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Opportunity Solving

by David Brock on August 30th, 2011

As sales professionals, we learn a lot about problem solving.  We focus on understanding our customers’ problems, determining their needs and presenting compelling solutions.  We learn to identify and quantify the customer’s pain and seek to eliminate it.  We go from customer to customer trying to find those that have problems we can solve.

This is a valuable activity for sales people.  It’s easy to catch our customer’s attention–they are probably already aware of the problem, hopefully, they have recognized the pain, and are pursuing solutions.  But I wonder if we miss an opportunity to better serve our customers, while simultaneously setting ourselves apart from our competitors.

What if we expanded our view of sales to also become “opportunity solvers?”

What if we helped our customers identify new opportunities to expand or grow their business?  What if we identified new opportunities for them to better serve or attract customers?  What if we identified opportunities to increase the quality of their products and services?  What if we could help them understand new ways of improving their profitability?

What if we could help open our customers eyes–to help them discover something they had never considered before?

Our customers are no different than most of us.  They are busy just surviving day to day.  They’re focused on getting their jobs done.  They have too much to do, with far too few resources, and no time.  When they find a problem, they want to solve it quickly.  They worry about their competition and trying to keep ahead of them.

They get so busy in the day to day, they never have the time to step back and think, “Are we missing something?”  “What if we did things completely differently?”

When they do take some time to do this, too often they are constrained.  They’re often to close to situations to really see what’s happening.  They’re blinded by their experience and the way things have always been done.  They are so busy, they don’t get the chance to see what others are doing.  They focus on their competitors of today, not the opportunities or competitors of tomorrow.  Netflix changed the rules for Blockbuster, Apple changed the rules for Nokia, Motorola, and others.  Amazon changed the rules for Borders.  Southwest did that to American, United, and others.  Social media is changing the rules for the media industry.

To be certain, there is an entrepreneur somewhere that is doing that for your customers’ businesses and industries.

But the opportunities don’t have to be that dramatic, they don’t have to be game changing.  Many years ago, I sold a $20 M computer for just one second.  I had the idea that if the customer, a credit card processing company, could save one second on each transaction, they could dramatically improve customer service, retention, and employee satisfaction and productivity.  The operations VP didn’t have a problem, he just needed to make sure the transactions were processed efficiently and correctly.  He was doing that well, but he was so busy, he never had the time to consider doing something differently.

Another client was so busy competing and trying to grow in their traditional markets, they didn’t realize  there was a whole new set of customers they could address.  With only some new marketing materials and a sales team focused on the new market, they created an entire new revenue stream.

Sales people need to be opportunity solvers.  Sales people need to help their customers see what they can’t see.  Sales people need to change the conversation–to move beyond just talking about problems, but to helping their customers discover new opportunities.

What are you doing to help your customer discover new opportunities?

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4 Comments
  1. Ivano permalink

    That’s right, Dave! Above all in this period, so hungry of innovation, the demand creation is a key rule in the salesman activity.
    We can call it “proactive-selling”.

  2. Pamela permalink

    You are right on the money here. Sales people need to be good listeners when a customer is talking about problems or potential problems., he/she is looking for a solution and hoping you will have the answer! This type of sale is almost like a gift, and if you are good at your job you will recognize the opportunity for a new sale or at worst an up-sale! When sales people get complacent, they have become farmers and stopped hunting. At this point the employer needs to think about replacements for the position!

    • Pamela, thanks for your comment. Sales people need to be good listeners, they need to solve customers’ problems, but they need to go further. They need to create new opportunities for their customers and themselves. If we wait for the customer to identify they have a problem, they may have specified us out–inappropriately. I think the new world of buying mandates earlier invovlement.

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