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Leaping To Solutions! Are We Solving The Right Problem?

by David Brock on July 22nd, 2010

Sales people are trained to be problem solvers — we ask questions, probe — once we find a problem we attack like a pit bull and don’t let go until we’ve wrestled the problem to the ground and gotten the order.

So what’s the problem with that?  Too often we leap to solutions before we understand what the “real problem” is.  It’s a real problem, I wrote about it in a post almost a year ago: “The Evolving Role Of The Sales Person–The Sales Person As Diagnostician”  It addresses the issue of sales people leaping to solutions and not solving the right problem.  Customers get frustrated with this approach, they complain, “they aren’t listening, they don’t understand my real issues.”

There’s another aspect of this problem — often, our customers leap to solutions.  Like sales people, business people are trained problem solvers–that’s what we learn in the university, and every aspect of our jobs reinforce that.  Customer are often certain they know their problems and tell the sales person, “this is what I need.”  And we tend to accept that and sell to that need.  The problem is they aren’t solving the right problem.

A friend of mine, Steve Bowles, had a great example of this.  He was meeting with the CEO of a small company, and the CEO said, “This is the issue I’m having with the sales organization and this is what I need you to do…”  And as CEO’s are prone to do, he said it with great authority and certainty.  Steve could have done what the CEO asked and gotten the order.  Instead, Steve did something else, he asked the question, “What do you think is causing this issue to happen with the sales organization?”  Steve resisted the temptation to take the leap with his customer, get the order, and provide the right solution to the wrong problem.  Instead, Steve decided to probe.  He wanted to understand if the CEO was describing the real problem or if there was an underlying issue.  He got to the underlying issues — it wasn’t pleasant, in fact to a large degree the CEO was creating the problem himself.  Steve politely pointed that out and suggested a different solution.  Oh by the way, Steve got the order.

Mediocre sales people let the customer dictate the solution, only responding the the needs the customer outlines and the solution they want.  That’s often why it’s difficult to differentiate.  The customer has determined the solution and everyone is fundamentally providing the same thing.

Great sales professionals–those that create real value for their customers and stand out are those that find and solve the right problems.  They take the time to probe and understand.  They care enough about doing the right thing for the customer that they challenge the customer’s preconceived notions about the problem and solution.  They get the customer to think differently, to see and solve the real problem.

It takes great knowledge of your customer’s business, it takes great knowledge of your solutions, it takes the patience and diligence to probe and understand.  Finally, it takes great courage to suggest to the customer that there might be a better way.

Too often, inertia, time pressures, the push to do a deal quickly, or simply our conditioning as problem solvers push us to leap to solutions.  We as sales people do this, our customers do this. 

Our greatest value add as sales professionals is to help our customers solve the right problems.  Are you taking the time to work with your customers to do this or are you leaping to solutions?

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5 Comments
  1. In the medical world, prescription with without diagnosis is considered malpractice. I fully agree with you that this should also hold true for the selling world.

    The temptation for sales people to have the solution dictated by the customer has increased with the customers contacting sellers much later in their buying process. Marketing Automation Systems with their qualification and nurturing function reinforce this trend even further.

    Most sales people are though also not trained how to handle the diagnosis in such cases. The old needs analysis approaches do not work in this context. Again the medical profession can be a role model. I am thinking in particular of the concept of triage.

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