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The Problem with Selling a Solution Before Finding the Problem

By Special Guest
Hampus Jakobsson, CEO of Brisk
July 14, 2015

Ever heard of ‘putting the cart before the horse?’ It’s an old expression often used to suggest that one is doing something in the wrong order. It also illustrates that it’s usually easier to pull than to push. Similarly in sales, it’s easy to forget that the best way to make a sale is to pull questions from the customer instead of pushing a solution before understanding what the customer’s issue is.


The problem with selling the solution first, is that it immediately puts the customer on defense—and rightfully so. Regrettably, this formula of putting the cart before the horse in sales has created a culture where consumers automatically think negatively of salespeople as having hidden agendas instead of those helpful people with knowledgeable advice. The sales industry is massive, and although the practice of talking to the customer isn’t done enough, it can be changed if we approach sales from a more customer-centric viewpoint.

Most successful salespeople will agree, from a sales perspective and a customer perspective, that getting to the root of an issue is more productive and solidifies customer relationships. Additionally, prospective buyers are more likely to return to someone for further services in the future if the initial conversation is helpful and informative rather than pushy and ‘salesy.’ Oddly enough, not doing the latter makes for a better salesperson. Taking the time to find out what the issue is first puts the focus back on the customer. Choosing the selling approach instead may instantly turn away a once willing buyer. Unfortunately, in a world where consumers are constantly being hounded with unsolicited sales calls, focusing on the hard sell will ultimately result in no sale.

Developing a sales team that focuses on the customer’s ‘headache’ is key. If a customer is calling about a recent purchase that isn’t functioning the way they expected, asking what the customer intended to use the product for—instead of quickly switching out one product for another—can open up a welcoming discussion. A more transparent conversation enables any knowledgeable salesperson to recommend several solutions and give a customer what they need instead of what a customer thinks they want.

Today, being in sales doesn’t necessarily mean being aggressive and glib, it means being smart enough to learn how to communicate with a customer correctly—for example, by doing the following:

  • Be prepared: In order to make valid recommendations to a customer, a salesperson has to know the company’s products well. To be a successful salesperson, be ready for any customer questions that come your way by taking a moment to prepare ahead of time by reviewing key product functions and information. To take it a step further, review previous issues with a product and how it was solved.
  • Know your customer: Today, there are several CRM sales tools that can help gather history on a customer especially if they’ve made contact previously. Pieces of information such as knowing if they attended the last webinar; visited your webpage; the types of services/ products they’ve used before; or even their upcoming vacation that they mentioned to you on the last call, are all useful bits of information that can help the conversation along.
  • Pull don’t push: Ask customer-centric questions instead of pushing the solution to fit every problem a customer comes to you with. Be an active listener – What did you want to use the product for? Did it accomplish what you wanted? Was it easy enough for you to use?
  • Put yourself in the customer’s position: Handling customers daily, it’s easy to treat a voice on the phone as a transaction and not as a person with a product issue. See it from a customer perspective and handle the customer the way you would like to be treated.
  • Follow-through: Your job isn’t done when you complete a sales transaction. Reach out to the customer and follow-up to determine if your recommendations were correct. Customer service is king, and you’re bound to grow your kingdom with loyal patrons who know you’re concerned about their issues.

As a salesperson, there are many ways to reach customers where they live, work and socialize. Technology has afforded us the ability to reach the masses quickly but not always efficiently. When it comes down to it, a great salesperson isn’t the one endowed with the gift of gab, but the one that has the ability to actively listen, empathize, and personalize a solution that fits a customer’s needs. Find the problem first, and make a sale from a customer perspective.

About the Author: Hampus is CEO of Brisk, a Salesforce compatible sales productivity software provider with customers such as Evernote, Say Media, and Intercom. Prior to founding Brisk, Hampus co-founded TAT, which was acquired by Blackberry for $150m in 2010. A seasoned entrepreneur who avidly invests in several different start-ups, he is a guru for all things sales-related: how to get sales, how to build sales, how to make the right sales, and more. An international and socially-aware CEO, Hampus is equal parts sales savant and techie philosopher.




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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