I first began considering this question after reading Dan Pink’s most recent book “To Sell Is Human.” If you haven’t read it yet put it on your list. There was significant research presented in the book to indicate that a savvy seller might be better served helping clients “find problems” rather than the more traditional role of a “problem solver.”
According to Mr. Pink and the research cited in his book sales professionals need to evolve from problem solvers into problem finders due, in large part, to the internet. Once we identify a problem the modern consumer has become very well versed in using Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other internet sites to come up with solutions to that problem.
As an example Company X decides it has a problem with warehouse space. They are growing quickly and feel the need to add additional warehouse space to meet the increased product demand from customers. They can research real estate prices, location, etc. without ever leaving the office. They can query business associates and others through social media and email to find real estate agent referrals and so on.
Sounds good right? But what if more warehouse space isn’t really the problem? What if the problem lies in outdated methods of distribution, legacy order entry processes, inefficient inventory management systems that could actually require less warehouse space if corrected, etc. Now we have a lot more to consider right?
In my humble opinion the role of a great sales person shouldn’t lie in one discipline or the other. According to research cited in Pink’s book from Chicago University the creativity of the solution is much higher when preceded by the process of actually finding the problem. With that premise in mind the smart sales professional wants to be involved in the problem FINDING process with his clients because he/she is more likely to be perceived as an asset once it is time for the client to SOLVE it.
While I completely agree with Pink’s assertion that problem finding is the more valuable of the two disciplines, the MOST bang for the buck is being well enough positioned to be involved in BOTH.