Council Post: 14 Ways To Approach Problem-Centric Selling


No matter which business philosophy you prescribe to, the fact remains that in order to get more people to buy whatever you’re selling, you need to tap into their problems and provide a solution. When a potential customer sets out on their buyer’s journey, they’re in search of a product or service that can solve an issue they’re having. Whether you’re a business owner or a salesperson, it’s your job to learn what your customer’s problems are and convince them that your products or services offer the only effective solution. 

Problem-centric selling is a very successful way to increase sales and bring in new customers when it’s done right. Below, 14 Forbes Business Development Council members give their expert advice on problem-centric selling by sharing the most effective elements in the process. 

1. Distance And Detach From Your Products

Interestingly, in problem-centric selling, the critical success factors are distance and detachment from your products and services. It is the ability to dispassionately assess the client’s context, offer a consultative suggestion and introduce a solution ‘fit for purpose’ that inspires confidence and eventually secures the sale. – Rama Sridhar, Mastercard

2. Put The Buyer First

Problem-centric selling starts with putting the buyer first. As sellers, our job is to be mindful of where the buyer is in their journey, meet them at that place and help them make decisions to solve their problem. The best sellers will utilize data, insights and research to meet their buyer where they are and be their trusted advisor along that journey. – Ed Calnan, Seismic


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3. Identify Emotion And Reasoning

Identifying pain isn’t always easy but once identified, the cost of the pain needs to be quantified and articulated. Buyers respond to emotion (qualitative) and reasoning (quantitative). When you put a dollar value on pain, it massively increases the ability to express qualitative and quantitative aspects of a solution. This yields the best chance for you to get the attention of economic buyers. – Jim Berryhill, DecisionLink

4. Operate With Good Intentions

You should always conduct business with the good intention of sincerely understanding the potential customer’s challenges. Then reflect with honesty on how your services or products can help them build trust and positive rapport with your brand. Also admitting when you are not best positioned to support them and when the products are not a good fit is equally important. They will appreciate the honesty and potentially come back in the future. – Doina Popa, UiPath Inc.

5. Properly Diagnose The Problem

Diagnose, then prescribe. In my 15 years of training professional salespeople, one of the most common errors I’ve observed is improperly diagnosing the prospect’s problem before prescribing solutions. In the same way that a doctor asks questions to hone in on a patient’s ailment, effective salespeople must ask carefully crafted questions in order to allow them to understand the prospect’s true pain. – Adam Webb, Sunder Energy

6. Improve The Quality Of Your Questions

It’s all about the Q&A. The quality of your questions in regards to their specific problems gives you the answers to dig deeper to the heart of the problem. Questions based on their biggest pain point(s) are both emotional and revelatory to the potential buyer. Tapping into their emotions gives you the data on selling them based on their needs and the tools to reinforce your solution to their need. – Timothy Carter, SEO.co

7. Understand The Root Cause

One of the more critical elements of problem-centric selling is understanding the root cause. Oftentimes, buyers convey the problem they face, which is, in fact, the symptom, not the cause. Being able to sift through questions to uncover underlying issues helps with crafting longer-tail solutions. – Jim Vint, Breakwater Solutions

8. Build Trust With Empathy

I have always believed that the most important trait that every salesperson should have is empathy. That applies here too. Often, buyers don’t see or know the real problem, but empathy builds trust and allows the buyers to open up more and talk about the problem. More importantly, when you show a buyer empathy, they’re willing to work with you and brainstorm on the actual root cause. – Hitesh Wadhwa, Tech Mahindra

9. Turn The Problem Into An Opportunity

The thing is to make a point of growth out of the problem. Any difficulty is just an opportunity to broaden your horizons regarding the tools and communication methods used. Just make your proposal inseparable from the solution and broadcast this message to the client. Study the client’s KPIs, needs and even corporate philosophy thoroughly to link your product to growth and meeting these issues. – Leonid Kozlov, RocketData

10. Recognize Context And Quantification

The essence of the approach is the recognition of context and quantification. All sales, especially B2B, are made in the context of the customer’s industry and competitive environment. Identifying the problem in that context is critical, as is identifying why solving that problem should be a priority. Quantification should prioritize solving it over solving other problems the customer is confronting. – Mladen Kresic, K&R Negotiation Associates LLC

11. Use A Rational, Unsentimental Approach

While empathy is a popular buzzword, my vote would veer toward comprehension. You cannot place yourself in your customer’s shoes until you have a rational, unsentimental understanding of the customer problem you need to solve. Problem-centric selling, in my opinion, starts with identifying what the customer understands about his or her problem and navigating from there. – Wajid Mirza, Arthur Lawrence

12. Listen To The Client First

The heart of problem-centric selling is listening. Too many salespeople enter a meeting loudly firing off the features of their product when they should first listen to the client and understand their problems. By listening to their issues, the salesperson can then discuss the solutions the product can offer. – Chris Yount, Independent Board Advisor

13. Outline The Benefits

Many brands mainly communicate features and performance figures, but neglect to understand that consumers are attracted and better understand benefits much more than features. Instead of putting a lot of emphasis on numerical figures, it is easier to convince consumers of added-value, more emotional (less-tangible) and unique benefits which set the brand apart from the competition. – Claudia Wasko, Bosch eBike Systems

14. Understand Customer Value Drivers

Knowledge of the customer’s business and getting key insights are the critical elements of a problem-centric sales approach. Prioritizing the value drivers, aligning the key business insights to customer priorities and connecting it back to the strength of the solution and services offered could help in gaining the customer’s confidence. – Shyam Kumar, AST LLC



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