Diagnose Problems Before Prescribing Solutions
When there is no outward influencing, or undo convincing on the part of the sales person, your customer is freed up to explore their problems, and evaluate their options much more deeply and swiftly. When they do not have to submit to an outside authority (self-serving sales person) they are far more willing to share sensitive information. So do not pursue "what should be," or "what could be," until you really understand more deeply "what is not."
The problem identification process is similar to an intervention; it is a face to face reality check for your customer. It is a new nurturing way to confront and contest your customer's problems. It must be done without judgment to be effective. The process begins its inquiry by finding out not what your customer wants, but what negatives they are experiencing, what they are trying to avoid, and what they do not want to end up having or experiencing. It is obviously a moving backwards process, instead of the traditional moving forward process that most sales people subscribe to that is basically flawed.
"The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken," said Samuel Johnson. So as sales people we have to walk a thin line to help customers see where they are in the chain. Sometimes we are too late and we cannot do anything. Sometimes we can demonstrate the cost of the impact of doing nothing. "A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice," says Edgar Howe. Customers believe their goals are about enhancement and improvement, but their goals and desire are really about what is missing and lacking. Find what is lacking, and if customers trust you, they will give you the keys to the kingdom.
You have to be a sounding board for your customer in order to bring value. Help them sort out the differences between symptoms and causes of their problems. Because so often they are between a rock and a hard place; they want to move forward, but they are experiencing numbing stasis, they are paralyzed by inaction. So you help them by going back to the scene of the crime (sales problem), and conducting a thorough sales autopsy.
The real skills that bring value in this process are your investigative and probing skills. When there is trust people love to unburden themselves, complain about their problems, sing the blues about their losses, and vent with someone who is sympathetic to their cause. They will not unload on you, or dump their problems on you if they believe you are selling with a strong whiff of self-interest, or you are so busy dumping your information on them.
Do not solve their problems. Do not define yourself by your offering. What you need to do is simply dismantle, deconstruct, and breakdown their problems into small chunks so that they can see their issues with new clarity. Customers are so busy spontaneously reacting to their problems without really experiencing them. The task of the sales person is to lead them cautiously back to their issues, and to let them reevaluate and determine if it warrants action.
Often customers in denial have gotten so use to their problems it begins to function into the groove of habit, and it becomes very dull. They have effectively managed and compensated around the problem where they no longer feel vulnerable. The problem loses that sensibility which is critical for someone to get out of a rut and change. Too often they see their problems as inevitable costs of doing business, which is just plain old unavoidable from their viewpoint.
They have factored their problems into their business model and they have learned to live with it. This will be the type of entrenched customer who will be a tough nut to crack. "When an experience gives you lots of problems and at the same time gives you pleasure, you do nothing about it. You act only when the problem is greater than the pleasure, but if the pleasure is greater you do nothing about it, because there is no acute conflict," said Krishnamurti.
Customers leave a trail load of clues in a sales engagement. If they derive a sense of identity with their problems, you will definitely have your work cut out for you. The more fragile a customer's self-image is, the more they will work to preserve it. Do not push or you will just end up fighting city hall. When probing for problems give your customer ample opportunity to protect their personal identity by allowing them to exit graciously if it gets too hot for them in the kitchen. Without this psychological safeguard or security, you diminish your chances of really getting to the truth, and at the same time letting your customer preserve their dignity.
Expert problem creators, identifiers and analyzers are guaranteed a lifetime of full employment because rarely are customer's problems truly resolved, and as soon as they are resolved, they now have a new set of problems; how to sustain and further improve. To reinforce how important problems are for sales people to deal with, Mark Miller in his fascinating book, Selling is Dead, relates a study conducted by MasterCard about what their customers really value out of their sales representatives: They wanted their sales people to learn their industry to help them gain competitive advantages, they wanted more strategic thinking (less problem-solving and more thought leadership), custom solutions to enter new markets, and develop new program strategies to drive growth and profitability. All these objectives and goals stemmed from problems. Notice none of these issues have anything to do with one's solution and product. That is why it is critical for sales people to be problem strategists.
The answer to selling and meeting your customer's expectations lie in addressing and diagnosing your customer's problems, not fixing their problems. To determine what is needed you must first do an inventory of what is missing. You must diagnose before you prescribe. It has to be an inquiry into "what is" and "what is not" before you recommend "what could be."