Uncovering the Big, Expensive Problem

  • December 14, 2016

Put down your spec sheets.

They’re getting in the way of you making a sale.

Your customer doesn’t care if your widget has five buttons or two.

What they care about is that you understand their problem and you have a solution to it.

I see too many salespeople relying heavily on their content to make the sale. Content has an important place – don’t get me wrong – but there’s an emotional element to making the sale that too many people forget about.

The Big, Expensive Problem

Let me state this from the get-go: I have nothing against spec sheets. Or PowerPoint decks. Or digital brochures. All of those things are part of a comprehensive and effective digital sales toolkit.

But those things won’t make the sale for you.

And when you rely too heavily on them, you miss the elephant in the room.

That elephant is your customer’s big, expensive problem.

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” — Albert Einstein


Your customer is talking to you because they have a problem that needs to be solved. That problem is keeping them up at night. It’s haunting them. It’s affecting their decision-making. And they might not even know what it is.

That underlying problem is also an expensive problem. It’s costing them – maybe financially, or maybe just energetically. This problem is something that they’re willing (and happy) to pay to solve because it will help them sleep at night.

Here are two ways to uncover the big, expensive problem:

1. Ask one question – 5 times.

In the Six Sigma methodology, there’s a problem-solving exercise called the Five Whys. This technique involves – you guessed it – asking “why” five times in order to dive deeper into the problem and find the more important underlying issue.

Here’s how it might go down:

Vendor: Why do you need an employee training program on stress management?

Customer: Because my employees are stressed.

Vendor: Why are your employees stressed?

Customer: Because they work overtime to keep up with the demand for our product.

Vendor: Why do they need to work overtime to keep up with demand?

Customer: Because I don’t have enough employees to handle orders.

Vendor: Why don’t you have enough employees?

Customer: Because I can’t afford to hire more employees.

Vendor: Why can’t you afford to hire more employees?

Customer: Because we’re not making enough profit on our product.

Boom. There you go. The problem keeping the customer up at night isn’t the need to provide his employees with stress management training – the big, expensive problem is increasing his profit. A better solution for this customer might be consulting on how to raise his prices or increase his margin.

The point: Go deeper in your conversations with your customers. Listen more than you talk. The problem will rise to the surface – and then you’re in the unique position to help them solve it.

2. Talk about their business – not your business.

The next time you have a sales conversation, I want you to spend twice as much time listening as you do talking.

I know. That’s a tall order for someone who’s trying to make a sale.

But hear me out.

Unless you get to the bottom of the real problem your customer is having – the deeper issue that is keeping them up at night – you won’t be able to successfully position your solution as the right thing to solve that problem.

Most sales conversations are all about “me, me, me!”

Let’s shift our perspective a bit, shall we?

A sales conversation is an opportunity to learn about the customer. To learn what’s going on in their business.

Intentionally listening helps you uncover the big, expensive problem. Then you can position your solution to solve that problem. You can confidently talk about the outcome they can expect when (not if) they buy from you.

Listening also shows the customer that you care about their business. This changes your customer’s perspective. Now you’re no longer a pushy sales rep – you’re a valued business partner.

Wield Those Spec Sheets Thoughtfully

Once you’ve uncovered your customer’s big, expensive problem, then you can pull out the spec sheet to support your statements. Or better yet, send the spec sheet to your customer after the sales conversation, 1) as an excuse to follow up, and 2) so they can take their sweet time looking it over without a sales rep hovering.

If you take one thing away from this blog post, I hope it’s this: Your content should help you solve your customer’s problem – not get in the way of it.