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Sales Strategies: Are you a Problem Finder? By Stu Schlackman


It’s 1994. We’re calling on a major designer of PC boards in the Silicon Valley area. Our objective is to engage them to outsource the manufacturing of a board to our Facility in Kanata near Ottawa.

About 30 minutes into the meeting, it becomes obvious that the CEO is more focused on getting the best price than anything else and we aren’t the lowest price in the market. Digital is known for its computers but not its external contract manufacturing.

So what can we do? What possible alternatives might there be to convince the CEO that we are his best partner? All of a sudden I have an off the wall desperate idea that I decide just might work. I ask the CEO about their marketing strategy – his response shows that it needs some help.

So, I ask, “What would you think if we manufacture your boards? You would then have the opportunity to sell them in our price book to both our end user customers and our resellers. How would you like to be a partner?”

Without hesitation, he says yes – he buys it! He loves the idea. So began a great partnership. We ended up building his boards and marketing them for a cut of the profit. A total win / win!

Daniel Pink’s new best seller is “To Sell is Human” and in it he talks about solving customer problems. The book is absolutely fabulous. But, the most profound learning for me is when he says, “The ability to move others hinges less on problem solving than on problem finding! We should not be selling the product, but the insight of the product”!

How many times have you heard that the best sales professionals are good at solving problems, yet as we dig deeper into Pink’s book, we learn that solving problems does not set sales people apart from their competitors. To truly stand out, you have to understand the customer’s situation so well that you can find problems that they haven’t even thought of. That’s what separates the great sales people from the pack.

To become a problem finder, build trust. One way to do this is by providing them what they need and want in the way they want it, which also makes you more likeable. Pink says, “We are more persuaded by people we like because they remind us of us”. The more we can mirror our customers’ style, the more likely they are to feel comfortable and open up.

When you overlay your personality style (Four People You Should Know) with how to find problems, you’ll find that people with a green personality are best at seeing future issues. Golds are best at understanding the financial impacts of solutions. Blues will most easily see potential people problems and Oranges are the most perceptive with finding problems related to ease of use and implementation.

As best-selling sales and marketing author Tony Alessandra says, use the “Platinum Rule”. We’ve been taught the Golden Rule which says treat others as you want to be treated. The Platinum Rule says “treat others the way they would like to be treated”. That requires understanding their personality style.

The common denominator in Tony and Daniel’s perspective? Being “you focused” instead of “I focused”. To be a good problem finder, learn about them. Provide them the kind of service that they want and need. Overcome your own personality style to understand theirs. Because when you study them and their organization you’ll uncover problems that aren’t on the surface and you’ll become a trusted adviser and partner.

Good selling!
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Stu Schlackman works internationally to help companies involved in long-term relationship selling achieve greater results. He is the author of Don’t Just Stand There, Sell Something and Four People You Should Know. Visit him at Competitive-Excellence.com.

-what was your biggest lesson you learned from the ideas above?