It is All About Problems Stupid!
The examination and investigation of your customer's problems sets the foundation for the proof of concept (solution). Information oriented sales people milk their product and proof of concept for everything it is worth. They use it as a stick to beat customers over the head. Problem oriented sales people on the other hand milk their product for ammo to locate and find problems, or to provoke discussions of client problems.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? In the world of sales, which came first the problem or the solution? As they said in the election campaign a few years back, it is all about problems stupid! Most traditional sales people have their priorities in the wrong place. The thing that matters the most in strategic selling is proving the worth, or value of your customer's problems, not the value of your solution.
Trust breaks down when the goals of the customer and the sales person are divergent or at cross purposes. The customer has a problem that needs to be located, defined, assessed and valued. Unfortunately, the sales person is too busy selling a solution that they have no idea what if anything is the problem. The sales person is totally out of sync with their customer's reason for buying. By strict definition, it is impossible to sell a solution without first finding out what the problem is.
Finding and assessing problems is a process of creative destruction that requires patience and ingenuity. Most conventional sales people are only interested in the fast and exciting construction of solutions. Deferred gratification is essential in being a problem oriented sales person.
"You live life forward, but you understand it moving backwards." says Abraham Verghese. Sales people need to put their forward solution aside and go backwards in the past to the customer's problem. This is where customers reconnect to their problems and get more insight and constructive feedback. So do not waste time on proving your solution, and spend more time on proving the value of your customer's problem. It is the "why" that is essential, rather than the "what" (solution).
Your most important brand value is your problem solving ability to assess and find customer's frustrations. Locating and finding trumps resolving. Mainstream selling is a bilateral attack on solving problems. It should rather be a multilateral appraisal of options, costs, competing priorities and actionability.
Look at problems from the inside out. Breakdown problems instead of building up solutions. As Barack Obama recently said; "There is no such thing as a shovel ready project." Likewise, there is no such thing as ready-made solutions. Customers want to actively participate and provide input in the discussion and understanding of their problems. Yet too many sales people deny them this simple right and courtesy.
A lot of customer's problems are fairly visible to the trained eye. Yet customers will actively deny them sometimes for the false sense of self-preservation. So start off by hypothetically posing the possibility of problems. Sometimes this will help them to drop their defenses. Keep in mind you will find a lot of customers who have made their peace with their problems, and have no intent of reopening an old can of worms.
Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, in the movie Network, was famous for screaming out loud on the window ledge of his New York apartment; "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore." You do not need to have your customers be as dramatic, but you usually do need to have your customers admit to some level of emotional agitation to get them to seriously consider action.
Orthodox sales people too often do not emotionally engage their customers and often sell them the equivalent of comfort food; everyone feels good, all is well and everyone has smiles. They are afraid to get really personal with customers and dig into their most pressing challenges and problems. They do not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, even for their own good. They feel it will be a bad reflection on them and their company.
The problem oriented sales process is an anathema to sunny, bright, optimistic sales people, who would not dream of having a realistic discussion of anything that would be perceived as negative (client problems). They believe their job is to make customers really feel good about themselves and to be an uplifting resource for them. They have been trained to personally never entertain any negative thoughts themselves, so the idea of having a discussion about negative problems would be a real drag and downer for them. What a shame! Problems are what drives solutions. No problems, no solutions.
Tap into your customer's uncertainties and frustrations, not what they are optimistic and certain about. When you let customers share the emotions of their frustrations, you get a much deeper connection with them, and you really let them see their problems in a whole new light.
"People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The goal is not to sell to people who need what you sell, the goal is to sell to people what you believe, and why you do what you do. People buy emotionally. When you pursue the sale you do not appeal to customer's emotions. Start with why. Start with the emotion. Find people who buy you more for your why, than your what, "says Sam Smyth.