This post was written by Eric Luhrs, author of BeDoSell and known for his model of GuruSelling. His contact details are at the end of this wonderful article.
Whenever I work with sales teams I will ask them what their sales process is. They’ll usually say something like ‘lead generation, meet with prospect, identify the problem, propose a solution, keep pushing (and offering more “value”) until they decide.’
Though there is something inherently wrong with that whole process, the problem I’d like to talk about today is “problems” themselves.
The Salesperson’s Problem
Today salespeople are being pushed hard by their companies. They have to deliver ever increasing sales quotas with less and less support. So they fear wasting any time with a prospect.
To that end, when they get into the “identify the problem” stage of the sales process they look for the first “problem” the client presents, at which point the salesperson kicks out a solution-proposal and is off to the next appointment.
Will they win most of the proposals they put out there? No. in fact they will get anywhere from 5% to 15% if they are lucky. Such low closing ratios only increase the belief that they need to see “more prospects”. After all with such miserable ratios, how else are they supposed to make quota?
The Problem with Solving Problems
But let’s step back and look at this logically. The client obviously had the salesperson in because they believed that the salesperson could help them solve a problem. And the client will ultimately buy (or do) something to solve a problem. So, was the problem with the solution offered OR was the problem with the “problem” itself?
As I tell my clients, “people’s biggest problem is that they don’t know what their biggest problem is.” This means that the problem people tell you up front is not the deep problem they need or even want to solve.
A Story about Problems and Levels
A few years ago I was meeting with an HR manager. After we had built some rapport we began to discuss the problems of the company. She said their biggest issue was “turnover.”
“Turnover” is what I call a “Level One problem”. It is generic and meaningless. It describes a current result, not the real problem of the company and certainly not the real problem of the HR Manager. However, most salespeople would try to sell a “turnover” solution at this point…and they’d get shot down.
The Problems beneath the Surface
In this case “turnover” acted like one of those Russian nesting dolls (one inside the other) that held all of the deeper problems and kept them out of sight. In order to determine a useful solution for the HR Manager I had to open the “doll” and see the deeper problems.
I discovered that a deeper problem was the fact that they were suffering a large turnover in their mid-level managers. The average staying time of a newly hired mid-level manager was 18 months.
We were now at a Level Three or Four Problem.
As I continued, I found out that it cost $60,000 to hire each Manager, $25,000 to train them, and $150,000 to compensate them annually. This meant they were out $310,000 each time a manger left. And they had lost 12 managers a year for the last two years. A net loss of $7,440,000.
We were now at a Level Five or Six Problem.
Picking Apart the Problem Pile
The work teams in the company were built around these managers. Each time a manager left there was chaos in the team. There was also a lack of faith on the part of the team members every time a new manager was assigned to them.
This chaos and loss of faith had created a 10% drop in productivity in the teams, which meant a 10% drop in profitability. This equated to a $14,000,000 loss for them.
We were now at a Level Seven or Eight Problem.
The loss of productivity and profitability had lost them customers and, ultimately, led to them dropping from second place in their market to a distant fourth.
The Real Problem
We were at the Level Ten Problem for the company. However, I still had to get to her Level Ten Problem, so I kept asking questions.
Finally, I learned that they had already done two rounds of layoffs in the company.
The HR manager knew if things didn’t change soon there would be more layoffs. She realized her staff, all of whom were paid significantly less than she was, could cover her work if she was gone, so she knew she’d be gone in the next round of layoffs.
She was a single-mom of two boys, and she couldn’t afford to lose her job.
Now we were at her Level Ten Problem.
A New POV on the Problem
From this new vantage point, level ten versus level one, I was able to see a much bigger picture of what was going on, and the HR manager also had a new perspective. This allowed us to have a completely different conversation then she had with any other salesperson she’d spoken to and it allowed me to offer a different solution, which was accepted with little effort.
The moral here is that no one, not even you, knows what their “real problem” is. It takes an outsider with the curiosity, compassion and, most importantly, patience to help us see it.
So, forget about trying to meet with 10 prospects so you can propose 10 solutions to 10 problems. Instead focus on one prospect and take their “problem” 10 levels deep.