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“Problem Talking” Is Not “Problem Solving”

by David Brock on August 2nd, 2013

As sales people, we build the greatest value for our customers by helping them solve problems.  Stated differently, customers value sales people who are problem solvers.

However, too often, I encounter sales people who think they are problem solvers, when really they are problem talkers.  There’s a huge difference.

We know what problems our products and solutions solve.  We can talk to the customer endlessly about the problem and our solution.  “You have a problem nurturing your customers, providing relevant content, at the right time, developing their interest until they express an interest in buying.  Our marketing automation platform helps you address those issues and manage the communications with the customer.”

That’s problem talking.  It’s a part of problem solving, but it isn’t problem solving.

Problem solving involves a lot more.  It requires us to understand what the problem is and to be able to define it in real detail. 

Defining the problem also requires us  to understand the impact of the problem–on who, the magnitude, what other problems it might create.  “This problem increases our manufacturing scrap by this much.”  “This problem is causing us to miss customer delivery dates on X% of our shipments, by an average of  Y weeks, costing us $Z”

We also need to put some boundaries around the problem, to define a scope.  We may want to describe some constraints, “we can afford to invest this much,”  “we will only look at the problem in North America, and for the moment ignore it in other segments.”

Once we define the problem, we have do define what we want to fix–not the solution, but the outcomes that we need to achieve.  “We know we have solved the problem when our in warranty customer returns drop to this level.”  “We want to improve the quality of Sales Qualified Leads by this much.”

When we define the problem, the impact, and the outcomes we want to achieve in solving the problem, we can then assess alternative solutions, ultimately deciding on what we want to do to achieve the desired outcome.  There’s a huge amount involved in this process—which alternative, relative risks, time to results, implementation challenges, costs, contingencies, and so forth.

Any time we get into an organization of any size, problem solving becomes even more complex.  Everyone has a different view of what the problem is.  Everyone has a different idea of what the desired outcome should be.  Each person has their priorities which causes them to look at alternative solutions differently.

To solve the problem–finding a solution, implementing it, and achieving the desired outcomes, requires getting everyone involved, aligned–the same goals, the same priorities, and so forth.

Finally, it may not be a problem the customer has any experience in solving.  So the risk, the process, becomes that much more cumbersome and difficult.

So problem solving is very difficult–often the customer may decide it is easier to live with the problem rather than solve it.

But in complex B2B situations, as sales people, we see different customers with similar problems every days.  We work with customers on their manufacturing systems, or financial systems, or marketing systems, or whatever it might be all the time.  Individually, we may work with dozens of customers a year — all with similar problems.  Our companies will work with hundreds and thousands of customer every year.  We have great experience in understanding problems and helping the customer with their problem solving process.  We have the opportunity to create great value for our customers in helping them solve their problems.

We can create great value simply because we have seen so many similar situations and can leverage that experience with the customer.  Each problem is a little different, but we can learn so much more based on what others have done.  As sales people we see these every day, so we have the potential to offer real leadership to a customer who may not have a lot of experience in solving the problem.

Problem solving is very different than problem talking.  It’s about rolling up our sleeves and working with the customer through the entire process.  It’s about helping them define, understand the impact, define outcomes, define the scope, assess solutions, align divergent interests and agendas, select and implement solutions.  It’s about being engaged with the customer through their whole process, not just talking at various points in the process.

Anyone can be a problem talker.  Do your customers consider you a problem solver.  Are they making you a partner in the process?  That’s where we win!

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3 Comments
  1. David,

    Thank you for sharing these great insights with us, a really great post mate.

    Cheers,

    Nicholas Kontopoulos

  2. I really like this post Dave especially ” Once we define the problem, we have do define what we want to fix–not the solution, but the outcomes that we need to achieve”
    I am going to steal this from you…( not really I will give you credit)… It is a powerful statement
    Thanks
    Norm Roth

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