Years ago, salespeople had all of the knowledge. If you needed information about a specific feature on a car, or a list of homes for sale in your area, there was no Google to help you out — you needed a human. The best salespeople were great problem solvers.
These days, much of that has gone away. You can go to a car dealership as well-informed (if not more) than the sales staff, so their information is no longer their weapon.
In most cases, customers that know what their problem is don’t need help solving it. Instead, they need more help finding the right problem to solve.
In a recent episode of Guy Kawasaki’s “Remarkable People” podcast, Guy interviewed author Daniel Pink who framed it like this:
And finally, and I think this is one of the most intriguing things, is that we used to be in a world of problem solving. So that you had salespeople who would say, “Ah, I’m not really in sales, I’m a problem solver.” And that’s cool.
It’s just that today, if your customer prospect knows exactly what their problem is, they don’t need you. So when do they need you more? They need you when they’re wrong about their problem, or they don’t know what their problem is. And so the skill shifted from the skill of problem solving to the skill of problem finding. Can you identify hidden problems, surface latent problems?
The key to unpacking those hidden problems often comes from asking the right questions. I’ve found some great resources lately to help uncover great questions (like this podcast episode and this PDF).
The right questions can help uncover the right problem, which is likely the best direction to go in many of your interactions today.