Sell the Problem, Not the Solution

Average or good salespeople sell the solution. The best salespeople sell the problem — and by the “best” salespeople, I mean the ones who get the best results. The best salespeople have all kinds of different approaches, terminologies, methodologies, sales processes and techniques, but one consistent theme I have observed from the best salespeople, is they make the focal point of the sales process the customer’s problem or pain. The less successful, on the other hand, tend to focus on the solution, which usually comes in the form of features and benefits dumps, or demos to companies to help become “paperless.”

The only way to solve a problem is to either understand it or get lucky. Everyone gets lucky at some point, and if you make enough presentations, or give enough demos you are bound to present just the right thing at just the right time to just the right people without having any idea. The problem with this method is that you do a lot of presenting and not a lot of closing. I like to think of this sales methodology as selling by educating — if you educate enough people, they will come to you when a problem arises. However, this produces crazy long sales cycles and multiple demos, and your technical people and vendors are not going to like you a whole lot.

Meanwhile, your customer generally couldn’t care less about whizbangs and cool features — your customer wants to know, is this tool going to fix my issue? Is it going to be easier than my current processing? Does it present me an acceptable ROI? One friend constantly complains, “I’m having trouble with the math” when talking about solution selling. I realize there isn’t always a budget set aside, but we have to help the customer build one.

Is there really a problem, or is it another attempt to sell something? As salespeople, we can see our customer’s issue from a mile away, and we can fix it (focusing on the solution, not the problem). “All of your processes are manual; I can automate those processes by implementing ABC solution and provide you 30 percent more workflow efficiency.” Folks reading this know exactly what I am talking about. Validate the “issue” until the words “yes, that is an issue” come out of the customer’s mouth, and let’s shoot for that person to have the ability to also make a decision. Be sure to get specific metrics from the customer.

Why is this an issue for your business? Use the customer’s words going forward.

What does this issue cost the company daily/monthly/quarterly?

How long has this been an issue? This is a red flag question for me. If the issue has been longer than five years, make sure to dig into why now.

Who would be responsible for the project? How do they feel about these changes?

How will success be measured?

If the problem is resolved what does this mean to the company?

If the problem is a $15,000 per year problem and the solution is going to cost $30,000 is it worth even having a discussion? Wouldn’t you like to know this before a proposal is submitted? We have to help the customer determine if this problem is even a problem worth fixing, or is it really just the cost of doing business. The key metric may not always be money, but it is always a player. Remember, “I am having trouble with the math.” If you are, they will too. Let’s get it out in the open to see if there is even a possibility of doing business. Focus on the problem, not the solution.

is a national customer success manager with Ephesoft Inc. Ephesoft is a best in class advanced document classification and data extraction solution, and document level analytics platform.