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Solution Provider or Problem Solver?

Strategy

As sales people, we are supposed to provide solutions to our customers problems. We either lead with Insight, making customers aware of opportunities/problems and incenting them to change; or we find a customer that knows they have a problem and is looking to solve it. At some point, we present the customer a solution to their problem–hopefully they accept ours, implement it, and we’re all happy.

But that doesn’t mean we’re problem solvers! I was suddenly struck by this in reading Tim Ohai’s post, I Can’t Say It Any Plainer: SOLVE the @$%! PROBLEM!

I think we confuse proposing and providing a solution with problem solving. But it’s not really the same thing.

The customer is going through a completely different process in problem solving. They are going through scoping, defining, analyzing, establishing goals for what they are trying to do, aligning everyone involved impacted by the problem, determining requirements, business process analysis, business process re-engineering, prioritizing issues, modeling alternative approaches, assessing alternatives (here’s where we raise our hands and pitch in), assessing risks, developing a business cases, contingency plans, developing implementation plans, assigning resources, aligning everyone in the change process………. It goes on.

A number of things strike me as we look at this.

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  1. We only participate in a very small part of the customer’s problem solving process—they have to go through so much more. Perhaps, so much of what we see as “no decision made,” or painfully long selling/buying process is the result of the inability of the customer to solve their problem.
  2. The customer buying process is only a small part of their problem solving process. If we focus on aligning with their buying process, we still only working on part of solving their problem.
  3. The customer is doing this, all while holding down their day jobs. Their primary function is within an operation. Maybe they are engineers, so they design and develop products. They may be manufacturers, so they build things, and so on .
  4. Finally the customer may not be expert at solving problems–or at least these types of problem. But we are! At least we should be. We help customers solve these types of problems every day–or at least we provide solutions to these types of problems. So we probably have greater familiarity and capability to help the customer in their problem solving process.

We never will be able to participate in the entire customer problem solving process (unless we are in that specific business as consultants or service providers), but we can participate in a much larger part of that process than we currently do—creating and claiming much more value.

We want to align with our customers, we want to collaborate with them, we want to partner with them. What better way than help them in their problem solving process?

We do need to develop new skills to participate and provide leadership in problem solving. We need to understand problem solving. We need to know more about project management. We need to understand change and change management. We need to understand collaboration and how to collaborate effectively.

There is a tremendous gap between what we go through in presenting solutions to our customers, even in providing insight and what our customers go through in solving problems. It seems a terrific opportunity to do more for and with the customer, creating, demonstrating, and claiming value.

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