You Cannot Be Part of the Solution Until You are Part of the Problem
Most conventional sales strategies are top-down. They front-load their solution and then if time permits they do a superficial cursory look into needs and a very scant investigation into problems and challenges.
What is needed is a bottom-up sales strategy that begins with the problem and works its way up to the solution. Sales people greatly prefer to "start with the end in mind" so that they can overly rely on their offering as a substitute for strategic selling.
Conventional sales people want to be part of solution, but do not want to have anything to do with the problem. You have to be intimately part of the problem before you can earn the right to be part of solution. This represents a long learning curve for mainstream sales people who are so solution-centric and problem averse.
"Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said Santayana. Sales people typecast themselves as empty suits by not helping customers take stock of their most pressing problems.
It is inconceivable for most sales people that the customer could receive value in such a positive way by reexperiencing their negative problems and challenges. Unlikely as it may seem to the uninitiated, this is how one creates a superior buying experience for their customers. And a superior buying experience is one of a sales person's last remaining competitive advantages that is sustainable and difficult to replicate.
To bring value to the table open up your customer to a whole range of new possibilities of potential threats, liabilities and risks. To do that effectively, you need to enter your customer's buying environment early with trust and integrity to really help them look at their business differently.
This is not only being proactive, but also being realistic. It is estimated that only 5% of a sales person's territory is actively in the market for something new at any particular time. So 95% of the market is where there is hidden opportunities (hidden liabilities). It is here where you have to have the superior skill to provoke, prod, evoke and instigate challenges and potential threats.
Do not tell customers how you can help them, tell them the problems you address and solve. If they do not have problems, or are unwilling to disclose them, then you have big problems. If they have no problems, change is very unlikely.
When trying to change a customer's point of view, negative consequences are far more compelling than positive consequences. "Most men know what they hate, few know what they love," says Charles Colton. That is because problems, fears, liabilities and risks represent the strongest and most powerful emotions that we all experience.
So you need to be a problem shooter, a trouble shooter and a nurturing problem maker, more than a problem solver. Do a good job of the former, and the problem-solving becomes in many cases a no-brainer. Tell your customers that generally they will need premium problems to justify premium solutions.