How to Turn Problems Into Opportunities
“We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.” That’s a line many sales leaders like to repeat as a form of motivation to their sales team. But before a problem can become an opportunity, you’ll need to find or create a solution to the problem. If you’re unable to follow through on that notion, you’re not going to end up with an opportunity but with a problem. Look at it this way: solving problems create opportunities. Problem solving is a skill and such skills can be acquired and improved. Skills are also measured by performance. Therefore, if you really want to turn problems into opportunities, you need to broaden and deepen your problem-solving skills. In this article, we explore how sales leaders can truly turn problems into opportunities for their sales reps.
Here’s one issue many sales reps face often: The buyer is not connecting with what is being said and it might stem from two core issues:
- The buyer may not be interested (Initial problem)
- There’s a communication issue between sales rep and buyer (Deeper problem)
How we view the problem impacts how we solve it. Clearly, the lens through which we view the problem dictates how we see the solution. When selling, you’ll need to understand the true problem, otherwise it’ll become impossible to find the solution.
Fact: The only thing we can control during a communication exchange as a salesperson with a prospect are our communication choices. The more creative options we develop, the more likely we can find a solution. But as the saying goes, when our only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Let’s face it, everyone is always busy. If someone shares a piece of information with us, and we don’t have a legitimate reason to pay attention, we register that information as not helpful and ignore it. For example, imagine how many times you ignored one of those sign spinners on the side of the road. You ignored the tax service and you ignored the apartment for rent. But when your engine light came on, you suddenly paid attention to the 10-minute oil-change sign spinner by the side of the road. When prospects ignore us, it’s not because they don’t have any problems. It’s because they viewed the information we shared as not helpful to their specific circumstances.
As salespeople, we often view problems through a rigid “salesperson” lens. Our lens is dependent on the sales methodology we practice and have the most experience with. It could be that your lens is to be personable, charismatic, and persuasive. This lens may solve many but not all problems. If we change the lens on how we look at the problem, we can find new solutions.
For example, what if we viewed the problem from an economist point of view? An economist might view things from a supply and demand perspective and most value resources that are the scarcest. If, as the salesperson, you are trying to save the prospect money but they most value time, it would be hard to persuade them until you view the problem through the right lens. Having a different perspective will give us different solutions.
Real-World Problem and Real-World Solution
A company that manufactures and sells communication cable was trying to win the business of a nationwide Audio/Video installer. The installation company uses this type of cable to install digital signage for hotels, conference centers, and airports. The problem for the company was that the installation company had a solid relationship with their current cable supplier and was not interested in switching vendors. Their reps had called the Head Engineer many times, and each time the engineer politely thanked them for the call but informed the sales reps he was still happy with his current supplier.
Then the company switched lenses. Instead of approaching the A/V installer as the seller, what if they approached them as a customer? The cable supplier was setting up a new conference room. They had the monitor, computers, and cables, but needed everything professionally set up. So they called the head engineer and asked if they would do the installation if they already had all the hardware. They said yes and within a week, the head engineer was at the cable company’s corporate office. During the installation, the engineer noticed the company’s cable was more flexible, lighter and came in multiple colors, not only white or black. The company knew the problem wasn’t that he had to “sell” the cable. What they really needed was for the engineer to use the cable in a real-world situation. From there, the cable sold itself.
Creative problem solving usually starts with looking at problems in a new way. Higher level thinking requires creativity, reasoning, and reflection. For new sales reps, the easiest thing to do is judge, which requires zero thinking. Judging sounds like this, “The prospect just doesn’t get it.” That statement is at best an opinion and you know what they say about opinions: they’re like feet. Everyone has a couple and they often stink. Opinions don’t solve problems; they usually continue them.
Here’s an exercise that will help you develop your creative problem-solving skills. Imagine yourself as a doctor, and a new patient enters your office. The rule is that you can only ask questions to diagnose this patient. When you look at this situation from the doctor’s lens, some questions you might ask include:
- What brought you in today?
- How long have you been dealing with this?
- On a scale of 1-10, how bad is the pain?
- What have you tried to treat this?
- How did it work?
In this scenario, the doctor is asking questions, but at the same time, develops trust. Don’t you think questions develop trust? Consider the alternative scenario through a patient’s lens: You walk in and the doctor takes one look at you and says, “Don’t worry about a thing, I know exactly what’s wrong with you. You’ll need surgery tomorrow.”
Even if you did need the surgery, how likely would you schedule the surgery with that doctor? Not very, because he prescribed the solution, prior to diagnosing the problem.
This is the exact scenario many new sales reps find themselves in. Their company provided plenty of product training and likely a little bit of actual sales training. Then they send them off into the world to help customers.
These sales reps truly want to help their clients, but they can’t figure out why no one is opting for their solution, (aka surgery). It’s because modern selling is becoming more complex. Most organizations are very good at providing their sales reps with facts, but creative problem solving requires solutions that are original to the client and high-quality. Modern selling is more than regurgitating facts, features, and benefits. Sellers need to constantly rethink their problem solving-strategies to position their solution as original and high-quality.
The fundamental role of every sales rep is problem solving. As sales leaders, our main responsibility is to help our team become confident problem solvers. Problem solving is a skill and confidence and is developed through practice. When sales reps have the confidence to tap into their creativity to solve problems, they will be more successful. With confidence, they can ask themselves, “How well do I really understand my client’s problem?” If our goal is to help as many clients as possible, then problem solving is a skill sales reps should develop. Without creative problem-solving skills, problems rarely transform into opportunities. But with problem solving skills, every problem is truly an opportunity.
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