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A Crisis (Customer's Problem) is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff, said in the early dark days of the 2008 recession that "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." He certainly understood the deep-seated emotions of fear, loss, insecurity, and risk that people go through in any crisis, or for that matter what they go through with any major problem.

A crisis in the world of selling is any pressing customer problem that needs to be resolved. The concept of finding problems goes back many years to the writings of Elmer Wheeler in how to sell yourself to others. However, as an effective sales strategy, it is sparsley applied in today's market, because sales people would rather showcase the brilliance of their offering, rather than empathetically let their customers reveal and showcase their messy problems. We want to spotlight the positives of our solution, and customers want to go over the negatives of their situation.

However, they will never admit this, assuming they are even conscious of it. But given the choice with a trusted adviser and counselor that they respect and trust, they would be open to bear their soul (problems), if they felt they would get value (unbiased advice) and unique insight. Yet traditional sales people generally are so busy and excited to take their customer to the promise land (close), they fail to capitalize on this very unique opportunity.

This reminds me of the truth and reconciliation tribunals that were set up in South Africa to allow citizens to unburden their anguish and pain. Customers want to remove the burden of their problems, and so often we will not allow them. Fact: Customers are first and foremost more interested in unburdening themselves of their problems than they are in getting a final resolution for their problems. It is obvious to all that the buying process therefore is emotional, intuitive and illogical.

Sales people look at the sales process as something that should be a pleasurable experience for the customer. An effective and meaningful sales call should be anything but. It should be a deep and thorough exploration of threats, risks, unforeseen issues and pending disruptive changes. Customers will more than likely be in a state of self-doubt, denial, insecurity and fear, not in a state of joy and pleasure.

A major issue for sales people is they are conditioned to see the solution first, and then see the problem, assuming they are that lucky. Sales people exercise force by rushing to solutions and answers, instead of understanding first the complexities of their customer's problems. Sales people do not see the complexity of the problem because they believe simply the problem is the problem; cut and dry.

Problems are only complex when you look at all the variables and emotions around the problem. So often the variables are the real problem, not the problem itself. Traditional sales people can sometimes be reluctant to explore the variables (reality) because they are afraid they will find potential bad news that will kill their deal. Sales people are inclined to investigate the answers, not the problem. That is a big problem.

Most sales people screen to see if the customer's needs fit their offering. Then they screen to see if their presentation was well received and then they screen for likability. Sales people who know better screen and qualify for customer's problems. They also screen for trust, connection and respect.

Without problems there are very limited solutions, or at least solutions that are anything but a commodity. A good rule of thumb is if the customer has no problems, you have very little to sell. Do not delude yourself in trying to sell value with a customer who does not need it, want it, or have a big enough problem to justify paying for it. Moreover, if you do not have a firm cost for the customer's problem, you may not have an actionable problem.

I would venture to guess that less than 5% of sales people truly use a problem oriented sales process. It is very hard to effectively problem solve without thoroughly doing your due diligence in problem creation, problem identification, problem isolation, problem analysis, problem prioritization and a problem actionability assessment. That is too much work for most trigger-happy, product oriented sales people. What they ultimately don't realize, is all the hard work that they have to do chasing prospects who are comfortably uncomfortable.

Sales is a search, hurt and rescue mission. You must seek out blind spots, uncover gaps, and understand the significance of discrepancies in goals. The sales process is logical, but the problem appeal is emotional.

You must demonstrate to your customer situational proficiency, sharp business acumen and emotional intelligence. Customers and sales people alike cannot solve a problem fully when they are so occupied with anticipation and excitement to find an answer, a solution or to make a sale.

The customer's problems must always be dealt in context with the whole picture of the customer's business; not just the problem you are trying to solve. Often you have to spend a lot of time looking at the whole organization and all its other problems to assess the weight, urgency, and context of the problem you are trying to help your customer get their hands around.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com