The Problem with Only Finding the Problem

By Julie Thomas

Almost every salesperson I speak with tells me the key to selling is finding the prospect’s problem or pain point. After all, without a problem, why would anyone need a solution?

This is true. However, is finding the problem enough to sell your solution? Not always. Let me explain.

Try as we might to prove otherwise, not all problems are worth solving – nor are they equal in importance. This means sales reps must find those problems that are important and that do get the time, funding, and attention from the executive suite of a targeted organization. Those will be problems that directly and clearly impact the business.

Given that not all problems are worth solving – and not all problems are equally important for a prospect to address – we have found these best practices for determining if your prospect’s problems matter. 

Engage executives in thoughtful business conversations
It is vital that sales representatives gain and maintain the business acumen and communication skills to both understand and elevate a conversation that is focused less on common problems and more on specific ones holding back or slowing someone from achieving their business objectives. Regardless of your solution, do you have the skill and aptitude to connect to the business goals and objectives of your prospect?

Uncover the prospect’s struggle in reaching business goals and objectives, which are typically timebound and measurable
It’s not just a matter of helping a company or unit increase its year-over-year revenue. Say a prospect needs to increase revenue by 10 percent by December 2019. And, right now, they are tracking only 8 percent annual revenue growth. If you can discover that the problems and pain you address will directly impact their ability to meet that objective and goal, your ability to sell your solution has increased dramatically.

Clearly connect your solution not only to solving a prospect’s problems, but to solving the problems that matter
High-performing sales executives are able to position and connect their solution to the business issue – not just the tactical problems. One key to selling the value of your solution is to measure the positive impact of your solution on the business.  

Business value will always relate to the business issue – whether that issue is managing growth, controlling costs, or improving efficiencies. If your goods or services can save someone time and money, you want to make that connection and quantify the amount. Successful sales professionals have the ability to uncover the value associated with helping a business run better.

These top performers recognize the problems their prospects need to address and why those problems are worth solving. They understand how their products directly (or indirectly) tie into overall business objectives and goals set for a company. And, of course, they are aware of business initiatives within their own organizations that could impact order fulfillments or contracted deliverables.

Be sure the prospect is willing to make a change
At the heart of this level of problem solving are sales-rep-initiated conversations that focus less on a product’s features or provider’s capabilities and more on what is happening within a business. It’s important that the potential client also acknowledge there’s an issue; otherwise, efforts will stall. If prospects don’t really see the need to change, they also won’t see a need to buy from you.

Build a business case that includes your solution’s financial impact
One more thing the best sales professionals do is help executives build a business case that quantifies their solutions’ business impact in a way that holds up when an executive must fight for the capital to fund the purchase. In essence, they take the time to truly understand that customer and engage, not pitch.

All of this takes time – time to do the required homework, adequately prepare for a call or meeting, and really listen to executives to uncover what is preventing them from achieving their business objectives. Even after all that effort, it may turn out your solution isn’t what a company needs at the moment.

But, if you can’t reach that conclusion and move on – or you can’t convince someone you are the right vendor based on value – well, then, we may have a problem.

Julie Thomas is the president and CEO of ValueSelling Associates. She is a sought-after speaker, and author of ValueSelling: Driving Up Sales One Conversation at a Time.