The Problems with Problem Solving

Savvy sales reps know they must solve customers’ problems to get more sales. However, the problem is that very few reps solve problems.

Most reps sell at the commodity level but think they’re selling much higher up. Consider this:

You're selling a commodity if you're only selling benefits and features. Click To Tweet You're selling a solution when your offer solves a customer problem or makes an improvement. Click To Tweet You're selling integrity and results when you connect your solution to strategic business impacts. Click To Tweet

When you do all three at the same time, you’re very successful. Here’s why you want to move up this selling ladder:

Sell Features & Benefits Only

This is a head-to-head slug fest with the competition and is where most reps play.

Even though many customers don’t want to buy at this level, they have to if this is all that’s available to them.

At this level, customers are limited to:

  • Which seller has the best features – reps can only sell what their companies offer
  • Which seller has the best price
  • Which seller communicates the best – who’s better with benefits & features

Of these three, only the last factor is in the rep’s control. The other two are determined by the rep’s company, and features/benefits should be articulated by its marketing department ahead of selling.

And even if the rep was great at communications, they’d still lose out to reps who:

Sell a Solution That Solves Problems or Makes Improvements

Customers buy solutions before they buy features and benefits alone. Why?

Because customers don’t have to assume or guess the value they’re getting. The solution to a problem is either valuable enough, or it isn’t. And reps who are good at selling this way also quantify the value of that solution for customers. Easey peasey.

At this level, customers:

  • Buy solutions that have immediate value to them
  • Choose solutions over benefits/features because value is laid out for them – easier to justify their decision
  • Are open to relationship with these reps because they make their life better, easier, more successful

The challenge for sales reps is that they need info from customers before they can design their solution. They need insights into customers’ problems and goals, and that only comes with customers giving them access. Why would customers do that?

Because they believe the reps can help them, and they trust them.

This means reps must get in early on the sales cycle to build their credibility and trust before customers buy. Then they’ll get the insights they need to design a specific and effective solution, and be able to quantify the results in customers’ terms.

Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often as many reps wait to respond to Request for Proposals. At that late stage, reps are confined to the benefits/features game. And who knows if one of their competitors hadn’t already done the time to build credibility, gain insights and now is designing a valued solution?

Yet there is one more level of selling that can trump even solutions that solve problems and that is:

Sell a Solution with Strategic Business Impacts

This is solution selling but at a strategic level, the rep’s solution pays off at a business level, as well as at the decision maker’s level.

This selling connects value from the solution to important and significant impacts on customers’ businesses. It articulates that connection and payoff. So when the rep’s proposal gets circulated inside the customer’s decision making process it’s seen as having much higher value to the overall business than a lower level solution.

The challenge for reps to sell at this level is to get in early but also get in much higher than they normally might.

The goal is to gain senior executive insight and access, which will be incorporated into the reps proposal when the time comes to sell.

When customers go to buy, the buying process has been passed down to lower levels (where reps typically engage customers) and strategic insight doesn’t get shared with reps there.

That level of decision maker believes their job is to perform a benefits/features comparison. So they talk to reps about those aspects of their buying, not the insightful and important strategic goals or challenges their company faces (those are what senior executives deal with).

Also, when reps connect the value of their solution to strategic business impacts, their solution speaks to multiple buying agendas. It makes it easier for various decision makers to easily see how that solution affects other areas of their company. Areas that may be higher up on a particular decision maker’s agenda than the rep’s customer contact.

The Moral of the Story

Reps must work early in the process to gain access to the highest relevant senior executive. Once there, they must secure strategic insights and then incorporate them into their solution to customers’ problems and goals.

Absent this insight, reps must be great at communicating benefits and features (really the work of marketing departments) and hope customers are only looking at others who are at the same level.

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