Problem First (Issue 466)

In which we emphasize the importance of articulating the value of a solution before introducing the idea of the solution.

One of my friends is a senior engineer for a computer company. His team makes VERY snappy gear. He once said to me: “When introducing a computer command, a computer language feature, or a piece of computer hardware to someone, we find the conversation goes better if we first describe the problem it was designed to solve.”

Sales translation: “When introducing our product or services to clients or prospects, conversations go better if we first describe the dollar or time magnitude of the problem we’re solving, and then describe the dollar or time benefit of our product or service, then describe the solution. So: Problem, benefit, solution. PBS.

In computer land, this might sound like: “Ms. Penny, you’re paying $250 – $300 of staff compensation a week that’s lost due to wait time at your printer, which prints only 12 pages a minute.” That’s the problem to be solved.

Next: The benefit. “I think we can recover $150 – $200 of that staff time per week ….”

Then: The solution. “…by installing a 60 page per minute printer in your office.”

So, “Ms. Penny, you’re paying $250 – $300 of staff compensation a week that’s lost due to wait time at your printer, which prints only 12 pages a minute. I think we can recover $150 – $200 of that staff time per week by installing a 60 page per minute printer in your office.”

Now, If that printer costs $1,000, Ms. Penny is ahead of the game after five weeks. Easy decision because we’ve made the value clear. Problem, benefit, solution.

Here’s another example:

Problem: “Mr. Thistle, you’re paying vendor bills late and missing $300 – $500 of discounts each month because you’re not collecting cash from your customers in time.” That’s the problem statement.

Next, the benefit of our solution. “I think we can increase your available cash balance enough that you could pay those bills and earn the $300 – $500 in discounts….”

Finally, the solution: “…by sending your clients electronic bills and auto-debiting their accounts.” Problem, benefit, solution. PBS.

Here’s a final example: “Mr. Carpetblink, you’re thinking that the $200 a month you’re paying an accountant to do your payroll could be better spent elsewhere.” That’s the problem.

Next the benefit: “I think we save you $100 a month…”

Finally the solution: “…by enrolling you in our company’s on-line payroll solution.”

Problem – benefit – solution.  PBS.

So, back to my friend’s comment: “We find the conversation (about a new product or feature) goes better if we first describe the problem it was designed to solve.” Problem, benefit, solution, particularly if we are able to express both the problem and the benefit in terms of time or dollars. That’s where the sale happens. Right between the problem and the benefit. The solution just happens to be the way we get it done.

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