Why You Need to Sell the Problem Before You Can Sell Your Solution


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Recent research by CSO Insights, SiriusDecisions and others confirms what a growing number of sales managers have observed: for many sales organisations, more sales are lost to “no decision” than to the competition. Here’s why B2B sales people need to focus on selling the need to solve the prospect’s problem before they sell their solution…

But first some background: I must have conducted hundreds of independent win-loss reports on behalf of clients over the years. I’ve noted that even vendors who are normally very disciplined about win-loss reporting can fail to pay the proper attention to analysing deals that end in “no decision”.

They are missing out on invaluable information that could help them dramatically improve the effectiveness of their sales and marketing activities. I’d like to share a pattern that I’ve observed – and highlight three of the most common reasons why apparently promising prospects decide to “do nothing”.

Three Reasons why Prospects Decide to “Do Nothing”

Let’s set aside the most obvious reason – that you were simply not offering a good enough solution to their problem – something that should be addressed through better qualification early on in the sales cycle.

My observations suggest that there are three primary reasons why a vendor with a strong problem-solution fit loses to a decision to “do nothing”:

– The perceived risk of change outweighs the likely benefits

– The pain of staying with the status quo isn’t uncomfortable enough

– The prospect has more important problems to solve

1: Mitigating the Risk of Change

Risk plays an increasingly significant role as buying decisions move towards a conclusion. As the final approval process looms, stakeholders start to question whether the proposed solution will actually solve the problem. Many will bear the scars of projects that took too long, cost too much and failed to deliver the hoped-for results.

This aversion to risk is a natural part of the decision making process, and vendors need to plan for it. They need to accept that those responsible for approving expenditure are looking for reassurance that their investment will result in the desired outcome. You must find ways of proving that you have a proven process for helping your customers manage the challenge of change.

2: The Status Quo isn’t Painful Enough

Nokia’s CEO famously declared that his company was standing on a burning platform shortly before announcing their alliance with Microsoft. He forcefully explained why the status quo was no longer sustainable, and that the company had no option but to change.

Without, perhaps, employing such dramatic imagery, salespeople nevertheless need to be looking for the burning platform within their prospects. They need to help their prospects identify, calculate and articulate the painful consequences of staying where they are – and offer them an escape route to safety.

3: Make Sure the Problem is a Top Priority

Sales people can run highly effective sales campaigns, offer the best solution to a key business issue, win the recommendation of their champion and the decision-making team, and yet still not get bought – because the prospect decided that solving a different problem had an even higher priority.

When qualifying opportunities, sales people need to pay attention not just to problem-solution fit and their chances of being selected, but also to whether the problem they are being called in to solve is linked to a critical business initiative. If not, you need to recognise that you are going to have to work even harder to ensure that your champion has the ammunition to defend their investment case against the inevitable competing priorities.

Why You Need to Sell the Problem Before You Sell the Solution

If your sales people are to avoid winning the recommendation, but losing the sale to a decision to “do nothing”, you must ensure that they are qualifying not only the problem-solution fit, but also the prospect’s motivation and ability to take action.

Before you can sell your solution, you must ensure that at the end of the day the prospect is convinced they need to solve the problem. You must find or create that burning platform. Building the foundation for your prospect’s decision to do something starts from the very first sales call.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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