Selling Problems?

Let’s straightaway clear up a misconception  about this post, stemming from that title.

You might be expecting this post to be about the challenges your sales team faces.  Selling problems meaning problems with selling a product or service.

But that’s not what this post is about at all.

It is about selling problems.


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Consider this scenario —

A leader decides that something must be done.  It might be a restructure, a key policy revision, the reengineering of a core process, or some other such change.  The leader handpicks a team to help work through the necessary data collection, analysis, and action planning.  They schedule a meeting to communicate the planned changes to the department.

In the two hour meeting they present an elaborate project plan detailing the sequence of moves that will be executed over the next several weeks.  They are high energy, upbeat and forward-looking, in an attempt to generate confidence and enthusiasm and buy in to their impressively thought-out solution.

The subdued and puzzling reaction during the Q&A … What problem are we solving?  Why do we need to do all that?  All that effort and change; for what?

The leader and team was hoping for people to buy in.

But people are not in the market for solutions to problems they don’t see, acknowledge, understand, or under appreciate.

It might be counter intuitive, but to create energy and urgency and buy in, what is really needed is time and energy selling the problem.

When the emphasis is on selling the solution without establishing the presence and importance of the problem, people will be skeptical, distrustful, and resist.  They will not climb on board.  They will not buy in.

Selling the problem is crucial.

How might leaders sell the problem?

They might share customer and financial data — disturbing and problematic trends — in an effort to establish a compelling urgency to take action.

They might orchestrate putting managers and associates in contact with dissatisfied customers.  Let them see the problem first hand.  Let them experience the problem up close and personal.  Maybe spend an afternoon Y-jacking in the call center listening in on live customer calls…

Here’s a real example.  For a regional VP, I designed a management meeting for him to execute with each of his district management teams.  The meeting design devoted the first three hours to having small teams of managers dig deep into reviewing and interpreting the stock reports of two key competitors as well as their own company, published by major brokerage firms.  Each team reported to the whole group on what the brokerage firms had to say… and while it wasn’t all gloom and doom, it was sobering …

Selling the problem is all the more compelling when independent third parties do the selling for you!

Articulating the “burning platform” will induce people to move.  People will work with you to solve the problem, mitigate the threat, drive the change, strengthen the operation.

And if you are open to the possibility, they might even come up with a better solution than yours, with the additional benefit that you won’t have to sell it — it will be theirs.  They will already own it.

So far from this post being about the problems of selling; it is about a key aspect of effective change management.

It is about spending time, energy, and effort in communicating the reason for an organizational change.

It is about selling problems.

There is a market.

People will buy.  In.