Solutions Cannot Exist Without Problems First
Problem-centric selling is about acknowledging the law of polarity; nothing can exist without its opposite. Sales people need to be constantly vigilant of the idea that solutions that are valued and acted upon cannot coexist without a problem. All businesses exist to provide solutions from day one. Orthodox sales people want their solution to be the primary engine that drives customer action, instead of first being an agent of change. They reverse the natural order of things, disregard the problem and put the cart before the horse. They want their cake and eat it too.
The worst counter-productive thing sales people can do for a customer is immediately try to decide what their problems are. Your goal should be to help the customer walk around all sides of their problems; good, bad, ugly, leaving nothing out, leaving nothing for premature interpretation and leaving no rock unturned. Unfortunately, some sales people will recoil at the notion of putting their nose into another's business.
A lot of customers will not want to share information because they feel isolated in their challenges. This is the tricky part of the problem-centric strategy; you expose problems, and at the same time you are not being intrusive. Although we live in an era of unprecedented exposure where through blogging, reality TV, the web, social media, everyone is airing their dirty laundry, do not think for a moment that this phenomenon will easily transfer over to a sales call.
Even if you are a knight in shining armor for your customer's problem, you are potentially just as much as a threat in solving their problem because you put into question the status quo if they are in denial. They may just be comfortably uncomfortable, or have learned to manage around their problems.
What gets acted upon is one's insecurities, not what they are secure with. Most conventional sales people are too insecure themselves to help customers self-explore and self-assess their shortcomings and their problems. Ideally, you want to get your customers into a role of constructive self-critique where you are just a facilitator. No one likes a pure fixer. If you doubt this ask your spouse.
The reality is the problem you are trying to fix in many cases is not the real problem the customer is experiencing. Most of the frustration the customer is experience is not with the surface problem, it is with the frustration the headaches are triggering. So you really have to delve deep into the emotional component of the problem. This process is all about getting the big picture and not just looking at what is right in front of you.
Customers buy figuratively and rationalize them literally. They make buying decisions abstractly and justify their actions concretely. Customers are making decisions with their right brain (holistic, emotion, intuitive) and justifying them with left brain analytics. Sales people are covering a small part of decision-making by customers by appealing to them with a logical/rational sales message.
There needs to be a lot a trust for a customer to open up emotionally because they often feel exposed and vulnerable. Mainstream sales people shy away from this approach because it is too touchy feely for them to let the customer emotionally internalize their problems. "All our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling," said Blaise Pascal.
Re-create, reinvest and restage customer's problems so they can make better decisions with emotional intelligence. It is not what makes them hopeful, it is what makes them doubtful and worried that compels them to action.
The problem identification process, which looks at your customer's problems from the inside out, is a peer to peer interaction because it requires so much cooperation with customers in sharing sensitive information. Unlike in traditional selling, which is a very passive sales process on the part of the customer.
In this process customers need to demonstrate ownership and responsibility of the problem. If they do not, it will be an uphill battle. It is important to have your customers have personal mastery and understanding of their problems before they can make good decisions about them.
The moment of truth in sales is in the beginning when customers do, or do not share their problems. The moment of truth for mainline sales people in the old days was at the end of the process when they attempted to close and they either got good news or bad news. However, it is hard to get good news if the customer never shares bad problems with you. Today, for a lot of run-of-the-mill sales people, the moment of truth after untold emails, texts and instant messages–they get no closure, only headache and heartache and the nagging feeling they have been bamboozled once again.