One of the many great moments in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is the arrival of Harvey Keitel’s character — “The Wolf.” He’s a problem solver. He takes notes at the first sign of trouble, asks important questions and makes smart decisions.
Granted, a sales call couldn’t get any different than cleaning up a couple of gangsters and their bloody car. But problem-solving is important for any field. Here’s a look at how it can make a difference when working with prospective clients.
1. Diagnosis: Before any problem-solving begins, a salesperson needs to know just what the issues are. Sales columnist Mark Suster calls this finding the “pain point” in a story for inc.com. “Unless your prospect has a need to solve a problem, they are not going to buy a product,” he says. The key during a sales call is finding a balance between the client’s needs and what you have to offer, he says, and turning that into a conversation. “When you have a real business discussion about a pain point, rather than simply pitching your solution, prospects are more likely to open up about their own problems,” Suster writes. “Even if they debate whether the problem is real, you’re having a much better meeting than just flipping through slides. If they’re going to take the time, energy and logic to try and debate with you, it’s much better if they’re at least engaged.”
2. Analyze the issue: Once the problems have been established, dig into the specifics, or as much as the client is willing to share. James DeSena offers a list of questions in his book The 10 Immutable Laws of Power Selling, an excerpt of which is featured on businessknowhow.com: “How often does the problem occur? How severe is it? Are there any special circumstances that are present when it occurs? What might be the causes of the problem? Can you rule out any causes? How long has it been going on? Has it gotten worse? How is the problem affecting other processes or people?”
3. Don’t do all the talking: Though the gift of gab can benefit a salesperson, it doesn’t necessarily work when in problem-solving mode. The ideal method, according to Suster, is “active listening, when you’re engaged in what the customer is telling you.” He says it’s natural that people like to hear themselves talk, but that it can turn off a prospective client. “And please,” he writes, “resist the temptation to cut off the customer with a story of your own. (‘I heard you, but now let ME tell you this great story I have.’) Most people naturally do this at cocktail parties, but it’s not a good idea in sales meetings. When you cut off customers with your stories, you lose valuable insights that might be exposing more pain points. Show your knowledge and charm through great questions, not great anecdotes.”
4. Be honest: It sounds so obvious, but many of us have faced professional situations in which someone was misrepresenting the facts. When trying to solve a problem for a client, stretching the truth won’t help in the long run. Ken Sundheim, CEO of sales and recruiting company KAS Placement, writes in a piece for Forbes that smart and successful clients don’t fall for dishonest sales pitches. “In business, some people lie,” he writes, “and when they succeed in not telling the truth, those individuals end up working with unintelligent clients who usually don’t have too much capital. Companies that buy into over-inflated promises are typically lower-tier firms with second-rate products and services. On the other hand, smart organizations know how to shop for services. When promised the world, they see a red light. In sales, you are who you network with, and if you want honest, lucrative clients, act in a manner as such.”
5. Explore multiple solutions: It would be nice to have the perfect answer to every client’s problems, but offering more than one option may help to ease the process. In a piece for salestrainingadvice.com, consultant Josh Hinds says salespeople who latch onto one solution are making a mistake. “There is always more than one solution to any problem that the customer may have,” he says. “It is possible that they have one solution in their head, while your company may have more than one possible solutions to the problem identified. … The customer service professional needs to have the patience to go through all the solutions offered to the customer in detail so that the customer is able to make an informed decision. It will allow the customer to pick the solution that best suits his needs.”