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Small Compass Sound Sales: The Problem Zone

By Mark McGlinchey - Written by Compass Group Solutions Founder Mark McGlinchey, this article first appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal

Sales Tip

When I work with companies and their sales forces to help them develop new strategies, tactics and skills, I generally teach them a selling system, which is both a methodology and a process for working the selling cycle. The first step in my selling system or a salesperson’s selling cycle is the problem zone.

What we’re trying to achieve in the problem zone.

Your basic goal in the Problem Zone is to discover and intensify the most compelling reasons why you have an opportunity to do business with this prospect. More importantly, you must help your prospect discover those compelling reasons on their own. You cannot and should not attempt to tell the prospect what their problems or compelling reasons are. You should help guide them to this discovery by asking questions. People and corporations do not buy products and services. They buy solutions. It’s difficult to sell a solution if your prospect does not have a compelling problem, or if they don’t understand the possible domino effect of the problem.

How to work the zone.

The Problem Zone is all about cause and effect, and discovery. If you’re working this zone correctly, you will do 80% of the listening and 20% of the talking, primarily in the form of asking questions. Even if you already know the answer, you should ask the question. The prospect must hear the question, reach their own conclusion and voice the answer aloud. Once the issue is out of the prospect’s mouth, it most likely is a ‘real’ problem. You must continue to drill down with additional questions in order to discover if the issue is the most compelling reason you have an opportunity to do business with the prospect’s company.

It is important to be aware that when a sales professional asks a lot of questions, prospects can become defensive. It’s important to note, your questions must be nurturing and non-aggressive. Your prospect cannot feel like they are downtown at the police station being grilled. Therefore, you should be asking open-ended ‘why’ and ‘what’ questions, such as: why is this a problem? what has been the effect? and what will be the future effect if the problem is not solved?

Common mistakes in the problem zone.

Too often, salespeople can make all the wrong moves in the Problem Zone, such as:

  1. Doing too much talking and not enough listening – salespeople should be doing 20% of the talkingand 80% of the listening.

  2. Making statements and voicing opinions - if you’re doing 80% of the listening, then the 20% of the talking you’re doing should be in the form of questions.

  3. Asking the wrong people the wrong questions – discovering the company’s mission is important. However, if you ask the head of purchasing what the company’s mission is, he will most likely tell you to spend as little money as possible in order to improve profitability. Once this is stated, he can immediately use price as an objection.

  4. Not doing your homework – there is a tremendous amount of basic information which can be gathered from outside sources about most companies. Since you have a limited window to interface with your prospect, don’t waste it by gathering information you can get elsewhere.

  5. Becoming consumed with wanting to make a presentation – you cannot and should not make a presentation if you don’t fully understand the prospect’s needs.

  6. Being overly concerned with establishing credibility – until a prospect has done business with you or anyone else, credibility is merely hearsay. By asking the right questions, gathering the right information and operating in a concise, organized manner, you will establish more credibility than you would ever be able to with product literature, premature presentations or references.

  7. Acting over zealous in conveying your company’s value proposition – again, you should not bombard the prospect with irrelevant information. Your company’s one and only value proposition which the prospect will care about is solving their problem – PERIOD.

  8. Being determined to communicate features and benefits – if the features and benefits don’t solve the prospect’s problem, they are irrelevant. Don’t waste time talking about irrelevant information. People buy for their reasons, not yours.

Cost and consequences.

Ask questions to discover the cost and consequences of the problem. Find out what will happen if the problem remains unsolved.

This could include:

All of these issues could lead you to the emotional compelling reason which will cause the prospect to take action.


Keywords: Sales, Sales Tips, Sales Techniques, Customer Needs, Sales Management, Sales Communication, Sound Sales, Sales Consulting, Compass Group Solutions, Mark McGlinchey

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