Not long ago, I got a call from a frustrated sales person. He had a huge opportunity with a customer, but just couldn’t get traction. He reviewed things with me.

“I’ve been talking to them about our solutions. They seem to be interested, but they just aren’t moving forward the way they should. I’m really upset, they have so many problems that our solution fixes, but I just can’t get them to move forward.”

He went on to review the problems. He had done a pretty good job of research. The issues seemed compelling, the sales person had done a rough estimate of the impact of the solution, the business case seemed pretty good. It seemed to me that any customer understanding this might have a higher sense of urgency to do something. That the sales person couldn’t get them to move or respond more quickly seemed unusual.

“What happens when you discuss these with the customer?” I asked.

“I haven’t discussed these with the customer yet. I’ve done the research, I know they have these problems, so that must be why they are talking to me. I just can’t understand why they won’t move forward,” he said.

“Have you asked the customer about these specific issues,” I asked.

“Well no, surely they must understand these issues…..” he responded. “After all, if I can find them in my research, they must be fully aware of what’s going on!”

You can probably see the dangerous assumptions this sales person was making. I actually see many sales people doing similar things, though this was the most extreme case.

If we’re doing our jobs researching and understanding our customers, we will find lots of problems, issues, challenges and opportunities they face. But until the customers see these for themselves, owns them, and determines they must be addressed; they will do nothing.

Our knowing a customer has a problem means nothing until the customer knows they have a problem and wants to take action. Our knowledge of these problems means nothing until the words come out of the mouths of the customer: “I get that we are facing these issues and challenges. We are really concerned about them, we need to do something now!”

If we are doing our jobs correctly, we are finding problems and opportunities for our customers. But our job is to educate them about these, to help them understand what they may be missing, what they could be doing, how they can grow and improve, and what that means to them. Ultimately, the goal is hearing them say, “We have to do something about this, how can you help us?”