Don’t Bother Helping Customers Buy Help Them Solve Their Problems Instead

Don’t Bother Helping Customers Buy – Help Them Solve Their Problems Instead

Like it or not, we have all changed how we do business and solve problems. We look for – and find – the information we need on search engines and websites (for free). We get as much of this information as we can to maximize and control our own (and our company’s) interests. We reduce our costs, and try to solve (or avoid) bigger, more complex problems than we ever have before.

In our quest for more interesting (and valuable) things, we ignore those companies who continue to focus on their products and channels the way they always have.

The Days of Traditional Sales and Marketing are Numbered If your company is reacting to these market changes by asking its salespeople to “try harder,” spending more on traditional advertising, or launching more products through the same channels, chances are you are not getting the kind of sales results you would like.

You may think you need a simpler demonstration of your product, or that you need to get more people to see the demonstration, or that you need to launch more products (or services). And, those things might actually be helpful.

But, are they the most important thing? Will they fix the bottleneck in your sales and marketing funnel?

Your product or service may solve an important operational problem, but what if many of your prospects are more worried about how to get the CFO (or the CEO) to pay attention to that problem, and less worried about how easily your product works?

Should you 1) wait until they are ready to buy before you start to engage? Or 2) leave this challenge up to the salesperson?

For that matter, tell me (please!) … is this a sales problem, or a marketing problem?

Everything You Do to Find, Win, and Keep Customers Must Create Value for Them!
Customers today need help with bigger, more complex problems (especially in B2B, where multiple people are involved in making most decisions). Customers will always seek the places in the market where they can get the highest value. The reason they are ignoring most traditional marketing and selling efforts is because those efforts are of little or no value to them.

Want proof? Here are two quick examples.

  • CompUSA had the potential to be great, but there was a good reason they went out of business in 2007.  At that time most retailers were not integrated via the Internet, so I had to call a local store to see if a networking item I wanted was in stock. The call center agent didn’t know anything (you couldn’t talk to anyone at a specific store). The first store I visited was out of stock. The clerk at the second one gave me a different opinion on which component I needed. When I got back home I discovered the item she sold me was the wrong one. Then, they charged me a restocking fee when I returned it for the right one.

Lots of people had CompUSA stories. But would accurate inventory records, or local store clerks who actually helped been enough to have saved this company?

For a long time, I would have said yes. Now I don’t think so. The next example shows why:

    • AutoZone
      The check engine light went on in my friend Bill’s 5-year old Lexus. He happened to be near an AutoZone, so he pulled in to take advantage of one of their free services. They plugged their diagnostic computer into his 5-year old Lexus and gave him a printout indicating what might be wrong with his car. Bill is an engineer, and an avid do-it-yourselfer. You can bet he is going to try to fix his own problem (and buy the parts from AutoZone) rather than give some auto mechanic $500 for similar information.

Again, it seems obvious now that free engine diagnostics in an auto parts store is an every day occurrence. But that was not always the case. That story sticks in my mind because it demonstrates the kind of thinking needed to succeed in the business world. 

The Huge Challenge Faced by Modern Corporations
For simplicity, I’ve given you easily identifiable examples from B2C companies. Yet the same pressures threaten B2B companies. No doubt you’ve heard of companies that moved from selling paint, to paint spray booths, to outsourcing entire parts of an assembly line. Or from selling mops and buckets and electrical maintenance and repair items to managing the entire spares inventory for a customer … on consignment!

Your customers don’t want to buy your product or service! They want to solve their problem.

That’s why so-called “solution selling” techniques like, well, Solution Selling™ , SPIN™ and many others stress asking questions and probing for the deeper problems and causes for customers’ behavior.

Unfortunately, what may appear to be a selling problem is often a marketing problem instead. “Marketing’s job,” Peter Drucker said, “is to make selling superfluous.” Boy was he ever right.

Please don’t get me wrong: salesmanship is crucial (especially in B2B).

Yet selling is a game of inches. Would better salesmanship have solved CompUSA’s problems? Is salesmanship responsible for the runaway success of Apple’s iPod/iTunes/iPhone juggernaut?

Of course not. You can’t sell yourself out of a systemic problem.

Instead, you have to base your strategy on a solid understanding of your customer’s business, and design your way to a more profitable (and less competitive) relationship.

This is why sales and marketing presents such a huge challenge to modern senior executives. If they even realize the huge sales and marketing dilemmas they face, they may have no idea how to go about fixing them.

Just the thought of “re-thinking” sales and marketing is scary. Executives know they can’t afford to start shooting in the dark.

Process Improvement to the Rescue
That’s why the time has come for process improvement in sales and marketing. Not traditional process improvement, of course, but an approach tailored to the cultural and technical challenges of sales and marketing people.

In this approach, the fundamental principles are

   1. Create value for customers
   2. Seek out relevant facts and data
   3. Analyze cause and effect
   4. Eliminate waste, errors, and defects
   5. Collaborate – involve the right people

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to begin working your team in the direction of low risk, evidence based approaches to gather facts and data on which to build new processes and win new customers.

One example is Voice offer Customer (VOC) research designed to uncover how your prospects try to solve their business problems (in relation to your offers, of course). Matching your marketing and selling activities to your customer’s buying process is an exercise, guaranteed to provide money-making insights that have never occurred to you before.

You can help marketers’ articulate hard-value propositions based on case studies documenting customer value. You can help salespeople gather fantastic evidence indicating your prospect’s likelihood of buying.

This kind of work reveals juicy possibilities for improving lead generation – and face-to-face demonstrating and selling techniques – that can put you ahead of the competition. Most importantly, it gives your sales and marketing teams a direction that is both instructive and productive.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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