Any dolt can solve an easy problem

Everybody knows that solving the customer’s problem is the key to making the sale. That’s most certainly true. Remember though, that huge advances in technology, communications and knowledge management have made many types of problem-solving a whole lot easier. Issues that used to occupy a senior, highly paid engineer are now handled by a rookie armed with an internet connection and the ability to access information on a global scale.

Business executives delegate. They get paid to delegate. They earn promotions and bonuses based on how much work they can get accomplished using fewer, less expensive resources. It follows then, that if a rep is addressing the same kinds of problems as five years ago, there’s big trouble brewing. That rep will be working more and more with people that are lower and lower in the customer hierarchy. The perceived value of what that rep is delivering will drift downward as well.

To prevent this from happening, it is essential to constantly monitor the kinds of problems you’re solving, who the customer owners of those problems are and that you’re talking to the right person about the right problem. The diagram at the right is a good tool to guide this thought process.

A rep discussing pricing is a rep dealing with a shopping issue, probably with a low-level purchasing agent. A rep discussing features and benefits is helping a fairly low level professional evaluate the relative pluses and minuses of alternative solutions. Defining requirements for those solutions is a tougher job usually handled by a more senior professional. First and second line managers are primarily concerned with identifying, defining and prioritizing problems, that is, constraints to getting the job done. Functional level executives are occupied with designing, executing, monitoring and modifying the business processes required to successfully implement the strategies developed by senior executives. At the top of the pile are business owners, represented by the board, responsible for setting the overall goals and objectives of the organization.

Keep three things in mind while using this tool:

  • Move up the food chain – Keep track of how much time is spent dealing with each of the 7 levels. Compare and contrast this data for all reps in the organization.
  • Focus on building strategy and business process management skills – How much sales training time is spent on developing product knowledge vs. invested in expanding business knowledge?
  • Match topic with level – Getting a meeting with a senior exec and then discussing features and benefits will eliminate any chance of getting another meeting. He or she won’t be the least bit interested. Discussing business process issues with a purchasing agent will at best be a waste of time

Are you qualified and knowledgeable enough to discuss business strategy with a senior executive and earn that executive’s respect? Are you qualified and knowledgeable enough to intelligently discuss process improvement, six sigma, lean concepts and the statistical tools necessary to effectively apply them? Are you qualified and knowledgeable enough to anticipate and define customer constraints before the customer does? Or do you spend your day discussing features, benefits, pricing and delivery?

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