(Thanks to Tim Ohai (Twitter @Tim Ohai) for permission to re-post his article (here’s the link to Tim’s original post on his blog) on the value of solving problems for clients. You’ll find Tim at TimOhai.com)

I was having a discussion with an organization I am helping and we got to talking about how to get their desired improvements going. One of the folks at the table declared, “We just don’t have enough money.”

I about fell out of my chair. But instead of yelling the “NO!” that was screaming inside my head, I just said, “You are defining the problem incorrectly. It’s not that you don’t have enough money. Your problem is that you don’t make enough money.”

And in this particular case, that was especially true. Their entire economic model was built on a reality that was most relevant in the 1970’s. THAT’S 40 YEARS AGO! That’s almost half a century. And most importantly, it is not relevant to today’s reality. The current economy, the current value offered, the people they employ, and especially the people they serve are radically different. With different expectations and different alternatives to meet them. And this organization is spending a TREMENDOUS amount of energy, resources, and time to figure how to solve the wrong problem.

Sound familiar?

Which leads me to today’s rant.

In professional selling, we started with emphasizing the selling process (which was an 1800’s invention). Then, we got smarter – as our clients got smarter – and emphasized the buying process (which was a 1900’s invention). Now, in the glorious Information Age, we have a major shift to make in our thinking. We have to emphasize the problem-solving process.

Follow me down a rabbit hole for a moment.

I understand that you need a solid selling process. Having a process ensures that your selling activity is repeatable. But I also hope you agree with me that your selling process has no value if it doesn’t align with your client’s buying process. Goodness, if your selling process ignores the buying process – well, you’re an idiot. But I said that with genuine condescension love.

Today’s buyer (and the buckets of research that back this up) does not want to “buy,” per se. They want to solve their problems. And they may or may not be very good at that. But if you know how to solve problems, and you are able to understand how they are trying to solve their problems, you will have the best opportunity to sell.  Why?

Because buying is a subset of the problem-solving process. It’s an option that problem-solvers may or may not get to while they are tackling a problem. But if you know how their problem-solving process works, you are setting yourself up for two very important things.

First, you are being set up as someone who actually knows how to solve problems. And to develop your reputation as a problem-solver. Once you tap into your client’s problem-solving process, clients will call you/bring potential business to you because of your reputation and skills. This is the very BEST way to develop new business opportunities.

Second, if you know your client’s problem-solving process, you will then know how to influence their buying process – when that option presents itself during the problem-solving experience. You will be given access to the real problem to be solved, shaping the expectations that fuel it AND highlighting the alternatives that will solve it.

And this is what today’s seller should be focused on. DO NOT start with the selling process. DO NOT start with the buying process. QUIT being so 1900’s in your thinking.

DO start with the problem-solving process. Because if there’s no problem that your client really needs to be solved, whatever needs/pains/worries/concerns you are looking for will be at best misleading and at worst a giant hole that sucks all success from your selling activities.

Only then, once you have tapped into your client’s problem-solving process, you can crack the code on their buying process (which, by the way, will be different depending on the complexity and priority of the problem to be solved), so you can then build a really solid selling process (which, by the way, is an oversimplification, because there is never just one, singular process to manage in the selling experience). Now THAT is good selling.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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