How to Evolve Sellers Into the Problem Solvers That Buyers Want

One of the key findings in our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study was the fact that executive buyers don’t perceive salespeople as problem solvers. When asked to name the top three resources they turn to when they have to solve a business problem, salespeople were not included. They also didn’t come in fourth or fifth; believe it or not, they came in ninth!

Only 23% of buyers named sellers as one of their top three resources to solve business problems. (Click to tweet)

Looking at root causes as to why sales performance is not really getting better, one of the core problems is that salespeople too often act as sellers rather than problem solvers. Why is this important? Because buyers prefer to engage with problem solvers.

The buyers’ preferences speak a clear language: Buyers want salespeople to help them solve business problems. They don’t want anybody to pitch products to them. (click to tweet)

Let me quickly summarize their four preferences; click here for the details. They want sellers to be prepared, which means they expect sellers to know the buyers’ industry, role and business challenges. They expect excellent communication skills on all channels. And then, they want sellers to provide insights and perspectives that teach them something new, that show them different ways to better understand the impact of their problem and how to solve it in the best way possible. They want sellers to focus on post-sale, which is a no-brainer. Why would you run away after investing in building a relationship and an account you want to create more business with?

Based on our research, sales enablement teams often overwhelm their salespeople with content to be shared with buyers in all of their interactions; some enablement teams focus on the idea that more would help more. This is not the case. Less is more, also in enablement. One of the reasons why you need an enablement charter, is to have clearly defined what you do to achieve the business goals and even what you stop doing.

Too often, the ton of “value” that sellers share with their buyers does not fit the buyers’ specific context, problem, role and industry, and ends up in an overload of content buyers won’t use. And that’s not valuable for them.

The key is to be valuable and relevant, which requires a specific focus on the current phase of the customer’s path.

What does that mean? Imagine you are suffering from pain in your chest and left arm, you have more and more difficulty running your usual five miles a day, and you feel tired and exhausted most of the time. The pain doesn’t go away, so you see a doctor. Your general practitioner will probably refer you to a cardiologist right away. The cardiologist will run lots of tests and come up with a solid diagnosis. Let’s say the diagnosis is severe arteriosclerosis that needs a) immediate surgery and b) a change in your habits regarding diet, sports, smoking, relaxation, etc. The doctor also will tell you straightforward that if you don’t get on with the therapy, you most likely will suffer a life-threatening heart attack within the next 12 months.

Only if the problem is properly diagnosed and accepted are potential therapies to cure the disease perceived to be valuable and relevant. (click to tweet)

What’s valuable for your buyers heavily depends on where they currently are at their journey; in other words how big their pain is and how well they understand the impact of their problem.

In this case, facing arteriosclerosis and the risk of a heart attack, the patient will be ready to look into the options to cure their disease even if they require a lot of change. However, would the doctor share all of the potential therapies with you before they have a diagnosis? Of course not. First, they diagnose, then you get therapy options tailored to your disease and a clear outline regarding the risks of doing nothing.

Here are four ideas for sales enablement leaders to equip their sales force on being valuable and relevant at the same time: (click to tweet)

  • Engage and enable your sales team to run proper problem diagnoses.
    That requires skills, methodologies and tools. As a doctor, provide your sellers with diagnostic tools that help them work with the buyers on their problem diagnosis. Questionnaires based on maturity models can help; “fitness” tests in whatever area you provide services for might be a good idea, too. Then focus on the next steps that come out of the diagnosis.


  • Equip your sales teams with tailored “therapies.”
    Now it’s time for all of the great content. Make sure your approach to solving their problem builds on the diagnosis. Tailor your success stories, case studies and white papers accordingly. All the presentations should be tailored to the different customer’s path phases, buyer roles, and business challenges. Often, using the industry’s language also helps a lot.


  • Empower them to be valuable and relevant timing is everything.
    That brings it all together: skills, methodologies, content and value messaging. Make sure your enablement approach is consistent across all of your enablement services. Make sure you’re your content and value messaging training are always focused on the different customer’s path phases to ensure sellers don’t sell therapies for problems that are not even accepted by the buyer. As in your private life (and explained above), it doesn’t work that way.


  • Reinforce by focus, practice and coaching.
    This is where sales managers and their regular coaching practice come into play. If you enable, equip and empower your sellers that way, make sure your sales managers are always on the same page from the very beginning. Collaborate with them to adjust their coaching approach in the same way, as needed.


Stay tuned! We will talk more about these ideas within the next few weeks.

If you haven’t already, have a look at our new book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of “how-to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.


Questions for you:

  • How do you enable your sellers to run proper problem diagnoses?
  • Do you provide any tools that help them do that?
  • How do you ensure your enablement services are tailored to the customer’s path phases?


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  • Victor Antonio
    Posted at 18:45h, 01 April

    Great summary of what ails the sales world. I’m willing to bet that most companies will have a hard time adequately answering your two questions: How do you enable your sellers to run proper problem diagnoses? Do you provide any tools that help them do that? Thank you for sharing! VA

  • Graham Richardson
    Posted at 10:18h, 03 April

    Really interesting article Tamara, thanks for sharing.

  • Tamara Schenk
    Posted at 02:33h, 15 May

    Glad you found it valuable, thanks!

  • Tamara Schenk
    Posted at 02:34h, 15 May

    Thanks! Yes, you are right. I guess that enabling sellers with problem-solving abilities will take some time and even more effort!

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