The Real Problem Is the Problem

The Real Problem Is Finding the Problem.

A common mistake sellers make is rushing off to sell their product or service without being clear about the problem they are solving.

That is exactly what I did when I started out in selling, repping accounting services to businesses. I really didn’t know a lot about the depth of the problems that our services could solve, and no one in my company seemed to either. They were accountants. They did bookkeeping and taxes. They delivered financial statements. We used light tan paper. We could generate multi-color graphs.

None of that talked about the real problems that we solved.

One of the most memorable moments in my education as a sales person came from an unlikely source.

Jackie was a bookkeeper from Chicago who had opened a franchise office in Arlington. Corporate called me up and asked if I would like to sell for her office. It was a good match since I was tired of driving all over North Texas for sales meetings. Having someone right in my back yard would make life a lot easier.

This is just the IRS Code. I also had a copy of the Regulations and a basic accounting text book.

About this time, I decided that I really needed to get myself up to speed on what I was selling, so I went to the local bookstore and picked up a text book on accounting, a copy of the IRS Code, and a copy of the IRS regulations.

Jackie saw me with the books and asked me what I was doing. I explained that, since I wanted to understand better what we were doing for our clients, I was trying to get as much technical knowledge as I could. She smiled slightly and told me something that forever changed my understanding of how people buy. She said that our clients don’t care about any of that.

All they want to know is, “Can I buy a boat? Can I write it off in my business?”

I was like Saul on the road to Damascus. The scales fell from my eyes, and I “got it” – probably for the first time.

People’s pain, their REAL problem, is pretty damned simple. They may make all kinds of noise about one complexity or another; but, when you get down to it, people just want what they want, they want it now, and they don’t want to suffer getting it. Show them that path and keep them on it, and you have their business forever.

What You Need to Do.

What everyone reading this needs to do before you go out pounding the pavement or blanketing social media is to get very clear on this idea from TWO different points of view.

First, what is the problem that YOU want to address in the world?

Yes, I’m talking about YOU.

What makes you happy? How do you want to serve? What do you or your company do so well that it gives you joy to deliver it? What could you be the best at – in your industry, in your region, in your marketplace? What do you want to be really good at doing?

This may not be your current job, which is OK. You do need to know where you are headed, though.

My friend Alan is very successful in the network marketing business. I met him over 15 years ago when he was a rep for a nutritional company. As sometimes happens, things did not work out well with the company’s product, and he had to change businesses. He started a company developing web sites and was really quite good at it.

But he was never really happy.

I knew he was not happy and was making a move, and I suggested he look at the company I was with (and where I still am, by the way). It was not a nutrition company, and he said, basically, “Thanks, but no.  I’m a nutrition guy.”

He joined a nutrition company soon after, and he has been rockin’ it ever since.

Nutrition is Alan’s passion: he loves helping people make money and get healthier and enhance their physical well being. He would like me to join him but, guess what. I’m NOT a nutrition company guy. It isn’t that I don’t think it matters. It’s just not what I am called to do.

THAT is the level I want you to search on when you are looking for the problems – especially THE BIG problem – that you want to help remove from the world. When you are clear on that, and when you have solutions that fix it, you have laid the foundation for your best life and career.

Second, who is likely to have that problem…and be a good fit?

A second mistake that sellers make is trying to shoehorn their solution onto people who either don’t have the problem they can fix or who don’t care enough about the problem to want to fix it.  I’ll cover that latter point more in another post.

The first point of whether they have a problem is simpler to address. Some things are obvious. You don’t have much chance of selling auto insurance to a city dweller who either rides the tube or calls Uber, yet I find people trying to do something like that all the time.

When you ask a sales person who their ideal customer is, far too often they respond, “Everybody needs what I sell!”

No. They don’t.

Even if they do, if they don’t have a personal problem (their equivalent of “I want to buy a boat”), it does not matter how good your solution is or whether or not it works. That Uber passenger is not going to buy the policy until they get a car.

This seems like an obvious point, so obvious that people frequently just gloss over it. DO NOT DO THAT! You will waste massive time and energy if you do.

In the accounting business with Jackie, everyone needed a service like ours. I quickly learned, however, not to call on buy-here-pay-here car lots, service stations, bail bondsmen, and pawn shops. Each of those businesses had such unique, such labor-intensive accounting requirements that there was no way that we could serve them at a price they were willing to pay. They needed our service, but – even if they signed up – no one was going to be happy. I learned not to waste my time.

So here’s my summary.

Figure out the real problem you solve.

Make sure solving that problem is something that matters to you.

Figure out what problem you might be the best (or at least a best) at solving.

Focus on prospects who are likely both to have the problem and to want to fix it.

Target prospects who are likely to want the kind of solution you can deliver at a good margin.

Michael Stammer is a Sales | Life | Performance coach available for individual and group coaching and speaking to organizations. For more visit

Header photo by Salvatore Gerace used under Creative Commons License.
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