“Are you working on the symptom or the problem…?”

By John Hirth SJ Daily Blog Picture

We have often found in working with our clients that they are working on a “symptom” rather than the “problem”. Unfortunately, as long as you are working on a symptom it will be difficult to get your prospect to identify whether or not they are someone you can do business with. Right now, you have deals in process that may be stalled because you are working on the “symptom” and not the “problem”.

The following example will help you understand this concept:

Symptom: ”We need more time to think this through”. Most salespeople, thinking the problem is they need more time,    respond with “when should we get back to you? ”This response addresses the symptom… Not the problem.

Problem: The “symptom”, need more time, is driven by the problem which is:  they are not 100% convinced that they need or   can benefit from what you have. Letting the prospect have more time is the strategy that deals with the symptom and   not the problem. The reality is they usually don’t need more time but rather more information.

Needing more time can also be driven by one of these problems:

They are not the real decision maker and can’t say yes.
They don’t feel like what you have proposed is the right solution.
They are not good at selling internally to their people and can’t justify the purchase.
They can’t go to their current vendor and tell him he’s been replaced.
They don’t have a compelling reason to make a change

A typical sales response like “why do you hesitate?” will often put pressure on your prospect. A better response that will help you get to the real problem might be “maybe you shouldn’t do this at all?”

This “negative psychology” response keeps you from sounding like a sales person and is contrary to what they are expecting. It also tends to take the pressure away. Now they might actually reveal the problem by saying…

“Yes, we’ve decided not to buy…
“We’re just not sure it’s the right decision for us.”

Either one is O.K., because now we can decide how best to proceed. Finding the real problems will give you the ability to move forward in the selling process so don’t be afraid of getting an answer you think you don’t want.

Some other examples of symptoms vs. problems are:

“Your price is too high” is the symptom not the problem.
The problem is your prospect “doesn’t believe you are worth what you are asking”.

“Timing is not right” is the symptom not the problem.
“I don’t have the belief that I pay a penalty not to buy from you” is the problem behind the symptom.
“My people want to wait on this” is the symptom not the problem.
“I didn’t have the conviction when I presented it to our people to get their buy in” is the problem.

Don’t be fooled into dealing with symptoms… as a sales professional take the responsibility to insure that you are both working on the problem. You can’t help your prospect by working on the symptom!

Action Step:  Identify what some of the “symptoms” are that trap you and what are the underlying problems that you need to ask about? Learn to ask for “clarification” of what appear to be symptoms rather than trying to fix what really isn’t the problem!