According to Daniel Pink, you have to be able to “help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t know they had.”
This is not the same as being a good problem solver.
In fact, being a good problem solver matters less today for sales people than it did in the past.
Customers have easy access to the information they need to solve their problems. Therefore they can do much of the work themselves. They can search for the information they need. They can make a decision on their own without the assistance of a sales person.
It’s when the customer is “mistaken, confused, or completely clueless about the true problem” that they can use your help. In these cases, your ability to move them relies less on problem solving and more on problem finding.
Daniel Pink explains that research in the field of creativity has shown an important difference between problem finders and problem solvers.
People most disposed to creative breakthroughs in art, science, or any endeavor tend to be problem finders. These people sort through vast amounts of information and inputs, often from multiple disciplines; experiment with a variety of different approaches; are willing to switch directions in the course of a project; and often take longer than their counterparts to complete their work.
These insights contain important implications for selling. Since customers have ready access to the information they need, they can solve their problems on their own when they only need the “reductive, algorithmic, problem-solving skills of technicians.”
If you are selling and you want to bring value to your buyer, you have to employ the “creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills of artists.”
Problem-finding and problem identification are vital skills in a world where everyone has access to information. In this world, successful sales people will turn two skills upside down:
- They will shift from skill at accessing information to skill at curating information.
- They will move from being good at answering questions to being good at asking questions–“uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues, and finding unexpected problems.”
Framing the problem
How do you go about achieving clarity – to see customer problems in novel ways and to identify problems they didn’t know they had?
In order for you and your customer to see things differently, they have to compare their situation to something else. Thus clarity depends on contrast. So the most important question you can raise in your customer’s mind is “Compared to what?”
Frame your offering in ways that show contrast with your customers’ alternatives and its virtues can be seen more clearly.
Here are a few ways to frame your offering:
The less frame
Given too many alternatives, people have difficulty making a choice. When researchers set up a table at an upscale grocery store and offered 24 varieties of jam to customers, only 3 percent made a purchase. But when they offered just six varieties, 30 percent bought some jam. Simply reducing the number of choices increased sales ten-fold.
If you are selling, whether in-person or online, the implication is clear. You have to do more than present people with all the choices. They look to you for your curation ability. If you can sort through all the options and narrow the choices that you present to a customer, you are more likely to see them make a decision.
The experience frame
Social psychologists categorize purchases by the buyer’s intent. Sometimes buyers make a material purchase. They intend to acquire and own a tangible object.
In other cases buyers intend to purchase an experience, an event or maybe a series of events that they will go through.
The research results show that people derive more satisfaction from an experience than they do from a material good. We tend to become accustomed to new material goods and they no longer satisfy us. Experiences linger longer in our minds. And they give us stories to tell and a way to improve our social status.
Therefore, if you intend to move others, you are more likely to succeed if you can frame it as an experience rather than as a collection of material features. In other words, frame the purchase in terms of benefits not features.
The label frame
What you call something influences people’s behavior.
Remember the Prisoner’s Dilemma? Two people arrested for a crime are interrogated in separate rooms. If both prisoners say nothing, they’ll get light sentences, a month imprisonment. If they both confess, they will each receive six months. But if A talks and B keeps quiet, it’s ten years for B and A goes free. Conversely, if B talks and A keeps quiet, A gets ten years and B goes free. The best outcome for both is if no one talks. But can each trust the other not to betray him and send him away for ten years? Therein lies the dilemma.
In an experiment, one group of people who play the prisoner’s dilemma game are told it’s “The Wall Street Game.” In this group, 33 percent cooperated and received the most beneficial result. But in the group who play the same game and are told that it’s “The Community Game,” 66 percent reached the best result.
Simply labeling the game gave people cues about what to expect and how they should behave.
Give them an off-ramp
You’ve found the problem. You’ve given it the appropriate frame.
Now you have one final step. Daniel Pink calls it giving people an off-ramp. People not only need clarity on how to think (find the problem, frame the problem). They also need clarity on how to act.
That’s why in long-form sales letters you see language like: “To make your purchase, here’s what you’ll do. You’ll click on the Buy Now button below. Then you’ll…” The letter then continues with the most detailed instructions imaginable.
These details matter because people may be ready to go to the destination you’ve offered. But they are much likely to actually make the move if you give them details on how to act.