Selling a Product vs. Solving a Problem

All of my clients have struggled to reorient their thinking from selling a product or service, to solving the customer’s problem. What’s the difference? When you think that your business is selling a product or service, you don’t see everything that your target customers need in order to be successful or happy with your product or service. This makes it very difficult for you to win and retain customers, and to grow your business, because satisfying your customers is a hit-or-miss proposition.

On the other hand, when you think that your business is to solve the customer’s problem, your view shifts from being focused on your own products or services, to being centered on your customer’s view of the world. Now you can answer the question, what is the “whole solution” – the set of products and services needed by your target customers to completely satisfy their compelling reason to buy?

When you sell whole solutions, you will be fulfilling whatever compelled your customers to choose you as their supplier, and you will be satisfying them completely. Think about the products or services that make you so happy or meet your needs so well that you prefer them over their competitors so much that you’re willing to spend more, or go farther, or wait longer to obtain them – they are compelling whole solutions for your needs or wants.

How can you tell whether you are selling whole solutions that really solve your customers’ problems, instead of selling just products or services that might or might not satisfy your customers? Here are 2 diagnostics you can use:

  1. What percentage of your customers say they are completely satisfied with the product or service that you sold them, would recommend your product or service to other people like them, or will buy (or renew) your product or service again? If that percentage is less than your competitors, you’re not selling the whole solution that your customers need. In fact, your competitors are eating your lunch.
  2. If you don’t know how you stand versus your competitors in answering question 1, then what percentage of your qualified prospects do you actually close, or what percentage of people who visit your website or walk into your store actually buy something from you? If that percentage is a lot lower than you want (or too low for you to achieve your business goals), then you’re not selling the whole solution that your prospects or website visitors or retail customers need.

In both cases, you need to either change your focus to be on customers you can satisfy better than your competitors, or you need to change what your selling or how you’re selling it.

Why is it so hard for the management teams of many companies to change from selling a product or service, to selling a solution to their customer’s problem? Among my clients, I’ve found the following barriers or blinders:

  • No one on the management team was ever a customer for the kind of product or service that the company sells, so they don’t “relate” to their customers and can’t understand their customers deeply enough to make the right decisions about product, price, promotion, packaging, place, or any other attribute that will compel their customers to buy and be satisfied.
  • The management team either doesn’t have the data or cannot decode the metrics of their business to see that they are doing a poor job of satisfying their existing customers, getting references or testimonials from them, and/or getting repeat business, renewals, upsells, etc. This problem is particularly severe when the management team rationalizes their poor performance as “not their fault” by declaring that their product is so revolutionary that most customers don’t understand it (and that’s why their close rate is low), or that they cannot find enough customers who need it (and they need more leads instead of figuring out how to increase their close rate), or that it’s a lot easier to get orders from customers who might or might not be satisfied than it is to put in the effort to focus on just those customers they can satisfy (and that they can tolerate having a lot of unhappy customers who won’t buy again).
  • The management team is confused about the purpose of their business. “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer,” wrote Peter Drucker, one of the best-known and most widely influential thought-leaders on management. No business can succeed if its purpose is something other than creating and keeping customers.

If you are struggling to change from selling products or services to solving your customers’ problems, you’re not alone. You can do it. My clients have done it.

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