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Customers are Swimming in Content and Totally Lacking in Context

The problem diagnostic strategy can be a real stretch for the uninitiated (traditional sales people). It is too bad because for most sales people it is their only real opportunity to truly differentiate themselves from the competition and to create trust with their prospects. It is not what you sell, but how you position it and sell it that differentiates you.

This strategy is masterful because when done properly it has no self-service inbedded in the process, so it is very effective at creating credibility and confidence. The whole idea of asking questions to really understand the full extent of your customer's challenges and frustrations allows both parties to really get an in-depth snapshot of problems, consequences, costs, competing priorities, timing, actionability and the will and motivation to change. This is what customers ultimately buy; your expertise on their problems, not your expertise on your solution. In the information economy the customer wants context over content.

The following are the barriers and roadblocks to effectively executing the problem diagnostic strategy. This process is more difficult for transactional sales people because of attitudes and beliefs, than it is because of lack of techniques, tactics and strategies.

  1. Sales people are future driven and customer's problems are always found in the past. Sales people are reluctant to delve into the past because they are afraid they will take the focus off the future where their product can be highlighted as the answer to all customer's problems. However, it is hard to truly help customers in the future without knowing their past. It is challenging to show someone what is right before you gain the credibility of demonstrating that you know intimately what is wrong. You must reconcile the past before you can gain the credibility to talk about the customer's future with your solution.
  2. Sales people by nature are eternal optimists and having discussions of problems and their consequences makes them squirm. If they cannot put a happy face on their sales discussions they believe that their lack of enthusiasm and excitement will cause the customer to be less enthusiastic and excited about their solution. Nothing could be further from the truth!
  3. The problem diagnostic strategy can be perceived as too personal and intrusive. Sales people are not inquisitive enough to ask risky thought-provoking questions that will get them to the truth. They are mostly curious to know only if the customer has needs and how quickly they can act to solve those needs regardless of anything else. Traditional sales people like to be personal when it comes to expressing their own personality, but when it comes to getting very personal about the customer's challenges and their personal investment in their problems, that is when it becomes too close for comfort.
  4. Conventional sales people are too product-centric, company-centric, solution-centric and self-absorbed. The idea of spending 80% of the sales call on being customer-centric or problem-centric would be a real stretch, it would be uncomfortable and a huge sacrifice for them. They would get very nervous about not being in charge and therefore be more susceptible to getting resistance, objections and indifference. The reality is they get all that anyway in a big way, but it is more hidden.
  5. Sales people by nature are fixers which is fine. However, most customers do not want to necessarily be fixed until they are supremely confident that they have been thoroughly listened to, and their issues and challenges have been properly diagnosed. Sales people like the fun part of fixing, but do not want to do their due diligence in really understanding the full extent and range of their customer's problems. That just does not seem fun to them because they cannot put on their favorite face; a happy face.
  6. Sales people are concerned if they talk about problems too much and appear impartial, their customers will perceive them as not demonstrating how much they want their business. So the question one needs to ask is do you need to be perceived to be committed to your customer's problems and helping them assess them, or more being committed to your solution and demonstrating how excited you are? Customers want to know that you care first and foremost about them as opposed to you caring about yourself, your solution, and wanting their business for the greater glory of your company.
  7. Sales people have a well intended, misguided believe that they can help any company. Armed with this belief they press their reality instead of seeking the customer's reality. It is not important whether you can help someone, it is more important as to whether they need your help, why they need your help, and what is at stake if they do not get it.
  8. Mainstream sales people do not like to get their hands messy talking about problems. They would rather roll out there squeaky clean solution that is the end-all be-all for all problems. However, since the definition of a solution is an answer to a problem, then are they really selling a legitimate solution? Not!
  9. They believe customers buy logically and rationally. Because of that they believe it is superfluous to find problems since that is not a rational and logical process compared to the demonstration of their superior solution. Problems are too emotional. It reminds them of their spouse. What a shame, because emotions are what drives change and for customers to act.
  10. They wholeheartedly believe in selling with enthusiasm and positive passion. Gung ho, enthusiastic selling is the antithesis of problem diagnostic selling. It is rather difficult to sell with enthusiasm and at the same time do serious probing to find problems and their negative consequences. Sales people prefer to be upbeat, positive, chatty and friendly, and the problem diagnostic process is all about empathy, impartiality, balance and serious inquiry.
  11. The problem diagnostic strategy will allow one to get "nos" much quicker when one realizes that the customer has no real pressing reason to change. For sales people brought up on the notion that their job is to always be going for "yes" this sales strategy will be difficult to adjust to. Many will do everything possible to avoid getting "bad news."
  12. Orthodox sales people love to maintain control in the sales call. The problem diagnostic process is all about giving up control. We all know you cannot come close to controlling your outcome if the customer does not find their problem significant enough to justify changing or doing anything different. What the customer has to say about their problem is infinitely more important than what the sales person has to say about their solution.
  13. The problem diagnostic strategy is a "tearing down" process, instead of the traditional sales process which is a "building up" process. Most sales people are not accustomed to deconstructing problems. They are typically more interested in constructing solutions. Sales people love to start with the "end in mind." However, to get there you have to first start with the "beginning in mind" by deconstructing the customer's problems.
  14. Mainstream sales people are fixated on selling opportunity, gain, benefit, advantage, success, progress and growth. However, customers buy for the exact opposite reasons. They buy to avoid fear, failure, dissatisfaction, loss, risks, liabilities and insecurity. Customers will run twice as fast to avoid something, than they will to gain something. They are more concerned about not looking bad than they are in looking good.
  15. Problem oriented sales people are collaborative, spin-free, unbiased and balanced in their position. The problem diagnostics strategy forces sales people to be vulnerable by not selling from a fixed agenda or perspective. They give their customers a wide berth in finding their own answers. All that stuff seems too touchy feely for hard charging, product pushers who have quotas to make and children to feed and educate.
  16. Traditional sellers are "salesaholics." They are information addicted. They believe their information carries more weight than the customer's information. They do not realize that it is context not content that carries the day in the information economy. They believe more in the power of persuasion than the power of mutual discovery.

Selling is the quest for the truth. The most important truth in the selling event is the problem the customer is experiencing. Without that you have no real foundation to build a business case for change. If the customer has no problems you have very little to sell. Sales people will continue to miss this critical piece in the sales equation as long as they are company-centric, product-centric, believe in the power of their own persuasive abilities, future oriented, fixers, have a high need to be liked, sell from a fixed position and believe they can help just about any customer regardless of their situation and unique point of view.

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