Solution Selling Essentials: Diagnosing Buyer Pain

Parts of this post adapted from the Solution Selling Fieldbook (2005, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 978-0071456074) by Eades, Touchstone and Sullivan.

Imagine for a moment that you have come down with the flu. You feel terrible. You go to your doctor to find some relief. What would you think if your doctor conducted only a cursory examination, asked you no questions, and then threw a prescription at you, saying you’ll probably feel better soon? How confident would you be in that doctor’s diagnosis?

At best, your doctor may have guessed right, and you might get better. At worst, your doctor may be totally wrong, and your illness could develop into something serious, perhaps even life-threatening.

Shoddy diagnosis often leads to poor results. Lawyers call this malpractice.

Unfortunately, we see a lot of malpractice in the sales profession, too. Many salespeople do a poor job diagnosing buyers’ real problems, and as a result, they can prescribe the wrong solutions, or at worst, fail to convince customers that their solutions could be of any benefit at all.

It’s hard for buyers to take action without first having a vision of what to do to solve their problem. The salesperson that accurately diagnoses a buyer’s critical business issues or potential missed opportunity — their “pain” — and who then helps the buyer to create a vision of a solution, most often wins the business.

A sales professional who doesn’t diagnose their buyer’s pain, and then help the buyer to visualize how their capabilities are going to help, unwittingly puts themselves in the position of being just another salesperson. This type of salesperson brings little or no value to the prospective buyer. Like a doctor that just throws pills at his patients without diagnosing them, salespeople that don’t diagnose customer pains are guilty of sales malpractice.

Diagnose before you prescribe

If a buyer doesn’t trust your diagnosis, they won’t trust your prescription. So, what does a good buyer diagnosis look like?

A diagnostic questioning model that serves as a road map for consultative conversations with buyers can be of help. Here are the components of a good diagnostic model:

Three types of diagnostic questions

Salespeople should ask three types of questions when diagnosing customer pain. Each type of question solicits different kinds of information, and all are necessary to develop a thorough understanding to the buyer’s critical business issues of potential missed opportunities:

Three kinds of diagnostic exploration

Using open, control and confirming questions, sales professionals should explore three types of information in their diagnosis of a buyer’s pain:

You can pull the three types of questions and the three kinds of exploration together into a repeatable model for diagnostic conversations with buyers — we call this the 9-Block Vision Processing Model:


The Vision Processing Model provides a useful framework for a thorough diagnostic, consultative discussion with a buyer.  If executed successfully, the seller understands the reasons for the buyer’s critical business issues, the impact those issues are having on the buyer and their organization, and the kinds of capabilities needed to solve the buyer’s problem.  More importantly, the Vision Processing Model also helps buyers to develop a clear vision of a potential solution — one that favors the capabilities that you offer.

In future posts to this blog, we’ll explore the Vision Processing Model in more detail, and provide some examples of how to execute it well.

Good luck and good selling!

If your organization needs help with diagnosing buyer pain using Solution Selling, we can help – contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to


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