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Sitting With The Problem

by David Brock on December 17th, 2013

Often, both we and our customers seem to rush through the buying process.  Sometimes, we both move forward without really understanding the problem we seek to solve.

Perhaps the customer has done a lot of research on what they think they want to buy.  They’ve formed some opinions, narrowed alternatives to a short list, and are ready to move to a selection and decision.

Sometimes, that’s effective.  For knowledgeable, educated customers, who have bought frequently, it may work.  They know the issues they face very well, they understand the alternatives, pros/cons, and can make a very good decision.

Other times, customers rush blindly.  They think they may know the issues, they think they may understand the problem, they  think they may be able to determine their needs and requirements, leveraging web and other research.

But often, they may not really understand the problem.  They may not have clarity about what they are trying to achieve.  They may not know how to determine and prioritize needs or requirements.  Not that they are dumb, but because they’ve never spent a lot of time on the issues, they may not know what they should be looking for, how they should align themselves in solving the problem, or even the process they should go through in making a decision.  While I’ve overused this example, how many times in a CFO’s career does she buy a new financial system.  If she is lucky, once, possibly 2-3 times.  So she can’t be an expert at solving this problem.

In some cases, they are embarking on something major and new.  Addressing a new market, introducing a brand new process, changing their operations in a significant way.  Their lack of experience with these new approaches may cause them to overlook things, underestimate other things, or just plain forget something.

Sometimes, they just get task focused and on autopilot.  They muscle their way through the buying process and making a decision, without really understanding what they want to achieve.

Sometimes, we sales people don’t help our customers very much.  Sometimes, we are in such a rush to get an order, we get caught up in moving forward with the customer.

But are we really creating the most value?  Are we really serving our customers in the best way by rushing through the buying process.  Particularly with very complex decisions which require great changes, or pose great risk for the customer.

Sometimes, we may better serve our customers by slowing them down.  Perhaps letting them “Sit With The Problem.”

Sitting with the problem can be very powerful.  Too often, buyers get caught up in thinking they understand their needs and requirements.  They assess products, inevitably building checklists of features, functions, or capabilities.  They may lose sight of what they are trying to achieve.

Helping the customer go back to basics, perhaps starting with a blank sheet of paper and reviewing, “What is it that we are trying to do?”  “Why?”  “What if we did nothing?”  “What are the risks of doing nothing, what are the risks of the new solutions?”  “How do we best make a decision, engaging all the stakeholders.” “How do we measure success.”

It can be more detailed.  “What are  our needs and requirements?”   “What do we mean by each each requirement?”  “Why is it important?”  “As we assess our requirements, what’s most important, why?”

Reflecting on what they are trying to achieve, why, what’s critical in doing what they are doing is critical, but too often poorly done.

As I mentioned earlier, rather they focusing on these, they use features, functions, capabilities of solutions as a surrogate.  And often, because they don’t know, because they haven’t “Sat With The Problem,” they opt for the solutions that has the most–just as an insurance policy, not because it solves their problem.

Sitting With The Problem, reflecting, getting great clarity in what they are trying to achieve is critical.  As sales people, we have the responsibility to help the customer to do this–if we are to be their trusted advisors.

Editorial Note:  Daniel, thanks so much for this idea.  Hope I did it justice in this post!

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  1. Daniel Lundgren permalink

    Great post, Dave! I was enjoying the post as a refresher from our recent conversation when halfway through it dawned on me that this was the post you’d mentioned.

    The term “Sitting With The Problem” comes out of the therapy world where I came from (I have a MS in Psychology). I’ve long believed that there is tons of overlap between the process a sales person and buyer go through and the journey of the therapist and client.

    One of the biggest challenges a therapist faces is how to get the client to slow down enough to understand the pain they’re in. Only once they can sit with the problem, can the client and therapist go about addressing it. It’s a matter of being honest with one’s self. It’s a difficult, but essential for progress. One of the best benefits a therapist–or sales person–can offer is being present with the client and re-focusing their attention on the problem long enough to understand and address it. I’m realizing this is perhaps the main value I bring to the process as a Salesperson.

    Thanks for exploring this concept on the blog! I really enjoyed reading your take on it.

    • Daniel: Thanks so much for the comment. I really wanted to capture your view on this. I like the way you describe how a therapist approaches it. There are remarkable parallels in sales. Thanks for inspiring the article and for adding such great clarification. Regards, Dave

  2. A very insightful Blog, Dave.
    The better the understanding of the problem, then the more likely the higher quality of the Solution. Carl Rogers’ influence on Sales Technique stays with us still.

    We can fail to examine the problem, and instead just focus on the problem’s consequences to help us sell ‘Stuff’.

    Yet a good ‘fish bone diagram’, and a ‘perculation’ on its meaning will often save time, save money
    and give far better results.

    Too fast, and we often solve the wrong problem!

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