Apply the Rule of Cause-and-Effect When Problem Identifying
It is a rare sales person who does not fancy themselves as a problem solver. It is even a rarer sales person who can truly articulate and breakdown a customer's problem. The reason is they really do not know what the real problem is. At best they are surface problem solvers. "In sales, the relationship between cause-and-effect shows up fast. But the relationship and its symptoms—and a problem and its solutions is always much more obscure," says Mack Hanan.
In order to bring value (problem-solving capabilities) to your customer they must be experiencing a deficiency or a dearth of value. And the absence of that value must be substantiated in terms of consequences, actionability and be significant enough to justify the consideration of change.
If your prospect is predisposed to do all their own due diligence and self-analysis of their issues independently and they are supremely confident in their conclusions, can you bring value? The simplest generic answer is probably not. If they do not need your insight, expertise and active participation to locate, frame and assess their issues, you are walking the razors edge of being a commodity play.
Customers do not have problems until they can thoroughly convince you of that fact. "For every problem there is a simple and wrong solution," says John Maynard Keynes. Sales people believe their solution too often is a no-brainer, or they do not factor in all the internal and external factors that can complicate change.
Keep in mind customers are not looking for good feelings from solutions as much as they are looking to get rid of bad feelings and emotions regarding their problems. The desire for gain and positive outcomes for customers is simply a coping mechanism to deal with their most pressing problems. Most sales people keep an eye on their prize (sale), instead of keeping an eye on the customer's prize (resolution of problems). Everything has its roots in its opposite.
Like a good advisor or counselor, strategic sales people quietly sit pondering while customers actively describe and frame their issues. The sales person guides them towards what they believe to be the true core of their problems. Essentially the customer does most of the heavy lifting, the sales person is just an unbiased guide and facilitator.
The problem discovery process is comparable to a holistic medical practitioner. They look at every facet of the person's life, including things that may or may not be obvious, and everything that could impact that patient's problem. It requires a very active participation on the part of the patient to be successful. They cannot just sit back and let the practitioner draw their own conclusions. Every stone is unturned, nothing is taken for granted.
Sales people need to backtrack, instead of going full steam ahead and examine each symptom and get to its root cause. Traditional sales people are famous for being world-class solution providers to irrelevant symptoms. They fail to bring all the issues to the table and are reluctant to rule out hurdles that would dismantle their selling agenda. In other words they hide from the truth.
Strategic sales people take on a problem identification posture. They are problem auditors and assessors. "Look for external triggers that affect change. It's the rule rather than the exception that such an external trigger will finally force a long suppressed internal awareness out into the open so that a customer must deal with it. Don't mistake a symptom for a cause," says Mack Hanan.
Pragmatic sales people know that they really know very little for all intents and purposes. They know symptoms, they know their prepackaged solution, but they need to get customers to reveal root causes. They use this as a starting point and use it as a blank slate to really understand the customer's problems, motives and disincentives that might have them stay with the status quo.
Mainstream sales people believe in their own problem solving ability to their detriment too often. They over rely on their own power of deduction and logic as to what they would do in a similar situation. They lose empathy and they do not have a firm grasp on reality. This so often has the unintended consequences of the sales person over-communicating their solution while the customer is faced with the awkward situation of under-communicating their challenges and most pressing issues.