The problem with problems Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

I know for a fact that a company I have been calling on has a problem I can help with, yet its principals won’t admit it’s a problem. How do I get my prospects to admit this problem without telling them they have the problem, which might offend them?

The No. 1 reason people buy things is to solve a problem that is either real or perceived. Yet few people want to admit they have a problem, especially to a stranger.

It’s like when you see a business colleague, and he asks you, “How you are doing?” Your life may be a complete wreck, but you don’t tell him that. Instead, you say it’s good. It’s called denial.

The key to selling is to get prospects to admit they have a problem. To do this, you have to make it OK for them to have the problem. Few people want to admit they have a problem unless you can show them that (1) this kind of problem is common and happens to the best of them, or (2) it wasn’t their fault.

That’s why a change in management presents such a great selling opportunity. New management can blame the problems to which they are seeking solutions on the prior management.

The first scenario is a little more difficult. Ideally, we all would like to simply ask prospects if they have one of a laundry list of the types of problems we can help with and have them check off the ones that apply. However, this type of question often will prompt prospects to respond with the “I don’t have any problems” routine.

Consider prefacing your question with a statement such as, “Typically when I talk to companies similar to yours, most of them tell me that, although business is good, they are still concerned or frustrated by (insert the problem of your choice). I don’t suppose you have those same concerns?”

By stating it this way, you are making it safe for prospects to admit they have the problem, because all of their peers have it as well — even those who are very successful.

Any time prospects acknowledge they have a problem, you must keep them from feeling uncomfortable about having it. When your prospects feel OK, they will open up to you. Your mindset needs to be the same as a nurturing parent when talking to a prospect.

This doesn’t mean you should minimize the problem. You want your prospects to experience the pain that comes from having this problem. They won’t take the necessary steps to eliminate the problem unless they perceive it to be compelling.

Rather, you want to minimize the fact that they acquired the problem in the first place.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send him your comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.