Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Do This First in Sales!
Has this ever happened to you?
You offer a perfectly good, logical solution that meets your buyer’s needs. But the buyer says “no.” It just doesn’t make sense. Stupid buyers…
Or maybe it’s not that buyers are illogical, stupid, fickle, or wrong. Maybe you aren’t solving the problem they want to solve. Maybe you’ve allowed lazy thinking to get in the way of quality problem solving. You missed the mark.
Missing the mark happens, primarily, because we leap ahead of buyers or ignore information that doesn’t fit what we want to hear. We jump into action or problem-solving mode without thinking critically or objectively analyzing all the information offered.
Signs that you’ve tried to solve the problem without thinking critically include:
- Your response is Pavlovian. You instantly shift to fix-and-solve mode without analyzing the problem or seeking to understand it first.
- You’re tap dancing. You don’t have a lot to work with, so you’re trying to distract from the lack of substance by piling on the style – it’s a fast-talking, charm offensive that feels a little phony.
- The buyer doesn’t engage. The buyer might not offer any objections at all. You interpret this as a positive sign. But it’s the strongest sign of disinterest possible when they buyer doesn’t even entertain the solution you’re offering because it’s of no relevance to them.
- The dots don’t connect. You can’t make solid, compelling connections between the solution you’re offering and the primary need of the buyer. That’s because you don’t have the primary need and are trying to connect to something you’re only guessing about.
- You can’t quote the buyer. In solid sales presentations, sellers quote buyers. They use the buyer’s own words to describe the buyer’s needs. Sellers say things like “You told me that your biggest issue is employee turnover and the associated expenses, roughly $200,000 unbudgeted dollars every quarter. That’s why I’m recommending a manager training course that boosts employee engagement and reduces employee turnover.”
Critical thinking leads to better understanding. When you’re thinking critically, you’ll be asking drill-down questions and learning more about the buyer’s true needs. At the same time, you’ll be getting the buyer to acknowledge their own needs. That means you’ll be getting buy in before you ask for a buy.
Slow down and seek out the real problem.
What’s the Problem?
This is the place to begin. Before you leap into action, pause and determine what problem you want to solve.
If you haven’t identified the actual problem, your solution will be:
- A waste of time
It’s also potentially dangerous. Solving the wrong problem can have a myriad of unintended consequences. Solving a superficial problem without getting to the root cause is merely a Band-Aid Solution that temporarily masks – but doesn’t fix – the problem.
What is the problem you really want to solve? That’s the question you need to answer before responding to any problem.
This requires intellectual honesty. If you are trying to solve the problem of making your quota and earning more commission, you’ll project this to buyers. It will influence the solutions you offer and the way you interact with buyers. It’s not the same as trying to solve the buyer’s problem.
Your intent will show through to buyers. Having an intention to solve their problems and taking time, then, to fully understand those problems will always lead to more sales. But an intention to do “whatever it takes” to pad your commission check will work against you.
When a buyer suggests a need, don’t pounce on it immediately. Probe it. Peel back the layers to find the root cause or real problem. Don’t start solving until you understand and know what the true problem is.
Don’t Waste Time Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem
Please stop trying to sell to the first need you hear or the generic need you assume is relevant for every buyer. It’s a futile effort and, frankly, it makes the entire sales profession look bad.
At least three times a week, most small business owners with an online presence get an email that reads something like this “Did you know your website has broken links? We can fix those for you! We can also optimize your website so you’ll rank higher in Google searches and get more customers to your site.”
These emails comes from credible, well-known companies as well as from solopreneurs from all over the world. I once got four in a single day from four different senders in Indonesia.
Since I don’t see this as a problem, I have absolutely no interest in solutions or solution providers who make these sweeping assumptions and inadvertently insult me by lumping me in with websites that are not well-maintained and are not proactively working on an optimization strategy.
By trying to solve the wrong problem, these spammers create bigger problems for themselves. They waste time, they spoil their own brand (no matter how good their work might be), and they offend people.
This happens in personal relationships, too. If you try to fix problems instead of listening, you may be getting negative reactions like this:
Sometimes people, including buyers, just need someone to listen and show genuine interest and compassion. Once you’ve listened and asked questions, your solutions and ideas will be received more favorably. It’s the old maxim “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
You’ll actually be more efficient, too, when you listen and ask questions to understand the real problem. You won’t have to start over, answer as many objections, backtrack, or extract yourself from misunderstandings if you wait for the real problem to emerge.
With buyers, you’ll know when you get to the real problem. It will:
- Be related to their overarching business or personal needs. It won’t be directly related to your solution. For example, advertising sellers often miss the mark by talking about “your need to advertise.” But no one ever has a need to advertise. What advertisers need is a result from advertising like increased store traffic or sales. That’s the problem to solve.
- Have consequences that are big enough to compel action. When you ask questions to probe a pain point, you’ll see discomfort and a desire to avoid negative outcomes. Questions like “What will the impact be if you don’t reach that goal?” magnify pain points and force buyers to acknowledge what they might otherwise choose to avoid.
- Be urgent and important enough to work on. People allocate budget, time and resources to fix big problems. If a problem is peripheral or seems insignificant, people will ignore it and focus resources elsewhere. Responding to a small need makes less impact than solving a big one.
You’re not ready to solve the problem until you know what the problem really is. Use purposeful questions to discover and understand that problem before segueing into a solution.
Next Steps for Improved Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
We’ve examined only the first of seven steps in traditional problem solving. It’s the most important one! From there, you’d naturally proceed through all seven steps:
- Identify the real problem
- Understand what the goals are for overcoming that problem
- Brainstorm with your client so they participate in creating what they want
- Compare and contrast all the options to determine which solution is best
- Focus on the best solution
- Execute the best solution
- Follow up to evaluate the solution and determine how effective it was in solving the problem
Don’t try to leapfrog over steps. That will take more time in the long run. Each step builds buyer commitment and increases the likelihood that your solution will be effective.
Keep learning about critical thinking skills, too. They will help you make decisions about which solution is best and equip you for objectively evaluating results.
This is part four in a series of posts about why and how to build critical thinking skills you can use to excel in selling. Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog. Each one offers additional ways to build your mental might.
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The essence of selling is solving problems for your buyers. You simply can’t do that unless you build your mental might and build your critical thinking skills.