“Tell Us Your Top Business Challenge”


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A very large telecom company sent me this marketing email. It was one of those, “Dear Occupant Or Current Resident” emails.

The subject line was “Tell us your top business challenge.” The message continued, “Our experts want to help your business thrive.” There were links to resources about their products. Then the message went on, “It’s your turn to tell us what you want to know. [Our High Speed Networking Product]] can help you find the right solutions to your business challenges.” More links to product pitches. The rest of the note was on their expertise in solving business problems and links to their products. So without even responding to the question, Tell us your top business challenge, they were presenting solutions.

I suspect this campaign was inflicted on 10’s of thousands of small business owners. I suspect dozens of marketing people spent a lot of time embedding as many product links as they could into this email, with all the appropriate tracking id’s that would drive still further emails.

There was a time when I might have thought, “It’s an OK campaign, not great, maybe a ‘C +.'”

As you read this, you probably can think of something similar you have done, whether it’s an email campaign or a prospecting call. We’re tempted to think, it’s not bad, we are focusing on learning the business issues and challenges…..

But we can’t resist getting into what we sell as a solution to whatever business challenge our customers have. In this prospecting email, apparently very high speed internet and related services are the solutions to every business problem customers are likely to have. I suppose, at the root of every product development problem, every manufacturing or logistics problem, every customer experience problem, every business strategy issues, financing/cashflow, revenue generation problem is “high speed internet.”

The analogy is, “if all you sell is hammers, every problem begins to look like a nail.”

But the problem with this prospecting email is far deeper. Our customers don’t need help on the business challenges they are aware of. If they have identified business challenges, presumably they are doing something about them. They may have them solved–in which case they are probably not business challenges. Alternatively, they are working on solving them and are possibly way down a path to developing and implementing a solution.

That’s the problem with asking our customers to tell us their business problems and challenges. If they can identify them, they already know what they are doing to solve them. If they have a problem that requires them to buy some products or services, they probably have alternatives they are considering. So we create no value in having them talk about something they are already addressing.

Stated differently, it makes absolutely no sense to think our customers have identified problems and business challenges, but are choosing to do nothing about them. It makes no sense to think they are waiting around for some cleverly worded email or prospecting call asking to a vendor about their problems.

It’s the problems, challenges, opportunities our customers are unaware of that are the biggest issues. They may be blind to something they are doing wrong. They may not be aware there is a better way. They may not be aware of what others are doing which might threaten them.

We create greater value, consequently greater opportunity for both the customer and us, when we come to them with insights, observations or ideas. We help them improve, change, grow, when we come to them with ideas to help them think differently, to help them learn, and help incite them to change.

These needn’t be earthshaking changes or observations, we don’t need to solve the business version of world peace, hunger, or even Covid.

They can be relatively simple observations:

  • “I’ve noticed you doing things this way…. Have you ever considered looking at doing it this way….?” The first time I ever did that, I ended up selling a $60M project that had not been budgeted, but became so important they found the money.
  • Alternatively, “We are seeing a lot of other organizations in your markets are starting to do this….. How does that impact you? Have you ever thought of doing this….?”
  • Or, “We are seeing these trends in the markets you address….. Are you seeing them as well? How do they impact you? What if you could do this to address them?”
  • ….and on and on…..

The problem with this approach, the problem with getting customer to think differently, is we have to have a pretty deep understanding of them, their businesses, their competition, their markets. We have to be able to talk to them about these issues, why they might change, how they could change, what’s involved, what the risks might be and how we can help them.

And too often, we don’t know that. We leave the heavy lifting to the customer–to figure out that they need to change, to figure out what that change might entail, to identify potential partners/solutions to help them make that change.

Asking the customer to tell you their business problems is pure laziness, sloppy selling and marketing. And getting the customer to tell you about them wastes their time—they are already in the process of solving them and you are just too late.

What are you doing to help your customer discover something new, learn, grow, rethink what they are doing or where they are going?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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