Breakthrough Selling: Not All Problems Are Created Equal

At some point in your career, a sales trainer taught you that selling is essentially about solving problems (stopping pain) or creating opportunities (creating gain) for your prospects.

Your job is to ask enough questions to better understand the prospect’s business and the gaps that exist, and then sell solutions that fill said gaps.

Problem is, it’s an incomplete equation.

For example, my Toyota 4Runner has 255,000 miles on it. For the last 150,000 miles nearly every light on the dashboard has been on — check-engine and maintenance, among others. I know what the problem is. It’s the catalytic converter and costs around $1,000 to fix. My mechanic talks to me about it every year when I take the 4Runner in for inspection. And every year I say the same thing, “I know it’s a problem, but I’m going to hold off for now.” I know he gets frustrated because he has identified a clear problem with my car, yet he can’t understand why I elect not to fix it year after year.


The reason is simple: It’s not a big enough problem to be worth fixing, at least not to me.

(I understand this is an opening for all the car people to tell me I’m wrong. I’ll wait for your email.)

Here’s my point.

There is a gap between problems your prospects have and the problems they are committed to fixing — meaning they are prepared to invest time and money.

Many days you’re as frustrated as my mechanic because you have prospects and clients with obvious problems who choose to take no action.

You chalk it up to price or “they just don’t get it.” That’s not always the case. You may have found problems, but you haven’t found the right problems — the ones that cause the kind of pain, stress or distraction that people can no longer live with.

Your sales trainers were right when they told you to ask questions to uncover problems. The part they didn’t teach you was the difference between problems and problems people care enough to fix.

Here are some questions that might help you differentiate between the two.

“Mr. Prospect, throughout this conversation you’ve listed several challenges your business is facing. I’m curious. Which are the one or two most important problems that you’d like to solve?”

Or, “Mr. Prospect, over the course of our last few conversations it seems we keep coming back to the same problem that’s limiting your growth. On a scale of 1 to 10 — 10 being I have to find a solution — how would you rate this particular problem?”

This is just one more example where the key to increasing your effectiveness as a sales professional and creating value for your clients is largely tied to your ability to ask the right questions at the right time.

MENTOR May 2016;7(5):5.

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