My wife and I have an on-going debate.… Sad to admit, I have never in my life had “just one slice” of pizza. And seldom “one serving” at dinner. So my lovely wife is always trying to sell me on exercise programs and healthy snacks. While I appreciate her advice, I don’t see the problem. And there lies the stalemate: I am not moved to solve a problem that I do not see or do not understand. I’m (not yet) sold on the problem.

What does this have to do with selling? Everything.

Too often novice salespeople start pitching the benefits of their products without establishing what the customer wants to fix, accomplish or perhaps even avoid. Last week, I stopped in at an upscale car dealership. An experienced sales rep immediately started pitching why their car was better than a competitor’s.

Or worse, sales reps pitch only the features. High Speed Internet is a common “feature pitch.” Will it help me save time when browsing? Can I upload/download without watching the little hourglass turn over and over? Will I get more stuff done? Internet Speed is not the problem; getting stuff done is.

Here are more real-life examples of pitching a product without establishing what the customer wants:

SALESPERSON: This car has Bluetooth™.

CUSTOMER: I don’t have a mobile phone. (Amazingly true)

SALESPERSON: The credit card has a low finance charge.

CUSTOMER: I pay off my balance each month, and don’t care about finance charges.

SALESPERSON: This house has a handy doggie door in the garage.

CUSTOMER: We don’t even own a gold fish.

SALESPERSON: TV channels include the Bocce Ball Channel.

CUSTOMER: As I hate watching sports, I don’t want to pay for something I would not use.

Look familiar? The same problem surfaces in presentations, where you want to influence your audience to do something or believe in something. Ultimately, these are sales presentations. Typically 20 percent of the presentation is spent on the problem or opportunity, and 80 percent is on the proposal, what it will do and how it would work. I venture that this is backwards: 80 percent of the presentation should be devoted to building up the emotional critical mass about the motivation to fix something, accomplish something or avoid something. Once your audience reaches the same level of understanding as you, they will be motivated to act, and you can transition to how you will address this. So sell the problem first.

Unless you are the next “Steve Jobs,” your road to sales success relies on first establishing what we call the “Customer Concept.” You have to credit Steve Jobs with creating needs that we did not know we had. Smartly, the sales training programs at Miller Heiman and Impact Learning show how to establish the “Customer Concept” – what the customer wants to fix, accomplish or avoid.

If there is no desire to fix, accomplish or avoid something, then there is no sale. No one is motivated to solve a problem that they do not see.

PS. I have since been sold on the need to avoid long-term health problems and now do exercise and limit my portions.