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The question at the crux of improving your sales is simple: why do people buy some things, but not buy others? What’s the difference?

I was reminded of the pervasiveness of this question when I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast featuring Atul Gawande.

One question that Gawande is tackling is related to selling your own expertise: why are some medical treatments widely and deeply adopted, and

Visible and Immediate Effect

Anesthesia

Tackling the invisible threat of germs.

It’s Gotta Be B

Sales Lessons From Doctors

The question at the crux of improving your sales is simple: why do people buy some things, but not buy others? What’s the difference?

I was reminded of the pervasiveness of this question when I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast featuring Atul Gawande. Gawande is an orthopedic surgeon, and he’s interested in selling the biggest and most important ideas to the medical profession as a whole.

You sell your services. But what if you were tasked with selling something so powerful that would actually save millions of lives over the course of history?

That’s exactly what’s at stake with antisepsis, which prevents infection. This has been around for a long time. But in 2002, the CDC released a study estimated 274,098 health care-associated infections, leading to 98,987 deaths.

So the question that Gawande is tackling is related to selling your own expertise: why are some medical treatments widely and deeply adopted, and others struggle to reach full and consistent adoption?

Visible and Immediate Effect

Treatments that are both visible and immediate have an advantage. With antisepsis, you can’t see germs being killed. The effect must be observed over long periods, and through data.

Compare that to another example that Gawande gave: Viagara. It’s both, well, visible and immediate.

One form of expertise that’s well-established is marketing services. The hard and lasting work of marketing is painstaking and slow. It’s about having something to say to a target audience, repeating it for years and in the right places, and continuously finding new ways to deliver the message. What I describe here is neither visible in terms of profit, nor immediate. But it’s valuable.

Compare that to a private message I got today on LinkedIn:

Are you interested in more leads? I help coaches like get 15-25 phone calls per month, all over LinkedIn.

No, I don’t want that – who wants 25 phone calls with unqualified prospects per month? – but certainly other people do. It’s both invisible and immediate.

There Has to Be a Double Benefit

In the episode, they compared antisepsis to anesthesia.

Before anesthesia, doctors had seconds or minutes to operate until the patient writhed in agony and couldn’t take it anymore.

After anesthesia, patients could sleep through the painful surgery, and doctors could operate for much longer periods of time, without the patient moving, and with far more precision.

Both doctor and patient benefited immensely.

With frequent hand washing (applying antisepsis), the doctor bears the cost while the patient bears the benefit. There’s a misalignment.

I think about this in my own business.

I shy away from things that may help me, but not my client.

Delivering early wins – like securing meetings, upselling existing clients, or generating leads where credibility is highest – serve to give a big double benefit and provide visible and immediate results. Everyone wins.

It Has to Be Easy, Not Painful

As consultants, we all face the reality that it probably won’t be easy to produce an outsized result.

But the easier it is, the faster people will adopt and stick to the solution.

For hand washing, there’s a lot of repetition. The job is never done. It needs to be repeated continuously, every day.

Strictly speaking, it may not be realistic to make things “easy” as a consultant, but certainly we can make them less painful.

Intervention, Not Prevention

The host of Freakonomics, Steven Dubner, observed that interventions performed better than preventions in terms of adoption.

I’d translate this simply: the more immediate, painful, and obvious the situation, the more likely someone is to seek treatment.

This is most obvious in our own health. We know that if we just ate right and exercised, we’d be healthy. But most of us don’t do that. Instead, many of us eat whatever we want and neglect exercise. Eventually we require an intervention like blood pressure medication or even surgery.

We’re Just People, People

Even in a field that comes with the authority and certitude of health care, sales must happen.

Even health care is not shielded from the way people make decisions to buy ideas and seek help.

That’s just the thing: it’s all about people. The same ideas and principles apply to health care, to consulting, and to just about anything else.

Notes