Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Stop Trying to Solve Your Customer's Problems

Stop Trying to Solve Your Customer's Problems
Copyright © 2006 Judy Murdoch

If you're like most folks who own a small business, you enjoy solving problems. Part of the reason you enjoy solving problems is because you're good at it.

In fact, if you have your own business, it's likely that you develop solutions that are often better than what others in your profession are offering. You may also think that the value added by offering superior solutions is so obvious to prospects that they will be eager to hire you.

Another reason, you probably enjoy solving problems is that it makes you look good. You solve a problem that is causing the other person a good deal of grief and you're a hero. You feel valued and appreciated. So it's understandable that opportunity to solve a prospect's problem is, to many business owners, what catnip is to cats-irresistible.

Tempting as it may be, however, you've got to stop jumping in and solving problems-at least until the time is right to do so.

A personal story:

Not too long ago, I was talking with a wiser, more experienced colleague about a meeting I had with a prospective client. I was very proud of myself because I had shared several clever solutions to the prospect's marketing problems. But instead of praising my brilliance and insight as I expected, my colleague said, "You've got to stop solving their problems."

This took me completely by surprise. Didn't my creative, savvy ideas add value? My colleague went on to explain where I went wrong and what to do instead.

Where I erred was by jumping in too soon with my solution. I forgot that taking a relationship from prospect to customer is a process and that I needed to respect this process while at the same time, managing it.

Does this sound familiar? So when is it right and appropriate to offer solutions? Here are some guidelines.

1. Ask questions until the answers become clear.

The most successful sales people ask lots of good questions. And they keep asking questions until they're about 80% certain they know what they can do to help the customer succeed.

At a minimum, you need to know: what's the problem (source and symptoms), what will it take to solve the problem, what you can do to solve the problem and what other resources will be needed, what are the results desired by your prospect, how will you know you've achieved those results, and what is the value to the organization of attaining those results.

It is only after you and your prospect have answered those questions together that you are ready to offer a solution.

Tip: If there is a solution you think would be perfect for the customer, try framing it as a question. For example, "Have you tried doing XYZ?" or "Are you familiar with XYZ?"

2. Within 1 - 2 complementary consultations.

When it comes to sales and marketing, the number one issue small business owners raise is the amount of time they spend meeting with prospects. On the one hand, they don't want to come across like some of the more aggressive sales professionals who seem to eye prospective customers like pieces of meat and if it doesn't look like a sale is going to happen, they move on. But without standards, you risk turning meetings into informal visits where you share all sorts of valuable information that the other person appreciates but not enough to become a customer.

My rule of thumb is two complementary meetings: A 20-minute phone conversation to make sure there's a good fit and a longer, in-person meeting to ask questions, surface issues, and so on.

I don't mean to imply that this is a hard and fast rule. But as a business owner, your time and attention are the most precious assets you have. Be very conscious of the way you are spending those assets. The point is to meet until you have answered the questions mentioned in point #1.

3. When the customer is ready to invite you to make an offer.

My coach, Mark Silver, says that there is a point in the process, at which the client is ready to consider you as a business partner. The key word here is "consider." They aren't ready to sign on the dotted line or write a check but they see themselves doing business with you in some capacity.

This point comes when you and the client come to an agreement on the problem, the desired results, and the value of the results. And when you are 80% clear on what you think it will take to help the customer attain the results they desire.

It is at this point when you ask a questions like, "How do you see us working together...?" and then allow the customer to let you know how they want to proceed. It only at this point that you can now begin suggesting solutions verbally and/or in the form of a proposal.

About The Author:

Judy Murdoch helps small business owners create low-cost, effective marketing campaigns using word-of-mouth referrals, guerrilla marketing activities, and selected strategic alliances. To download a free copy of the workbook, "Where Does it Hurt? Marketing Solutions to the problems that Drive Your Customers Crazy!" go to http://www.judymurdoch.com/workbook.htm

You can contact Judy at 303-475-2015 or judy@judymurdoch.com

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