I really appreciate sales people who bring us new insights about things happening in our industry and markets. We are anxious to learn, we are always interested in opportunities to grow our business.

Recently, I’ve a number of sales people have been prospecting, insisting that we have problems.

The problems are all over the place. One is insisting that our demand generation efforts are not producing results, our demise is imminent, but if I just take the time for a demo, he can provide the solutions to all our problems. Another, while not being as direct as I’m saying, is suggesting I’m mismanaging the business, that I could grow much more quickly (225% over the next 18 months, he claims) if I just took the time to learn about his product.

Naturally, I’m always curious about how we could do better. It’s a little humbling to have these total strangers telling us how badly we are performing. But, I suppose the drive to grow causes me to swallow my pride to learn how I can to better. As a result, I tend to talk to these people to learn what we (or I) am doing wrong.

That’s where the problem comes in….

Typically, I talk to the sales person, asking “It’s humiliating to learn that we are screwing up so badly in [Insert whatever problem they’ve identified], what are we doing wrong?”

The leads guy took this tact, “Businesses like yours need to be generating 1000’s of leads and working them very efficiently……”

“Hmm,” I respond, “Why do we need to be generating 1000’s of leads? In fact our sweet spot–the companies and executives we target are very well defined. We’ve found we don’t need to generate thousands of leads, in our case hundreds do. We’re very effective at qualifying and converting those leads. In addition, we’re a small company, we only have a certain capacity in delivering consulting services, so we have to be careful about being able to fulfill the work people want us to do.”

At that point, often, I hear fingers on the keyboard. There’s usually an uncomfortable pause. So, I reiterate, “Clearly, you have a clear vision of why a business like ours needs to generate and manage 1000’s of leads. Why are we so off base with what we are doing?”

The sales person responds, “Everyone needs much better lead gen……”

I respond, “I don’t disagree, but you said we have a problem. I think perhaps we can do better, but I’m really not clear what our problem is. What is it that you’ve seen about our company that indicates we have this problem?”

You can guess where this conversation went.

Similar thing happened with the guy claiming we were missing huge revenue opportunities and could grow our business by 225% over the next 18 months. When we spoke, I said, “We’ve been growing in the high double digits, but clearly if I could achieve 225% growth it would be great. What are we doing wrong, what opportunities are we missing?”

He didn’t answer my question, he said, “Customer using our solution are achieving those results…..”

I say, “But clearly you have some insight into our business that says we are missing something……”

As the conversation progressed, I couldn’t get him to respond to my questions. He kept wanting me to talk to an account manager and sign up for a demo. Finally, I asked, “What customers are achieving that growth?”

He responds, “We helped a car wash not far from you achieve that growth in the last couple of years…” I respond, “Well the car wash business is very different than ours, what are we doing wrong?”

I’ll stop here, you get the point.

These sales people are trying to be different. Rather than a straight, “Buy my product” pitch, they’re coming to me with problems.

The problem is, I’m not sure they are my problems.

Somehow they think they are. They seem to know. I don’t know how they know the number of leads we are generating and how we handle them. I don’t know how they know our financial performance.

When we talk about the problems they think we have, they never ask about our view. That is, they tell me I have problems, but we never engage in a conversation about the things bothering me. We are looking to grow into some new market segments. We are looking to support clients that have a different business model than most of the clients we work with today. We have some aspirations and dreams about new services we want to deliver.

But none of these sales people ever bother to ask about those. The growth into new market segments actually does present us a lead gen problem–but only in that segment. But that sales person never asked me about those.

I always want to learn, everyone in our business is driven to improve. We do have problems, challenges, opportunities, and dreams. We want to figure out how to address them, we’re prepared to invest in addressing them.

If you are calling me about the problems you think I have, make sure they are the problems I have. Or take the time to understand the problems I have. I’m all ears, I’m ready to listen, perhaps even to buy. I want help in solving MY/OUR problems.

But please make sure we are talking about MY/OUR problems.