No one has ever called me basic, except maybe my kids. I’m typically an outside-the-box thinker with few reservations about how I express myself. But sometimes returning to the basics is the most effective way to start changing. This week in the #YearofLivingChangefully, we’re doing just that.
I can’t imagine not knowing the work my clients do on a day-to-day basis. If I didn’t understand that, we’d be out of business. That’s because finding and understanding the root cause of any problem is the only real way to begin solving it. Furthermore, any company in the service business is also in the problem-solving business.
Unfortunately, many executives don’t choose to solve for likely problems. They’re so busy tackling the big, sexy problems or dealing with the squeakiest wheels that they neglect the multiple, smaller problems that lead to big ones. The task of eliminating factors to determine the actual cause of a problem, and then devising plans to solve exactly that problem, is no small feat, nor is it fun or sexy.
One case-in-point is 50/50’s newest and biggest client for 2018. Our client, a boutique professional services firm with several Fortune 100 companies in its portfolio, has a sales department that is having trouble knowing what problems their prospects are facing. Until the team improves their understanding of the real problems that prospects need to solve, they can’t offer (sell) solutions to meet those needs.
Over the years, the client’s CEO has attempted to fix the sales engine by throwing money at it. She tried everything from contests and spot bonuses to commission surges, new high-paid consultants and employees, and more costly campaigns, only to realize that out she was trying to solve for the wrong problem.
One of the client’s core values is Empathy. Working with 50/50, the client has learned that a step away from this core value is contributing to sluggish sales. Part of the reason the CEO didn’t notice this problem was because – internally, anyway – empathy abounds at the company. The staff members care for, understand, and support one another. Posters about empathy around the office reflect the company’s beliefs. But the CEO noticed that the sales team isn’t using empathy as a tool for business development.
On the advice of 50/50, the CEO last week told the company’s sales department, “We can’t approach calls as if the goal is to get customers to hear us talk, and not to unearth a problem that we can actually solve.” She knows this was an oversimplification, but her point was that asking questions like, “Do you need (anything we can provide)?” doesn’t solve a problem. That question, in fact, doesn’t even attempt to address the discovery of a problem.
A question like that is akin to asking someone if they need to buy a new phone to replace their three-year-old model. Most people are in spitting distance of a store that sells phones. It does no one any good to ask them if they need a phone. What the salesperson needs to do is determine the customer’s real need or the reason for their hesitation to buy. That need or hesitation reflects the real problem. Why have they not purchased a new phone in so long? Are they locked into a long contract? Do they like the fact that they’ve finally paid off their installments? Are they wondering if their service is better? Do they not have the time to visit stores and learn about new options for phones and services? Maybe the old phone has sentimental value? If I frame my questions so they yield more information or a definitive “yes” to any of those questions, then I will have discovered a problem that I might be able to help solve.
50/50’s client is going back to basics. They’re reverse-engineering the practice of their own company values, one at a time, making sure each value exists in everything they do. In the sales department, they’re relearning how to put empathy into the questions they ask. They are retraining the team on how to learn what solvable problems their clients face relative to the services the client provides. They’re learning to dig deeper, to remember that most big problems are made up of a bunch of overlooked, smaller problems that, individually, are easier to solve. They’re taking a new approach to discovery: They’re getting ready to learn more about their clients, themselves and the solutions they can offer.