On a recent morning my girlfriend was deep in thought. She turned to me and asked, “What’s the difference between giving advice and making a suggestion?” Uh oh.

“Um, which one am I about to get, honey?”

She laughed and said, “I’m serious. What do you think the difference is?”

I smiled. “What an incredibly great question!”

At first glance, one might think they’re the same. They’re not. There is a subtle distinction which can make all the difference in the world in successful selling.

One only need look at the optometric and optical forums on social media where everyone has an opinion and cannot wait to give advice. In fairness, sometimes that’s exactly what is asked for. Yet, when it’s not, advice is not only given anyway, it’s given with such passion, one feels there are no other options. In other words, comes off as harsh. I’m not pointing fingers here, I’ve been guilty of this too.

Whether they’re conscious of it or not, your customers are coming into your office looking for your advice.”

Thank goodness, I’m dating someone smarter than me who posed this question so I can make the proper adjustment. I’ve giving this a lot of thought and discovered:

Advice, when not specifically asked for, can ignite someone else’s defense mechanisms. We’ve all heard the phrase, and some of you may have even used it, “Well, thanks but when I need your advice, I’ll ask for it!”

Yet, here is the challenge: Whether they’re conscious of it or not, your customers are coming into your office looking for your advice. Still, unless they literally ask you, “What do you think I should do,” don’t give them advice. Hell, even if they ask exactly that, don’t.

What to do then? Well, may I make a suggestion? I propose you soften your language to turn your expert advice into a suggestion.

How? I’ll leave that up to you since each of us has our own style of speech. With that said, I’ll float the idea that you look to tailor your language based on the subtle difference between “giving advice” and “making a suggestion.”

I deem “advice” as something one can take or leave, in an all-or-nothing kind of framework. “If you take my advice, everything will be fine. If you don’t, you’ll most likely suffer the consequences.”

I see a “suggestion” as something to be considered. Something that’s given so someone can give it some deep thought. It’s giving the customer the opportunity to make a choice. A choice which is best for them based on the expertise of the one (you) making the suggestion. How great is that?

Robert Bell is the founder of EyeCoach, a Sales & Marketing Practice. He is one of the most inspirational, innovative and effective speakers/trainers in the eyecare industry. His workshop,“Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only Selling” is highly coveted. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This article originally appeared in the April 2018 edition of INVISION.   

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