Solving Your Customers' Problems

by James A. DeSena

What Problems Do You Solve for Your Customers? Selling is about solving customer problems, whether those are problems customers are currently facing, or problems they will face as their marketplace evolves and their needs change. 

Book Excerpt:
The 10 Immutable Laws of Power Selling: The Key to Winning Sales, Wowing Customers & Driving Your Profits Through the Roof
by James A. DeSena
McGraw-Hill
ISBN: 0071416617
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LAW #1: CREATE HIGH VALUE

If you are going to deliver high value to your customers, the first thing you need to do is to solve their problems.

What Problems Do You Solve for Your Customers? Selling is about solving customer problems, whether those are problems customers are currently facing, or problems they will face as their marketplace evolves and their needs change. When I asked a top sales professional about what he did that allowed him to stand out in his field, he responded very simply, "I solve problems." Simple, but not easy.

If you can't put your finger on your customer’s problem, you won't solve it. Worse, you will waste time and lose credibility. You must describe the problem clearly, and do it from the customer's point of view. The problem should be one the customer sees value in solving. To find out what the really difficult problems are, ask the right questions and listen before acting.

The overarching problem, or goal, for most executives is how to make their businesses more profitable, as quickly, reliably, and as inexpensively as possible, so they can be assured that they will remain in business, keep the owners happy, and keep their jobs. Myriad other problems are related to that main concern; for example,

  • Finding new customers
  • Keeping existing customers
  • Selling more to existing customers
  • Improving customer service
  • Reducing personnel costs
  • Reducing customer complaints
  • Decreasing time to market
  • Improving market share (or mind share)
  • Taking advantage of new technology
  • Improving morale
  • Developing new products
  • Leaving markets or closing units


The most successful salespeople are the ones who find pressing customer problems and do something to solve them in a way that is convenient, cost effective, or timely. Top salespeople find problems that customers are ready to solve, then they work hard to solve them. Of course, finding those problems and then delivering good solutions for them requires a well-planned and organized effort. This book provides the steps for delivering high-value, innovative customer solutions and recommendations for identifying the customer's priorities for solving those problems.

Top sales professionals know that when you find customers’ significant, pressing problems, they will be willing to pay for a solution. Finding those significant problems means sorting out customers who are ready and willing to buy from those who aren't. A critical success factor is how to market your problem-solving abilities so people know what you can do for them and how that they can save time, money or effort by using your solutions.

Taking the initiative to identify and decide to solve customer-related problems in unique ways is leadership. Sales leaders open untapped and sometimes vast new market opportunities. What problems are you solving for your customers? If you were to ask your customers, what would they say? If you asked them to prioritize those problems, would there be any surprises? Customers have many problems. Find those that they want to solve the most and that you are most uniquely qualified to solve and you will have a winning combination.

So, how do you solve problems? There are proven problem-solving steps you can use. You may use them already. Let's take a look at one approach.

Five Step Problem-Solving Approach
People who are really good at solving problems go about it systematically. They have a way of placing the problem in context. They don't jump to conclusions. They evaluate alternatives.

A good way to become a systematic problem solver is to adopt the following five-step problem-solving process:

1. Identify the problem. This is critical: you must try to solve the right problem. Don't try to solve a problem the customer sees as low priority or unimportant. Identify the right problem by asking the right questions and observing. You cannot identify the customer's problems by presenting your products. What’s leading the customer to feel there is a problem? Is it something specific or is it an intuitive sense that things aren't as they should be? Can the customer define the problem?

2. Analyze the problem. How often does the problem occur? How severe is it? Are there any special circumstances that are present when it occurs? What might be the causes of the problem? Can you rule out any causes? How long has it been going on? Has it gotten worse? How is the problem affecting other processes or people?

3. Identify decision criteria. How will you and the customer make decisions when it is time to decide? How will you weigh the criteria? Can you identify independent standards that can be used?

4. Develop multiple solutions. Don't stop at the first solution that you or others identify. It may be good, but much better ones may exist. Evaluate alternative scenarios. As objectively as possible, assess the pros and cons of each.

5. Choose the optimal solution. Use the criteria you developed in the third step of this problem-solving process to choose the best solution. Develop a base of support that will ensure you can implement the solution. Prepare for contingencies.

When you solve problems systematically, you save time, achieve better solutions, and increase your credibility with the customer and the perceived value of what you've done. If you can solve problems the customer is facing more expeditiously than someone else, the customer will appreciate the time saved.

Problem solving involves some considerations beyond those addressed by the five-step process. Once you have the problem identified, you can sometimes rely on a known solution or a combination of known solutions. At other times, no ready solution is apparent. In this case, you may need to do a business case analysis to determine if it will be profitable for your company to develop a solution. This includes asking what might be involved in developing the solution, how much time the process would require, and how well suited your company is to do the job. The issues become more complicated, but the problem-solving process may also be more rewarding.

You may need to tap into the knowledge you have acquired in solving similar or even non-similar problems or the knowledge that exists in your company. You may need to have someone initiate research and create a solution from scratch, (which can be cost prohibitive), or you can find a partner that already has the solution you need. You will need an innovative approach. Deciding to create solutions and driving them through the organization is part of what makes exceptional sales leaders exceptional.

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From the 10 Immutable Laws of Power Selling (McGraw-Hill) ©2003 by James A. DeSena

 
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