Last year I got a cold that ended up turning into a painful ear infection. My doctor took one look in my ear and said she wouldn’t be surprised if my eardrum ruptured (it did on the drive home). In addition to rest and TLC from my family, she prescribed antibiotics and asked me which pharmacy I use.
Uh huh.

Nice story, Alison. What’s your point?

Did you read that exchanges as a business development transition? I didn’t.prescriptive selling  And yet, looked at through a different lens, I hired my doctor to provide advisory services (the medical appointment wherein she diagnosed my illness) and I then agreed to an additional, follow-on solution that cost me additional money (the prescription) without hesitation.

Your clients think the same of you as I do of my doctor… you’re the specialist who can diagnose the problem, propose the solution, and make it happen. And your clients will be as naturally inclined to follow your lead as I was to tell my doctor which pharmacy I use and pick up the prescription.

So, what can we learn form this?

What if you start thinking of yourself as the doctor and believing that your clients WANT your help and will GLADLY listen to and pay you for it?  You’d sell more advisory services, is what I think!

You have perspective on your clients’ businesses that their owners don’t have because of your years of education and experience in your field. (SIDE NOTE: I think that advisors forget this because your firm is full of smart people whose knowledge overlaps with yours – but 99%+ of the US population doesn’t know as much as you do about your areas of specialization.) Clients can TRULY benefit from your ideas.

Did you notice that my doctor recommended antibiotics and then swiftly moved to the next step by asking me where I wanted to pick them up? My motivation for writing this diatribe is that I have seen so many professional service advisors shy away from moving from problem to solution in one meeting for fear of seeming like a salesperson. You’ll know that a client needs help with outsourced accounting to clean-up their books, or disability insurance to protect their family, or a better time tracking system for their employees. Is your next step to give light to the issue and start to make that solution happen, or do you mention the issue and beneath your breath mumble that someone in the firm could get involved, leaving it in their hands to think about and maybe come back to you later? WAY too often, I see the latter and, in that case, both the client and the advisor are worse off.

Prescriptive selling is the process of identifying an issue, recommending a best course of action, and progressing toward the solution all in one conversation.

Oomph…. I can feel the resistance coming through the computer screen… Alison, this can’t work. Your analogy of an ear infection is too simple to translate to the complicated and expensive services we provide. There are multiple decision makers, it costs thousands of dollars — but, but, but.

OK! I hear you. My analogy is not cancer and the myriad of complicated health care options. I mean, even I knew the solution to my ear infection was antibiotics, I just couldn’t get them on my own. In return, can you agree that many times your clients have problems with somewhat obvious answers that they can’t move past on their own too? Maybe they need KPIs and a dashboard, or tax planning, or a financial plan. The prescriptive model works well for those circumstances where the client understands that your proposed plan is the logical next step.  In these circumstances you take responsibility for ushering the client toward what is best for them.

Even when your clients have complex issues, I think prescriptive selling has a place. Doctors have been knocked lately for giving patients too much data and too many options without weighing in on which course of action is best (maybe there’s a general scare of malpractice these days?). When big projects arise, be willing to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces, and to lead the client from one step to the next while keeping the big picture in mind.

Take me, for example…. My clients don’t hire me so we can have esoteric conversations about marketing. They hire me so I can prescribe a plan and help us to take actions that will help them reach their goals.

Anyway! That’s what’s been on my mind lately. I hope you find it compelling, and that you might even be willing to give it a try. Let’s keep talking! Reach out any time!

Oh, and Happy Halloween!



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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.