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Week 023 – Hold Back on Your Solution – Chapter 06

Those who don’t have problems don’t need solutions, obviously. And those who don’t have problems are rarely willing to invest money. Therefore, it is clear that you as a sales professional have to figure out first what problem the client does have and then urge him to take action. It is crucial, however, that you don’t divulge your solution right away.

“Problem” is an unpleasant word for many people, and it is not only for this reason that a simple question like “What is your problem?” is unsuited to our purposes. So, what’s the right question to pose if you’re trying to learn about the motive behind your costumer’s decision to invest?

Let’s say I ask you something that is, in my view, a neutral question: “Do you have problems with athlete’s foot, too?”

As you might suspect, this closed-ended question can easily be taken as a personal assault. This applies no less to business life, If you ask a CEO whether he has difficulties with his current installation up to this point, you will most likely get the response of a truculent kid: “We’re doing just fine!”

Whenever I bring this point up with experienced sales professionals in my seminars, I almost always get a patronizing smile. “We know all of this already, it’s beginner stuff, “ their expressions seem to say. But when it comes to a role-play of this issue, it becomes clear that it might be obvious in theory, but in practice it is seldom applied.

Break the habit

Why don’t professionals themselves manage to do what they set out to do? Why do they pose such questions when

they know that it’s the wrong approach? I think it’s the effect of habit. When people hear the same problem scenarios over and over when talking with similar customers, their expectations adapt accordingly. They go into the sales pitch thinking, “Here comes the same problem all over again . . .” And that may well be the case – every consultant who has been successful in her field has discovered that the actual number of typical problems is small. No wonder that salespeople tend to take the shortcut and say to the customer, “As far as I can see, this is the problem, right?”

This shortcut will definitely not succeed; let me take an example of a patient. Let’s say you’ve hurt your knee doing sport. A friend of yours happens to know a knee specialist, a world-renowned expert in his field. Usually, there’d be a long waiting list, but he could get you an appointment the day after tomorrow.

Conversation Techniques – Hold Back on Your Solution © Fotolia 2015 / Matthias Enter

Conversation Techniques – Hold Back on Your Solution © Fotolia 2015 / Matthias Enter

Two days later you’re sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. When you’re called into the office, you hobble over. You take a few steps toward the doctor seated at his desk while he observes you and your walk closely. No sooner have

you taken a step then he says, “Wonderful, I can see what you need.” He’s already holding out a prescription. Now, would you consider him to be an expert in his field? Hardly. But what if he had discreetly written the prescription while you were walking to the examination table, but then hat taken ten minutes to feel your knee, test its movements and ask you questions?

With this story, I will illustrate the following: An expert’s competence is not justified by a swift diagnosis but by sufficient anamnesis. So what does this mean for B2B sales? It means premature solutions are not helpful. Even if as an expert you can spot the client’s problem and its solution right off the bat, you should still take you time. Get to the bottom of the problem in order to better understand it. If you opt for a shortcut, you’ll be doing yourself and your reputation as a problem solver a disservice. Even experienced consultants fall into this trap.

Vary Your Type of Questions

How do you frame a good problem question? You can do this easily by following this guideline: Flesh out the issue from the customer’s perspective, and customize an open and honest question accordingly.

The first part should focus the attention of the customer on the issue. In order to fuel the customer’s imagination, it’s worth using formulations that enhance his awareness of the issue, like “Assuming that . . .” “Imagine that . . .” “If you consider that . . .” The second portion should be an open-ended question.

Alternate between rational and emotional questions. Rational questions are concerned with priorities, enumerations, and arguments. Emotional questions examine sensibilities, feelings and points of view. It is best if you find out beforehand what modes of perception the client favors. The visual type will want to see something, failing which it will not be “clear” to her. The aural type hears, or else says, “it doesn’t sound good.” Tactile people sense that something “doesn’t feel right.” And olfactory, that is taste-oriented, people might say that something “stinks.”

Don’t limit yourself to problem questions. And don’t pounce on the first problem that your customer mentions, since it is rarely the most important one. Simply take note of what is being said, repeat it briefly, and continue asking questions. In this way you’ll get to know your customers increasingly well.

These were the question-types concerning the problem and the situation. Before I will discuss other question-types, I will show you a method to steer the thoughts of your client.

Best wishes,
Stephan Heinrich