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To Be Prescriptive, You Have to Diagnose First

by Hank Barnes  |  May 16, 2017  |  2 Comments

This weekend, my daughter graduated from Med School.  My wife and I are very proud of her and the activities got me thinking about the recent emphasis on prescriptive approaches.  Whether that be prescriptive analytics or prescriptive sales approaches, the idea is being touted as one possible solution to information overload and complexity.   I agree with all of that— in principle.


But I am also concerned, when thinking about this from a tech industry perspective and how many organizations continue to market and sell their products.

To put it simply, prescriptive approaches don’t work without diagnosing the problem first.   And many marketing and sales teams are weak at diagnosis.   I continue to see collateral, Web copy, and presentations that lead with the products or services being offered.    Imagine if you went into a doctor’s office and they said, “Here is a great medication.  It can get rid of your headaches.  I’m prescribing it now.”  But the catch is, they offer this without any discussion of why you are there.    Maybe you have a pulled muscle or a rash.    Doctor’s don’t prescribe without diagnosing.

The risk we have with the recommendations to get prescriptive is the continued search for shortcuts.    Once teams are trained, they’ll start leading with the prescriptions, without diagnosing first.   Dave Brock talks about getting contacted and being told, “Your business is underperforming, we can solve all your problems.”  But when he asks how they know he is underpeforming, the silence is deafening.    They  have not diagnosed–and really don’t know how to do it.

Buying is really complicated in today’s markets (last week there was a lot of talk about a MarTech landscape that had 5000 vendors!).   We need to help make it easy for customers to buy.   Prescriptive approaches can do that–they demonstrate confidence and clear plans for success.  But don’t ever forget that you have to diagnose for the prescription to be relevant and accurate.

I hope my daughter doesn’t prescribe before she diagnoses!

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: marketing  prescriptive  sales  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
4+ years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on To Be Prescriptive, You Have to Diagnose First

  1. Gordon Hogg says:

    I believe prescription without diagnosis is called malpractice.

    Whenever I see my doctor and tell him what I’ve read online, learned about my symptoms and believe that I need as a fix (the self-educating customer), he always say’s “that’s great. I’m glad your interested and paying attention to your body. Now, tell me when you first notice you were having trouble”.

    He does his own diagnosis regardless of what I tell him.

    I think most sales people would accept my diagnosis (the customer) and immediately tell me how their pill (the product) is ideally positioned to solve my problem.

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