What business problem is your customer solving? Hopefully, it’s the problem you are the best in the world at solving. If it isn’t, you are wasting your and the customer time.
If I pose this question to sellers, the responses I get are usually about what their products do. Mostly it’s descriptions of features, functions, capabilities. At best, they obliquely address a real business problem.
To effectively engage our customers in business conversations, we have to understand the and be able to talk to them about their business problem first.
But then, we have to first know what types of organizations have these problems? Are they in certain markets/industries? Do they build certain types of products? Are they a certain size? Are they in certain regions? Do they tend to be early adopters, followers, laggards in their operating style?
There are all sorts of characteristics of the organizations/enterprises that are highly likely to have the problem we solve. There are also characteristics of enterprises that aren’t likely to have the problem–they may be too small for our solution, or too big. Or our solution is optimized to problems in certain industries/markets and not others.
Then we have to ask the question, Who in the organization is most impacted by the problem? Is the problem centered in a certain function, perhaps manufacturing, engineering, sales, marketing, finance, HR? Does it span multiple functions in the organization?
Are there other parts of the organization that are impacted, though less directly by the problem? If the problem isn’t addressed in the part of the organization that has the problem, how does it impact other parts of the organization?
How does the problem manifest itself? How does it occur in the functions impacted? Do they start making errors? Do they make more mistakes? Do they fall behind in their work? Does it become much more difficult to do their work?
Or maybe there’s another perspective. They might be doing OK, but could they do better? Are there things they can do to improve what they do?
Problems always have multiple dimensions. They have organizational impacts–and those impacts may be different in different parts of the organization. They, also, have individual impacts. The ability to meet goals, stress/job satisfaction, hassle factor, the inability to get other things done, time required, and so forth.
Do we understand the impacts of the problems across the functions and individuals impacted by the problems? How big an issue is it? How do we measure it? What happens if it isn’t addressed, does it stay the same, does it get bigger? Is it an annoyance or mission critical?
How does the customer recognize the impact of the problem on them and on others? How do they measure it? Do they care?
What does the customer have to do to characterize and define the problem? What data do they need to collect? Who do they need to get involved in characterizing it? What questions should the be asking themselves? Where might they find the answers to those questions? What are the most important things they need to learn?
How do they address the question of “why change?” Who should be involved in answering this? What data do they need, what issues should the be considering? What risks do they face if they don’t change? What risks do they face in the change effort? How do they address and manage each?
In deciding to take action, who should they be involving in the effort? What support do they need from others in the organization? What support to they need from management? What challenges will they face in presenting this to management and how should they be addressing those?
As they look at solutions, what questions should they be asking themselves about the alternatives? What questions should they be posing to solution providers? Who should they be talking to about how they have addressed the problem themselves?
How do they make sense of the conflicting information they will undoubtedly encounter as they start assessing the problem and change efforts? How do they deal with the overwhelming volume of information? How do they figure out what’s most important for them to consider?
Since they probably haven’t addressed this issue/problem very often, they don’t know what they don’t know. How should they figure this out? How do they develop confidence they are doing the right thing? How do they maintain that confidence through the whole process?
Inevitably there are things that may distract them–for example their day jobs. How do they fit this project into the rest of their work? How do they maintain progress in completing the project? Where could they go off course? What are the things they do to stay on course and make progress?
Developing a course of action to address the problem, determining solutions to the problem are just the start. What do they have to do to successfully change and implement the solution? Where do they go off target or make mistakes? What do they do to avoid those mistakes?
How do they know they have actually solved the problem? What should they be tracking, what metrics might they put in place? How do they keep on course in solving their efforts?
How might they celebrate their success?
I’ll stop here. But you might be asking, “Why do we need to do all of this, why can’t we just sell our products?”
Our customers don’t know how to solve these problems. At best they may have addressed these issues a couple of times in their careers. But these are all the questions they must ask and answer for themselves. These are the things they must go through in identifying, solving, and implementing the change.
But since this is the problem we are the best in the world at solving, we know infinitely more about these issues than the customer. We have the experience of seeing hundreds/thousands of customers doing this. We’ve seen, hopefully, many succeed. We’ve also seen some who have failed. We understand the most effective and efficient ways the customers have gone through these processes to succeed.
We know how to help the customers determine what questions they should ask, how to get the answers to these questions, how to guide them through the process of understanding and solving the problem.
We have a huge amount of expertise and experience to help our customers succeed. Why do we so consistently fail to contribute that expertise in helping the customer? Why do we stop short and just present what our products do?
There is such a great opportunity to help customers and create meaningful impact.