Much of the time, you will find your dream clients working with a competitor. If you’re lucky, they may already be experiencing significant challenges, compelling them to change their solutions— and perhaps their partner. But far more often, they’ll think that their results are fine, that things are going well, and there is no reason to change.
Handling both situations means knowing when to solve problems and when to create them. Focusing only on solving problems will prevent you from creating opportunities, but so will not knowing how to create the right kind of problem— one that compels change.
Solving a Problem
The way we thought about sales in the past was that every prospective client already knew exactly what problem they were experiencing and that they were compelled to change, so simply eliciting that problem would open up the opportunity to solve it by selling them our solution. There is still value to this approach, even if we have more sophisticated ways of addressing a client’s existing challenges.
Sometimes, you find your client is well aware of their challenge and motivated to do something about it. There is no reason to try to compel change when your client is already compelled. When your client knows what the solution needs to do, your discovery is going to focus on helping them imagine and acquire a solution that improves their results.
Some clients know that they have a problem but are unaware of what they need to do to resolve it. When this is true, you have to help them understand why they are struggling so they can better understand the nature of their problem. You also have to help them explore what the right solution is going to look like for them and how it will lead to an improvement.
Either way, when your client is aware that they have a problem, you are there to help them solve it.
Creating a Problem
One reason effective selling is difficult is that it is increasingly difficult for clients to buy. They are reticent to make changes when those changes come with significant risk or are significant enough that they might disrupt their business. They also struggle to make buying decisions because they avoid tough conversations that might allow them to build consensus, abandoning ideas when they are not able to get unanimous decisions.
The fact that change is hard doesn’t mean it’s not necessary or that it won’t improve things. My favorite Buddhist saying, “you’re perfect just the way you are, and you could use some improvement,” applies to companies too! Your clients may live with problems because they are comfortable with the status quo, want to avoid the internal conflict that would accompany any change, or don’t really understand the negative consequences they will eventually experience.
What makes one a trusted advisor is, in part, their ability to help their clients make change before the change is necessary. To help them make a change, you have to create a problem worth solving, with a benefit to them that makes it worth the effort to change. Problems don’t age well, and many of your prospective clients will wait too long to make necessary changes— allowing the problem to get worse, doing more harm to their business, and making it more expensive to solve in the future.
The way you create a problem is by helping your clients understand why they are not getting the results they need, demonstrating the negative consequences of doing nothing, and providing them with a compelling vision of their future.
One, the Other, or Both
It’s easy to believe that your client should be able to identify their problem for you, so you can get right to sharing your solution and explaining why they should buy from you. That’s the classic old school question: “So, what’s keeping you up at night?”
In B2B sales, you are going to need a better approach, since the vast majority of your clients do not yet recognize their problems—or if they’ve identified them, they haven’t yet done anything about them. Maybe they are not (yet) compelled to change or interested in improving things, or maybe they are constrained from doing so by some other factor.