks on Google and a sales-creating process underlying the website.
Then you find people who meet your customer’s description…
Once you know who they are, you start finding them. Instead of talking to everyone you possibly can, you look only for this avatar. You can do this by asking your friends, contacts, or colleagues if they know anybody who meets your avatar’s description or has the problem you solve.
You also want to find places where your avatar hangs out. Where do they congregate? Go there and describe your avatar and the problem you solve.
As you get better and more detailed, you can enhance your marketing, take out ads and reach more people who are your specific target client.
…and prescribe your offer through a confident sales conversation.
The next step in prescriptive sales is to have your sales conversation and make your offer. The conversation does not involve the kind of endless inquiry that drives people crazy and makes them wish they were anywhere else, doing anything other than talking to you.
The prescriptive sales conversation goes like this:
- Problem: talk about the problem you solve and make sure they nod and agree that this is the right problem.
- Accentuate the problem: dig in here and talk about how the problem gets worse.
- Solution: describe the ideal solution. What do they need? Do this in a way that doesn’t involve you, like a doctor saying, “this is the medicine that treats your ailment.”
- Transformation: discuss what the change looks like. Help them see what their life could be like with the solution.
- Offer: make your offer to deliver the solution.
The prescriptive sales process will work for you
In teaching Irresistible Sales and Marketing Masterclass, we have repeatedly seen how powerful the prescriptive sales method is. With a few tweaks to their sales conversations and approach, dozens of entrepreneurs have gained confidence, increased prices, and grown their businesses while reducing the effort involved.
Following these steps will open a world of sales results to you, and it will give you confidence, make sales easier, and unlock a flood of new sales.
Ready to start prescriptive selling? Download our irresistible value statement template, it’s free and it is the first step to creating your prescriptive sales process.