How to solve problems for your customers

Contributor - Grant Leboff

Woman in a red top smiling while on the phone having solved a problem for a customer

In order to draw out the challenges and problems a customer might have, you have to ask them the right questions. In order to make sales, we also have to ensure we target the most relevant potential customers with the right sales messages

Problem Maps® are a mechanism for achieving clarity in your whole sales process. As well as aiding us in the development of compelling sales messages; they help us understand the value we add and to whom our product or service is likely to be relevant. They also give us a mechanism to ask questions that will uncover the real issues that our potential customers have and which we can solve.

Creating a Problem Map

To produce a Problem Map, think of four different "headline problems" that you solve for your customers. Then under each headline problem you write three resulting problems which are caused by the initial problem. In each vertical column, all four problems have to be different. However, horizontally there can be repetition of issues.

Below is an example of a Problem Map for an imaginary events planning company. They are putting on an event for companies who target the mobile phone industry and want to understand potential exhibitors.

Unique Headline Problem We don't have the market penetration in the mobile phone sector that we would like. It is costing me too much money to reach the mobile phone audience. I don't have enough face time with my mobile phone sector customers. The mobile phone sector is a major market for me. Can I afford not to be there?
Resulting problem #1 We are not hitting our sales targets (customers). My profit margin is being damaged We are worried about losing customers to competitors. We may lose customers to competitors.
Resulting problem #2 We are losing ground to competitors. There are opportunity costs to other areas of the business. We may be missing out on opportunities to upsell etc. Not being there could damage our reputation.
Resulting problem #3 There is a loss of reputation (brand equity). We are struggling to keep up with competitors. There is potential damage in profitability. We will miss out on opportunities and revenue.

You can see that there is the potential to have sixteen unique issues. However, allowing overlap of problems between different vertical columns is important as it can highlight some pertinent issues that your potential customers may have. For example, the fear of missing out to competitors comes up consistently in this Problem Map. So in this particular example we have ten unique issues.

Understanding real motivations

Once you have undertaken a Problem Map it gives you clarity in so many ways. You start to understand the real motivations for why people will purchase your product or service. In the scenario above, it is clear that the concern about what the competition is doing will be paramount. Therefore, a key part of the sale will be to demonstrate to a potential exhibitor that their competitors will be at the exhibition. This, for example, could lead to a tactical decision to give one or two stands away, as loss leaders.

It also gives you clarity around the questions you should ask your customer. For example, questions around how a potential exhibitor currently reaches the mobile sector, how efficient that process is and how it affects profit margins, may be very pertinent in this particular case.

Finally, the Problem Map can be used to understand the sales messages that should be featured on websites and in any supporting marketing materials, because it shows you what is really going to matter to your potential customers.

Engaging with customers

In the digital age, it is harder to get people's attention than it has ever been. Face to face time with a customer is increasingly precious. It is, therefore, vital that we make sure we engage with our prospects; by speaking their language immediately, by tapping in directly to buyer motivation and by taking a solution-orientated approach.

To enable this, Problem Maps is a mechanism for ensuring that clarity of sales message and questioning is achieved, both in sales materials and in every sales meeting.

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Grant Leboff

Grant Leboff is one of the UK's leading Sales and Marketing experts. His fourth book, 'Digital Selling', debuted at #1 on the Amazon charts prior to being published in September 2016.

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