In in our continued commitment to boost your sales motivation, we are sharing tips through guest blogs from various sales experts each Monday.  Today, Brett Clay offers a fresh perspective on the traps of looking for needs, problems and pains.  Brett is founder and CEO of the Change Leadership Group and the award-winning author of Selling Change: 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales.

We’ve all taken many sales courses over the years. They taught us to find the customer’s need, pain or problem and then demonstrate that our product or service is the best solution. Those approaches worked very well over the last 20 to 30 years and we all made a lot of money using them.

But, there are a number of traps you need to avoid if you don’t want to become as obsolete as a car phone antenna on the rear window of your Bimmer.

Trap #1: No One Needs What You Sell

Do people buy your product because they need it?

All sales courses teach the fundamental concept of “need satisfaction selling.” The notion is that people buy things in order to satisfy a need or want, to fill a gap, to solve a problem. While the concept seems straightforward, there is a subtle but incredibly powerful point about buying that even the brightest people have difficulty understanding. That is, the customer’s problem is not that he does not own your product. His need is not your product. Rather, your product satisfies a need perceived by your customer.

One of the biggest mistakes I see salespeople and executives making is confusing problems with solutions.  Often, when I ask them, “What is the customer’s problem? What does the customer need?” they say, “His problem is that he needs my product.”

Let’s say you need to obtain your management’s approval to purchase a widget. When you ask your manager to sign the purchase requisition, your manager asks, “Why do we need this?” You say, “Because we don’t have it.” Is it likely your manager will say, “Oh. Okay. Then, here’s my approval”? Absolutely not.

The English language is partly to blame. We say things like “I need a break” and “I need a coffee.” But those are solutions, not problems. A need is the existence of a problem, not the existence of a solution.

Avoiding the Trap:

Rather than asking, “Do you need a break?” salespeople should be asking, “Do you feel tired?” A fundamental principle of behavioral psychology is that people take action in response to the forces they feel. If a person feels tired, there are innumerable ways the person could respond to this feeling. Or, perhaps the person feels another, more powerful force, such as desire to obtain a good grade on a homework assignment, that over rides the feelings of tiredness.

Focusing on what the customer feels is far more powerful and opens up a whole new world of possibilities for both the customer and the salesperson.

Trap #2: Problems are Commodities

The internet, along with today’s blazingly fast fiber optic networks, has put an astounding amount of power in buyers’ hands. Buyers no longer rely on professional salespeople to help them define a solution, let alone a problem. In fact, it is not uncommon for buyers to know more about your product and your competitors’ products than you do.

What does that mean for you? No matter how much they like you, buyers simply don’t need your help to solve their problems, anymore. In their mind your value is helping them convince your management to lower your prices.  And you know how well your management likes that.

Avoiding the Trap:

What can you do if your solutions, even custom solutions requiring talented professional services, get turned into commodities, such as dollars-per-hour? Clearly, if the old approaches aren’t working, it’s time for a new approach. It’s time to climb to the next rung on the value ladder; to go beyond providing solutions to problems.

What is beyond solving a problem? Achieving a goal. Solutions are like bandages. They heal a pain. But, are people satisfied simply by not being in pain? Or, do they actually want to feel good, to go somewhere, to get something accomplished? You will be far more valuable to your customers if you help them achieve their goals, rather than just relieve their pain.

Trap #3: Getting Stuck in Problems

Understanding the customer’s problem is really important. As salespeople, we often have a solution looking for a problem. Our job is often to find someone who has the problem that can be solved by our product.

But, is solving a problem the end in itself? Do you wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I’m so happy I have a boatload of problems I can fix today?”

Leaks in a sailboat, torn sails, and broken winches are all examples of problems. Solving those problems keeps the boat afloat. But having a boat that floats does not mean it is going to go anywhere. Only by making changes, such as setting the sails and tacking back and forth, will the boat sail to a destination. So, rather than being a destination, problems are like bricks in the road that form a path to reach destinations in your business and in your life. We often get caught up in the problems and lose the perspective that the problems are just bricks.

Avoiding the Trap:

Problems and solutions are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface are all of the forces and changes acting on the customer’s organization. When an organization responds to the forces acting on it by making a change, a problem “surfaces.” The problem on the surface is merely a symptom of the forces acting under the surface.

For every problem recognized by an organization and for every solution vendors offer to solve the problem, there are many forces at work in the organization. It is common for customers to be well down the path looking for a specific solution when they have not adequately defined the problem, let alone thoroughly assessed the underlying situation.

You will be valued far more by your customers if you assist them in addressing the underlying issues. You will also find a much bigger set of opportunities under the surface.

In conclusion, by looking for the forces your customer feels, the changes she wants to make, and the goals she wants to achieve — rather than her needs, problems, and pains — you will find more opportunities to help your customer, and your customer will value you and your products far more. You will be way ahead of both your competition and the internet.

Brett Clay is a veteran of two decades in international sales and marketing management. His sales training and consulting company specializes in the area of change leadership and business performance. You can reach him at Brett@SellingChange.com or 1-800-351-LEAD.

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