Identifying the Problem

The purpose of selling is to solve a problem for the buyer. The problem may be low profits, high costs, labor problems, tax problems, or some other difficulty of business that stands in the way of growth. Your job as a professional salesperson is to help the prospect identify the problem and then offer a viable solution.

How can you identify the prospect's relevant problem? You probably already know what it is, at least in general terms. However, before you attempt to solve it, make sure you know it explicitly. And make sure that the prospect clearly recognizes it. That requires your asking questions, listening to responses, analyzing the information, and selecting an appropriate solution. Only then can you present a solution to the prospect.

Asking Questions

Questions can do two things: get answers and illustrate understanding. A question to a prospect such as “What level of returns have you had on model 485 widgets?” seeks information while also confirming that you understand where the problem lies. As you help the prospect solve the agreed-upon problem, you will need to develop relevant and knowledgeable questions to guide the transaction.

What's the problem? The majority of your prospects, buyers, and customers have a job that is similar to yours. Their function is to solve problems for their employers. The problem to be solved may be to increase profits, reduce costs, improve relationships with customers, or to accurately track business information. Your function is to solve problems not only for your employer, but also for your customers. Learning how to identify and solve problems is a valuable asset in selling.

Listening to Responses

If you've done your homework, you may already know the answers to questions posed to the prospect. The purpose of these questions may be to help the prospect recognize the problem. Even so, you must listen to the responses. In addition to confirmation, the responses may offer new information that you need to help the prospect define and solve the stated problem.

Some responses will need clarification that can be developed by asking additional questions. “You said that model 485 widget returns are now at 28 percent. Can you tell me how that compares with return rates for other model widgets?” As needed, make notes both to record useful information and to show that you are interested in what the prospect says.

Analyzing the Information

Once you've gathered relevant facts to help solve the problem, you need to analyze them before selecting and offering a solution. Again, you may already know what the probable solution is, based on your experience. However, don't move forward faster than your prospect does. In order to seemingly reach the same destination at approximately the same time, you must move at the same pace.

Once your prospect has answered all relevant questions, summarize the responses to make sure you both agree on them. Then take time to consider the facts presented.

  • Model 485 widget returns are at 28 percent.

  • Other model widgets are returned at a rate of about 6 percent.

  • Many of the returners complain of the same issue: defective flanges.

  • The flanges are made using a cold-weld process.

  • All other widget flanges use a hot-weld process.

  • Cold welding has been proven to be stronger than hot-welding in most applications.

Summarizing the information gathered can help both you and the prospect find a solution. A problem defined is half solved.

Selecting a Solution

There still may be more than one solution to the defined problem. The solution may be better training on cold welding. If so, you should ask the prospect about training and determine whether it is the full solution. If not, your job is to select an appropriate solution to the prospect's stated problem.

For example, based on your product knowledge and prior experience, you may recommend the Acme Cold Welder Deluxe to the buyer. You do so because it has a higher power level and operates faster. In your experience, the Deluxe makes cold welds that are superior to hot welds in this application. You know the problem, understand your products, and have a genuine desire to solve the prospect's problem with the most appropriate solution. You, in your mind, select the Acme Cold Welder Deluxe. Now what?

Next, you must sell your selection to the buyer. If you've followed the sales process above, you are nearly done. You've already agreed on the problem. It's now your job to help the buyer understand why the Deluxe is the best choice.

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