Sell like an ophthalmologist

A recent experience at the ophthalmologist makes a good case study of how to sell.

Sell like an ophthalmologist
Photo by Antoni Shkraba

Business has slowed down lately and so I've had a lot of time to think about sales and marketing. I had an interesting experience when I went to the ophthalmologist the other day. Colorado law requires that to renew your driver's license you have to visit an eye doctor. I went into the appointment just wanting to satisfy the state and partially my own curiosity - just to make sure everything was ok. I had no intention of buying glasses and yet I walked out with a pair of glasses. It was an easy sell for the ophthalmologist. I started to ask myself why and what can I learn from this.

Be an established expert

The first thing the ophthalmologist has going for him is that he is the expert and I know very little about vision. He has credentials. There's a plaque on the wall from some medical school. He speaks very authoritatively and with confidence. He uses very specific language. The other thing he does is that he uses questions to show his expertise. He starts telling me I have a slight astigmatism and he asks "How is your night vision?" When I say it sucks, he then goes on to say "That makes sense" and then explains why that is related to having astigmatism. Only an expert would make that connection, or so my non-expert brain thinks.

As LabVIEW programmers, we are the experts on automation and programming. We have to demonstrate that to the customer. We can do that in a similar way to the ophthalmologist. We can have certifications like CLA, CLED, Scrum Master, etc. We can speak authoritatively and with confidence. We can use questions as a way to show off our expertise. Questioning customers about their current processes can uncover holes and lead to more questions about some of the consequences of those holes. The whole time we are conditioning the customer to think of us as the expert.

Show the before and after

The real selling point for the ophthalmologist is the ability to clearly show before and after. You sit in front of this machine and stare at a chart on the wall and it's slightly blurry. The ophthalmologist turns a few dials and suddenly the chart is in perfect focus. The difference is amazing and it's very easy to see. It's a very clear value proposition from the opthalmologist - Do you want blurry vision or clear vision?

Showing the before and after is a bit of a challenge for LabVIEW Programmers and Consultants. We can't directly show our customers the future. There's no dial we can turn to show a clear "after" picture. We have to be creative and get them to use their imagination. Here we can use some questions to help guide them. "Currently it takes 3 hours for you to do a build. What do you do during that time? What would it be like if a build only took 20 minutes? What would you do with all that extra time? Would you build more often? How would that quicker feedback affect your process?" or "Currently you are manually taking measurements and writing down the results? How long does that take? Do you ever end up with typos? What if it was automatic so that you just pressed a button and the readings were recorded immediately with no typos?"

Prove that you can achieve the after

It's one thing to clearly show the client the before and after. That's important, and the client also has to believe that you can deliver on the after. Again this is really easy for the ophthalmologist. He's not getting us to imagine the future, he can simply show it to us by turning some dials. It's very easy for us to believe that he can take those dial settings and create some glasses or contacts for us that do the exact same thing. We've seen this before. We're comfortable with the process.

For LabVIEW Programmers and Consultants, it is a lot harder. We've got our clients to imagine a better future and that's great! How do they know that we can actually deliver that future? It's easy to say things could be better. Anybody can do that. NI does that all the time. How do you actually get there? Is it even possible? This is where we need some evidence. We need to show our clients that we've done this kind of transformation before. This is where testimonials, white papers, and case studies come in. Show that we've delivered similar results for another customer and this potential client will be more likely to believe that we can help them.

Help the Customer come to Terms with Reality

The other part of the ophthalmolgist's selling strategy is getting people to accept reality. For clients who already wear glasses or contacts, that's not too hard. I had never worn either. I had to come to terms with the fact that I'm getting old and my eyes don't work like they used to. I asked him if I was just supposed to wear the glasses at night and his reply was "You'll probably find you want to wear them all the time." He explained that I had been compensating. My near field of vision was quite fine. Staring at computers and reading books all seemed to work fine. That works in many cases, and sometimes you do need to clearly see things far away. I had been successful so far in life in spite of my vision issues. My eyesight had already changed, it was time for me to catch up.

Customers are also successful in spite of themselves. Their current way of working may be producing results, and that doesn't mean they are optimal or that they scale well. Companies grow and change and if we aren't careful processes don't keep up. Reminds me of the great book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There". As consultants we have to remind our customers that they've grown and that the market and the technology has changed and that perhaps it is time to revisit the way they've always done things, even if things currently appear to be working.