Why Diagnosing The Buyers’ Problems Is Key To Success

“We practice value selling, we are all about adding value to our prospects and clients!” Great. Then, I usually ask how the buyer’s problems got diagnosed and what the specific issues are in this deal or that deal. Often, we are then in the middle of a challenge. Because diagnosing the buyers’ problems didn’t happen at the level of detail that’s required to make a difference. But lots of value was already “thrown” at the buyers–to solve their problems!

Imagine you don’t feel well and have aches and pains and go to a doctor. Ideally, you get asked a lot of questions, then further diagnosis might be done, such as, blood work, pulse, urine test, ultrasound, x-ray, etc. After having all the results back, your doctor might be able to accurately diagnose your disease. And only then, they will present potential therapies to you, discuss the pros and cons, and come up with a tailored therapy plan for you.

Now, transfer this to the sales space. How often is a proper problem diagnosis done by your sales team? How often are your salespeople getting on a call, assuming the problem, asking a few high-level questions before presenting lots of value to the prospect?

Back to our doctor analogy, doing this would be malpractice. It’s no different in sales. It’s malpractice if diagnosing the buyers’ problems isn’t a priority and done before prescribing a therapy, also known as a solution.

Diagnosing the buyers’ problems is a behaviour, executive buyers expect salespeople to Do

There is also some research background to this. First, more than ten years ago, Forrester asked executive buyers what they care about in sales conversations, and it was obvious that product information is not their favourite. Instead, they wanted to learn something, to get insights, to better understand the impact of their challenges and how to solve them.

Two years ago, the CSO Insights’ Buyer Preferences Study* came to similar conclusions. Modern, executive buyers want to learn something new; they want to get insights and perspectives that are relevant to their specific context. The issue is that modern buyers often perceive salespeople as salespeople, but not as problem solvers. Which is why they turn to other resources first when they must solve a problem. Asked about the top three resources they turn to when they must solve a business problem, salespeople only ranked at number nine!

Empowering salespeople to diagnose the buyers’ problem is a key challenge for enablement leaders

And it goes way beyond providing and training the latest value essaying approach. Don’t get me wrong. Getting value messaging right, is another key prerequisite to drive sustainable sales performance, but it’s only half effective if the skill of diagnosing the buyers’ problems isn’t equally developed and coached.

Now let’s discuss some common feedback I get. “This is just a $25k problem for my buyer; they just want a piece of software.” Looking at this statement from the perspective of a professional problem solver, you would probably come up with this one: The impact behind the problem has not been properly identified and the salesperson is talking to the wrong buyer.

We see a lot of salespeople speaking to the wrong buyer roles about the actual problem that their solutions can solve. Imagine you sell a technology service that connects the dots across multiple security and firewall systems. Just as an example.

For the department head, the problem is only perceived as big as their budget and responsibilities are

They need this piece of software to make their entire enterprise architecture perfect. That’s what they will tell you because it’s their area of responsibility and their related budget. But this is only half the truth. Applying a problem solver mindset, it’s the salesperson’s responsibility to show your buyers the bigger picture—the actual business impact of the problem, the pain behind the problem.

The bigger the pain behind the problem, the bigger the problem you solve and the bigger the value of your deal. In this case, questions have to be asked to learn more about the actual problem, like what happens if the organization is hacked and countless users’ data is stolen, or what if the business processes don’t work anymore with new technology being integrated? What’s the enterprise architect’s strategy? How well aligned is the current idea with that vision? What other options are available? What’s really at stake if the company’s systems are hacked and cannot operate for just a few hours or days? Where are other gaps that could be connected to drive a more comprehensive solution? What’s the real pain behind the problem?

What’s the business risk in financial terms of not having this problem fixed?

Now you have a very different conversation. The department buyers usually say either, “Oh, I haven’t thought about it this way” or “I see, but that’s not my area of responsibility” or “We should check this with our finance teams,” etc. If that happens, your salesperson knows that they talked to the wrong buyer role in the first place.

As the real business problem and its impact are identified, your sellers will have very different conversations, ideally with different buyer roles. And they must be equipped to have those different conversations. To get there, it’s crucial to keep the initial buyer role involved and not push them away. That would create another problem and, as problem solvers, we don’t want to create new problems, we want to solve the buyers’ actual business problem.

Value selling is often interpreted in a way that numerous general value scenarios are communicated all at once to impress the buyer, with the hope that one of the scenarios will resonate with them. It doesn’t work like that. No doctor would ever throw various therapies for different diseases at you without having done a proper diagnosis.

Executive buyers are only interested in the specific value you can create for them to fix their problem

The issue again is that the real business problem has not been identified in the first place (see above). Think about it this way: If you don’t have pancreatic cancer, why would the potential cures be of any value to you if you’re not a medical student? As this is a really scary disease, you don’t even want to listen to it.

No doctor would ever share all the value stories of their potential cures if the root causes of your symptoms are not even diagnosed yet. Instead, they run their diagnosis and hopefully arrive at the root causes of your symptoms. Then, and only then, they share potential therapies and recommendations with you.

Four steps for enablement leaders to empower their sales teams to diagnose the buyers’ problems

#1: Empower your sales team to perform proper problem diagnoses

That requires skills, methodologies and tools. As a doctor, provide your sellers with diagnostic tools that help them work with the buyers on their problem diagnosis. Questionnaires based on maturity models can help; “fitness” tests in whatever area you provide services for might be a good idea, too. Then focus on the next steps that come out of the diagnosis.

#2: Equip your sales teams with tailored “therapy playbooks”

Now it’s time for all of the great content. Make sure your approach to solving their problem builds on the diagnosis. Tailor your success stories, case studies and white papers accordingly. All the presentations should be tailored to different buyer journey phases, buyer roles, and business challenges. Often, using the industry’s language also helps a lot.

#3: Empower your salespeople to become professional problem solvers: being valuable, relevant, and differentiating at the same time

Now, let’s bring it all together: skills, methodologies, content, and value messaging. Make sure your enablement services are consistent across all your enablement services. Make sure your content and value messaging training services are always focused on the different buyer journey phases to ensure salespeople don’t sell therapies for problems that are not even recognised and accepted by the buyers.

#4: Reinforce the problem-solving skills with perfect practice and sales coaching

This is where sales managers and their regular coaching practice come into play. If you enable, equip and empower your sales professionals that way, make sure your sales managers are always on the same page from the very beginning.

Diagnosing the buyers’ problems is an often-overlooked skill. As detailed here, this skill is essential to provide insights and relevant value to your buyers. Have a look at our services to find out more.

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*Source: CSO Insights, Miller Heiman Group, now part of Korn Ferry.

Image source: Adobestock