Sales and marketing

What Customer Problems Do You Solve?

I was leading a discussion about value propositions with a group of product developers and marketers.  We were getting ready to launch a new product, I was helping develop the launch plan.

I posed the question, “What customer problems do you solve?”

The answers followed the same pattern as virtually every other group in which I’ve posed that question.

Most often, the response to the question begins with one of the following:

“Our product has these features………”

“We provide these capabilities…..”

“We do this….”

The discussions go through long lists of features, functions, feeds, speeds, capabilities and so forth, but they seldom answer the question, “What customer problems do you solve?”  Instead people describe product capabilities and what their product does.

Rethink The Question, And the Answer

It may seem like I’m wordsmithing, but answering the question “What customer problems do you solve,” forces you to frame your response in terms that are meaningful to the customer, because it forces you to look at things from the customer point of view.

The answers to, What customer problems do you solve tend to start with:

“Here’s the situation our customers are finding themselves confronting every day…..”

“Our customers’ customers are changing in this way……  This is the impact of those changes on our customers…..”

“Our customers cannot achieve these things…… unless they change the way they run their business….”

“Our customers won’t be able to grow an compete unless they……..”

“These problems inhibit the ability of our customer to meet their strategic goals……”

Our customers don’t care about what we do, they don’t care about our capabilities, they are worried about their businesses, problems and opportunities.

What we do is only important in the context of the customer problems we solve.  But too often, in the enthusiasm we have about our products is that we skip that vital first step, telling customers what we do, not how what we do helps fix their problems.

Answering the question, ("What customer problems do you solve?") leads us into some other critical questions:

Who has those problems?  Not every customer has the problems that we solve.  Even for those that have problems that we solve, there may be things unique to them or their business–or unique to the way we solve the problems that make them bad candidates for our solutions.  But now we characterize the market and can develop a methodology for finding those customers.

Other things you are forced to consider is, Why is it important for customer to solve these problems?  Here we start looking at the impact the problem has on the overall goals and priorities of the organization.  In answering this question, we can now tie everything to top management priorities.

Who's Responsible?

I started this article by saying I was working with a product management group and marketing in launching new products.  Some of the people in the group said, “Sales can figure it out, that’s their job.”

It’s not sales job to figure out the problems our products and solutions solve!

Product management and marketing have the primary responsibility for this--sales can and should play a strong role, but they can’t take the lead.

Product management/marketing has to answer these questions in developing the product.  They have to understand all these things to understand what they have to deliver to meet customer needs and requirements.  If they don’t have the answers to these questions, why did they develop the product in the first place?  What caused them to choose the features, functions, feeds, speeds, and capabilities to build into the product?  What caused them to build capabilities that support what customers need to do, and to have the products be differentiated from the alternatives.

Product management/marketing have the answers to the questions the customers are most concerned about, “How do you help me solve my problems?”

If all we only equip sales people with knowledge about our products, features, functions, feeds, and speeds.  If we only train them on what our product is, on the things we do, they can never answer the fundamental questions the customer always cares about, “How do you help me solve my problems?”

Sales people do what we teach, train, measure, and incent them to do.  If they are only talking about product features functions, feeds and speeds; if they cannot answer the customers’ questions, “How do you help me solve my problems,”  it’s not sales fault.

The responsibility lies with management (sales and corporate), product management/marketing and others.

After all, sales people are just doing what we told them to do–we need to make sure we tell them to do the right things.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more of his blogs here.