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The Greatest Story Never Told: The Customer's Problem

Show me your problems should be your rallying call. A strategy of problem storytelling can be effective in getting customers to open up. Storytelling is a very effective form of communication. Do not name the problem, rather describe it, talk about the disadvantages and the negative consequences, its origin, its costs and the practicality in resolving it.

The greatest story never told is one describing the customer's problems. I do an exercise in my training sessions where I have everyone write out the top reasons why customers should do business with them. With a proud grin on their faces everyone is able to complete this task very quickly. Then I ask them to write out the top four problems their customers experience. Now the grins are wiped clean from their faces and most people have nothing, and only a few have just one that is a good example of problem messaging. Most sales people have mastered their solutions, at the cost of not mastering there customer's problems.

The problem is sales people are too fixated on the future; they believe they represent the customer's future. Yet they will have a limited future if they do not discuss the customer's past problems. The way to look forward in sales is to begin by looking back. Finis in principio pendet: The end depends on the beginning. Solution oriented sales people will sometimes resist this strategy because they do not like to roll back the clock, drag up the past and discuss potentially sensitive topics. They believe the past is the past, and it should remain there.

Georgia O'Keeffe said, "One cannot paint New York as it is, but rather as it felt." The same is true in a sales call. Customers remember more how they felt, more than what they factually remembered. That is because customers ultimately buy because of the intangibles, and then justify it, and rationalize it because of the tangibles. The most important intangible in a sale is the value of the consequences of the customer's problems.

Strategic sales people position their offering to emotionally appeal to their customer's unstated needs and problems. They engage in experiential selling, a sales strategy taken out of the playbook of experiential marketing. It allows their customer to reexperience the emotions of their problems so they can make better decisions about whether they want to address them or not. Experiential selling is laden with questions and deep listening and very little product selling. "Beware that each piece of factual information a client releases has emotional significance," says Jim Bleach. Logic is how a customer looks at a problem, emotion is what drives them to act.

Customers are not so much ordering the steak, what they are really ordering is the taste. All problems must be addressed from within. Most sales people attack it based on the externals, instead of the internals. Case in point is I had a prospect that I demonstrated I could save them $900,000 on wasted opportunities and he simply laughed and told me they do 31 billion dollars in sales and my savings was an insignificant blip on their radar.

Selling with questions to identify problems is the equivalent of 5G technology. It is fast, efficient, effective and a real differentiator. Because descriptions of story problems are delivered in a question form, it ensures a more continuous exchange and flow of information. The flaw with classic feature and benefit selling is information is delivered in statements of fact, or close to, and open dialogue is curtailed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Putting out fires is easier to execute than finding accidents that are waiting to happen. So test your problem assumptions with professional care. Do not be an alarmist. Be balanced, otherwise you will lose trust, credibility and momentum.

When asked what single event was the most helpful to him in developing the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein was reported to have answered, "Figuring out how to think about the problem differently. "In sales the real battle is helping the customer get to the essence of their problem. To really help your customer accomplish that you have to take it apart. You need to tear it down to its essence and dismantle it before you can hope to fix it. All problems simply are as good or as bad as your customer's ideas about them. All problems are relative compared to other problems. Nothing more. Nothing less. Problems have little to do with the way things are. It is all about perception. Treat them accordingly and you will make your job much easier.

Sales people must face the humanizing fact of life that their self-mastery of their product information is not worth a hill of beans until the customer admits a problem. If the customer is not singing the blues at all, then you undoubtedly will be doing so shortly. Problems are the engine that drives change, and the negative consequences that the customer has a low tolerance to live with is the accelerator. "Problems must exceed acceptable levels, and must be compelling for customers to take action," says Jeff Thull.

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