Talk about the Problem First, Not the Solution!

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Business Man & Woman

I happened to attend a round table discussion recently, that was put on by the Social Executive Council, hosted by Judy Mod, who is one of the Principals at Social Gastronomy. The discussion centered on today’s buying process, from the buyers’ perspective. The bottom line of the discussion was that the key to success for sales people and companies, trying to sell their products and solutions, is in understanding the market differences in buyer problems, and how they can uniquely solve those problems for the buyer. While I was there, I happened to reconnect with Matt Rosenhaft, the other principal with Social Gastronomy, and a longtime friend and advisor.

Matt and I got to talking about how sales organizations, especially ones who sell technological solutions, seem to put the cart before the horse and start out talking about their solution first, hoping the buyer will connect the dots to their pain or problem. So we got into a discussion about Chronic Pain versus Acute Problem and it went something like this:

There’s a difference between chronic pain and acute pain is, chronic pain is, it’s just painful and I live with it, acute pain gets to the point where I’ve got to do something about it. So, what we all do, even me, when I had knee pain, was I treated it with Advil for a week. I just treated the symptoms. But, there was an acute problem underneath it that was causing the pain that I couldn’t diagnose, and it didn’t go away on its own.

If you think about chronic pain in sales, it’s the stuff we live with every day. It’s not until it becomes acute, and I know it’s fixable, that I start to have expectations about how to figure out what the underlying problem is, so that I can fix the underlying problem, and alleviate the symptomatic or chronic pain. The challenge we’ve got in sales is, that we’ve got to get the buyer to stop thinking that they can live with the chronic pain and be willing to find and fix what the underlying, root cause is.

So at first, the buyer says: “That’s the way we’ve always done it here, and it’s always painful, and my job has been to live with the pain and just push along, until there comes a point where I realize that there is actually a fixable problem underneath, that can alleviate that chronic pain”. Since buyers are so saturated with solution messaging today, they’ve tuned out everything outside of that. Sales people have to lead with the problem that they know buyers are going out looking to fix, otherwise they won’t get their attention.

What’s happening today is that the buyer is empowered to do their own research and they’re doing their own problem analysis. If your company doesn’t show up in their problem analysis research, then you don’t get invited into the solution conversation. Or even worse, you may solve the problem, but they chose the wrong solution, because they don’t know that you exist, and they don’t know your approach exists.

So, what sales people have to do is start from the beginning and make the assumption that the buyer is an unconscious incompetent (in other words, they don’t even know that they don’t know), and you have to take them from “hey, here is the pain that you’re feeling”, to “here’s the underlying problem, and here’s why, and here’s how this is going to be solved, with our unique approach”.

You have to make it as simple as you can about the case for the need, before you make the case for the approach and before you start saying anything about the technology.

Technology companies start with the technology and make the assumption that buyers can figure the rest out in the sales process. But, the buyers are saying, show me the need, show me the approach and show me the technology alignment. I want to see that on your website, or in my research out in the market, with people I trust, or I’m not going to sit and talk to your sales rep.

The market has changed; buyers have become much more empowered. If you don’t make your technology relevant to the buyers’ problem solving, you’re not relevant to the buyer.

What we’re doing now, is learning how to understand the buyers’ problem and the adoption process they go through in solving that problem. Because, the adoption problem is not about product adoption, it’s really about how buyers measure success. Adoption to the buyer is the buyers’ recognition of pain, all the way through the resolution of the underlying problem. So, the way sales organizations have been measuring customer experience in the market today is, how well did I set expectations and how well did I deliver against those expectations?

Buyers measure success based on how well you resolved their problem, not how well you met their expectations. Most of the challenges buyers have today are not with the product or solution, it’s with getting their own internal team to agree to what the systematic pain is, within different departments, and different groups, and getting agreement as to what the underlying root cause problem is that maps to solving the pain. Most people treat the symptoms, rather than do deep problem analysis.

So, by helping the buyer come to an agreement as to what the underlying problem is, before you start introducing the complexity of your solution and helping them come to agreement around the problem, you are actually streamlining your sales process. Because you’re doing problem agreement and problem identification, and then by providing a concrete problem, it’s easier to map your solution to that problem. Talk about and get agreement to the problem, before you start selling and mapping your solution to solve that problem, and see how much more successful you will be. At least that’s the way Matt Rosenhaft and I see it, what say you?

  1. […] in their own way. They very often hinder the buying process rather than further it along. In an April 2014 blog post, Chuck Carey had this to say, “Buyers measure success based on how well you resolved their […]