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Why problem-centric selling is one of the most important things you can do for your business

Posted by Ryan Nofal on November 15, 2018 at 7:51 PM
Ryan Nofal

Why problem-centric selling is one of the most important things you can do for your business

Many companies are way too focused on themselves! I went to an INBOUND 18 session that focuses on businesses going back to solving for their customer.

People don’t always buy from people they like.

That’s just a fact! Relationship selling isn’t new in the marketing industry. I’ve always believed that people will buy any product or service from people they like or have a trusted relationship with. The CEO of The Sales Guy Jim Keenan’s  session at  INBOUND 18 was called Problem Centric Selling, Why No One Gives a Shit About You or Your Company. An interesting name for an interesting topic by a more than interesting guy. Keenan has been selling something to someone for more than two decades as well as teaching and coaching. Keenan proved me wrong about the value of relationships over the value of product with the diagram below. Relationships are important but the value you provide matters more.

Why problem-centric selling is one of the most important things you can do for your business

Image from insynth

The lower right and upper left quadrants showed that people can like you and not do business with you and vice versa.

Why businesses even began

Businesses started because the founders identified a problem or need that required a solution. Somewhere along the line, when business became bigger and sales and marketing were introduced, many businesses became more about selling the product than solving their customers’ problem.

Keenan’s INBOUND session on problem-centric selling emphasises the need for businesses to stop focusing on selling their products or services in any way. Businesses need to get back to solving the problems for their clients, and how it impacts their business and finding the solution to the core problem.

“If you’re not problem-centric selling, you’re leaving money on the table.” - Jim Keenan

I understand that many companies, like Penquin, went into business to help clients, but unfortunately many have become productised - focusing on themselves and what we can do better than our competitors. For us to change from being product-centric, we need to sell why we do what we do.

We’re going to have to start by identifying and defining the problems each of our talented departments solve, then find the clients whose problems they solve, and sell the value we can bring to them. They might not like or trust us at first, but if they see the value of what we do and what it can do for their business, then we’re more than halfway there.

Value matters

If you don’t add value to your prospect, no matter how much they like you, you won’t get the business. Value is based on perception. Keenan gave a great example to show how value is based on perception with this story: if you had a terrible hangover, with migraines and nausea, how much would you be willing to pay a stranger for a pill that provides an instant solution…  R1000/ R2000?

What if you had nothing to do on that day but sit around and recover. If proposed R1000 for that pill, you would probably say no.

But, what if you had to prepare for an important sales meeting that’s scheduled for 8am the next day and your commission on that deal would be R50 000, but this time, the pill would cost you R5000, would you then be willing to pay for it?

The story in its simplicity clearly illustrated three things to me.  Defining the problem, the headache, understanding the impact the problem poses in not being able to prepare for a sales presentation with a high value as well as what the value of the solution would be in solving the problem. t is in understanding the principles of this story that reveals where true value lives.

Too many salespeople are focused on the impact, without first understanding the problem and how their solutions can solve it. Keenan went further to say that in order to solve the problem or move customers from their current state into a future state, we should dig deeper to try and uncover the root cause of this problem by asking and understanding these three things: 

  • What is the problem that the customer is experiencing?
  • What impact does it have on their people and their business?
  • Based on that information, what is the root cause of the problem?

What is Gap Selling?

At its core, sales, and by association, marketing are about affecting change.  Customers don’t buy products or service unless they have a need to change their current circumstance. Keenan emphasised understanding the current state of your customers and their future state which allows your company to bridge the gap with solutions.

The space between the current state and the future state is ‘The Gap’.  ‘The Gap’ is where your value as a business lives. You can only bridge The Gap by fully understanding your customer’s current state by defining the problem, root cause and effect in order to get them to their future state.

As salespeople, we tend to sit in the future state, focusing on where the company should be, where the customer should be and how the product gets them there. Not enough attention is given to understanding our customers’ current states and identifying the value we need to provide them.


“The future state is what you are selling, the GAP is the value”- Jim Keenan

For example, at least once a quarter, I receive a phone call from my cellphone provider, offering me a new package where they can “save”me money on my calls. To give some background on this, I currently have a package that has unlimited calls and smses. How then, are they going to “save”me money on calls? Are they less than free? Another thing is, in 2018, who uses smses? The only time I sent an sms is when I’m busy and want to decline a call politely. If my cellphone provider understood my current needs based on how I actually use my cellphone package, they wouldn’t understand that I send very few smses per month but have to purchase data all the time. What is really upsetting is that hey wouldn’t have to go far to find this info as they own it. 

If then, they called me an offered me additional data in place of my sms bundle, they would be in a position of understanding my current state, providing value in an attempt to move me to a future state where they may actually get me to pay more for their service as opposed to just hanging up on them every time they call.  

To understand your customer’s current state, you need to map out the following information:

  • The problem
  • The impact
  • The root cause
  • The emotion - assessing how your customer feels

To understand the future state of your customer, you ask questions pertaining to what goals these problems are hindering from being achieved or what’s the root cause that’s stopping you from being as efficient as you want to be. Many of the questions you’ll ask here are based off what you found in their current state.

I want for us here at Penquin to go back to understanding our “why” and move from “selling solutions” to “solving problems” and adding real value. It’s completely understandable that no matter how good we might be at what we do (we have a few awards to prove it)some people may not see the value in it, and that’s okay. Our  focus should be on identifying clients who’s problems we can diagnose, solve and add value to by adopting a customer-centric approach that delivers impactful services to all clients.

“Problem centric selling puts the Customer First, Not you, and that makes all the difference” - Jim Keenan


If you want to find out more on what I took away from INBOUND 18 and what Penquin does, simply contact me. I’d love to chat.

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