At its essence, sales is about finding customers who have problems we can solve, helping them understand why they should solve the problem, helping them commit to that change, and helping them solve the problem.

We wrap a lot of stuff about prospecting, qualifying, deal strategies, pipelines, call planning, presenting, proposing, value propositions, objection handling, closing, negotiating around this process. We spend billions training people in those skills. We spend further billions providing tools to help sales people more efficiently execute those things.

But somehow something is missing.

Before I talk about what’s missing, it’s reasonable to challenge me saying, “How do you know something’s missing?”

Basically, a few things point us to the fact that something(s) are missing:

Market data on sales performance. There’s tons of data on sales performance—percent of people making their numbers, percent of companies making their numbers, turnover, declining win rates, lengthening sales cycles, and more. Those numbers indicate we could do better–much better. On the whole, performance is pretty bad.

More market data shows differences between high performers and everyone else. The gap is widening, again, we could do better.

The coup de gras is what customers think of sales. In general, they do everything they can to avoid sales people! Surveys say customers don’t see the value that sales people create, they complain about sales people not understanding customers businesses/challenges, sales people are too focused on selling their products, sales people wasting their time.

Clearly, from a customer experience point of view, something is missing.

A large part of it, I think, goes back to the essence of selling: Helping customers solve problems (or more positively, address opportunities.).

Think about it, how much training in problem solving had you had in the last 2 years? How much in your career? How well can you lead a group to help understand, define, assess, decide, and take action on solving a problem?

What skills do you have in facilitation and collaboration, things critical in group problem solving? What project management skills do you have in helping the customer manage a project focused on solving a problem?

What tools do you have to analyze, measure, understand the impact of problems, to analyze and evaluate alternative courses of action?

There’s a huge gap in the skills and competencies needed to sell–that is help our customers solve problems. No amount of prospecting technique, 15 types of closes, 17 ways of handling objections and other related sales skills training helps us with the core issue of selling.

While those are table stakes, we do have to master those skills. Perhaps it’s time to look at problem solving, facilitation/collaboration, project management, critical thinking as skills we can leverage to help our customers, consequently help us achieve our goals.