Why Your Salespeople Should Be Trained Problem Solvers

When salespeople believe that closing is their top priority -- no matter how they get there -- they earn your brand labels like "obnoxious" and "rude." The days of "Glengarry Glen Ross" are over. Consumers today are too wary of being manipulated to be won over by pushy tactics.

But people appreciate finding solutions to their problems. Consumers may not always be able to pinpoint their own stress points, but they love a company that makes their lives easier or more exciting.

Traditional sales tactics focus solely on the product, but a better strategy is to understand consumers' problems first and then provide solutions through the company's offerings. This is a relational and empathetic approach. Rather than turn people off, you build trust. This is especially true when selling solutions extends beyond closing deals and into managing problems customers encounter after they've made a purchase with your company.

Forming your business around helping consumers disrupts industries and earns customer loyalty, which means more reliable and consistent revenue streams. In "Reorganize for Resilience," Ranjay Gulati explains that the customer-centric companies he tracked delivered shareholder returns of 150 percent over six years. This is in stark contrast to the S&P 500's 14 percent.

Small interventions -- applied at the right time and to the right issues -- can improve customer experiences disproportionately. But turning complaints into happy customers requires appropriate resources and strategies. Here are four ways to turn your sales team members into problem solvers:

1. Open doors across silos.

Perhaps the biggest obstacles sales teams face are their own companies. Suffocating parameters, outdated compensation systems, and tension between departments all hold salespeople back.

Everyone has to rise above internal politics or arguments over resources and recognize that each department plays an important role in the customer experience. Your salespeople need insights from marketing and R&D, among others, to better understand how your brand can solve people's problems.

One of the things we've implemented within my team is a "work backward" approach. Start with what the customer experiences (or should experience), and work backward to improve that experience. This has allowed us to work through silos, competing agendas, and conflicting opinions to focus on what matters most for the customers and, by extension, the company.

Best Buy broke down silos to improve its customer experience and survive Amazon's and Walmart's lowered prices. The company did some research and found that women -- who made up 55 percent of its customer base, according to research in Gulati's book -- didn't actually enjoy shopping there.

So Best Buy adjusted its layout, trained its store staff to help more women in the ways they preferred to be helped, and introduced the Geek Squad so women who were seeking installation assistance were no longer turned away. These changes went far beyond a training session for sales reps, but they helped the business survive changes in the industry and even expand its services while competitors faded into oblivion.

2. Focus on the relationship between sales and marketing.

Silos and tensions are notoriously problematic between sales and marketing departments. When a marketing strategy produces poor leads, sales teams often simply get angry because there isn't a system in place to communicate effectively. Yet marketing can't adjust its strategy without insights from sales.

These teams should be entwined in a dance -- not a street fight. The people on both teams must understand how a lead is defined and when a lead is ready for a sales call. A liaison can help communicate preferences between departments and help both teams move forward as a united front.

3. Develop customer intelligence.

You can and should use data and hard facts to guide strategies. But salespeople need more -- they need valuable insights into their audience's world from a thorough analysis of data. The shift for sales teams to think more like business advisors can be intimidating, especially when current tactics were effective in the past. But becoming solution-based often means changing up some job descriptions.

Strategic collaboration is a huge portion of our sales managers' responsibilities. They constantly pull team members to their whiteboards, developing strategies together, challenging each other, encouraging creative thinking, and reviewing outcomes. This results in knowledgeable reps who can offer helpful insights and work together to solve each other's problems -- and customers' issues as well.

4. Don't be afraid to educate consumers.

When marketing and sales work together to produce quality leads and salespeople help shape strategic decisions, they'll know more about the challenges customers face than the customers themselves. Don't be afraid to use that knowledge to educate consumers and teach them new perspectives.

In the past, many companies believed that educating consumers gave them leverage and would empower consumers to find solutions with competitors. In reality, sharing information builds trust. Consumers want companies to be transparent, and receiving information about why a product will genuinely solve their problem is a pleasant and desirable experience. This approach makes sales reps into partners in a customer's pursuit of satisfaction.

Today's volatile, high-speed markets make innovative strategies essential. A problem-solving approach to sales can give you a competitive edge by creating loyal and appreciative customers.
Sona Jepsen
Sona Jepsen> all articles
Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her team empowers FIS' global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.
  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPicture.jpgViktor Nikolov5/18/2017 10:57:14 AM
    Great stuff. Very well explained and structured. As an account manager first and sales person second, building a relationship with the client is everything. Once you got the trust from the other side, the clients are willing to listen to you without long conversations and time wasting, which if you do your job properly (thinking about the client) is a win-win situation.

  • /data/userPictures/C69D4536-C657-4D73-A3C4-9098D95A6E9F.jpgRobbie Gongwer6/4/2017 11:11:05 AM
    Our company sells Solar. We found educating our potential customers about the industry and market forces, allowed them to become an expert within their network. Referrals went up and brand loyalty increased.

    Or competition is still selling based off of the numbers alone. When they pitch head to head against us we win 90% of the business. It creates such a contrast that the customers come back telling us that we blew the competition away. Most are even willing to pay a little more to go with us.

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgMarco Cordova8/21/2017 12:35:32 PM
    Great article! This can be applied not only to customers but also to your daily life. You will find out that people tend to build silos around you and it is difficult for you to overcome those obstacles in life, but if your mentality and emotional intelligence are mature, you will find ways to tackle them. Just as you can create relationships with emotional partners, you can build them with your customers and it will benefit your sales, not only you will sell to them but now you will be able to talk about your personal life. Making sure that your customer is intelligent about the sale you are about to make with them will also feed that relationship and make it stronger. Learn from mistakes and grow along with your customer.

  • /data/userPictures/34B73E37-B655-41C1-AD09-5FF38EC89D5A.jpgSajin Mohamed8/26/2017 8:39:57 AM
    Spot on! I think customers love problem solvers and individuals who deliver true business value. Once you become the trusted business adviser, it opens more avenues for closing sales.

  • /data/userPictures/D47FA4A6-4A71-4714-A56D-9B174ABD20A0.jpgChris Dravis10/17/2017 3:22:41 PM
    Great article! We need to bring value to the customer and you are spot on about customers being wary of a pushy sales person.

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgColin Schreiber10/17/2017 11:37:17 PM
    Awesome article! I know that when I'm a customer I'm always looking through the old sales "tactics" and push back against pushy salespeople, and if they don't have an answer for my concerns, I take my business elsewhere.

  • /data/userPictures/DA043A01-2CE7-4E72-AC1A-FDE3C3C6EE62.jpgCatherine Ing2/16/2018 6:46:23 PM
    Spot on! Most consumers want an interpersonal relationship with their service/product providers, because they need someone they can trust to solve their problems. Who would make a big investment, whether of time or money, with someone they didn't trust...?

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPicture.jpgLuke Bartels2/27/2018 7:13:35 PM
    Awesome insights, I've dealt with lots of pushy salespeople and would feel much better about buying something if it felt more like solving a problem.

  • /data/userPictures/CBC45CD6-4846-4EC8-866F-897237754470.jpgArsenio Bell4/11/2018 11:41:25 PM
    I liked how this article was put together. I am very direct and informative, and this piece strikes me as getting to the point. Problem-solving is needed to win, and with so much persistence to overcome the challenges... challenges could be problems... solving those problems can/will help a sales professional win.
    Since it touches upon relationships, intelligence, and informing customers -I think this was very well-written. I smiled while reading this tonight.

    Well done! :-)

  • /data/userPictures/BD498EAA-76BC-4262-B951-EB2ADCAC7D3D.jpgChristian Ogbokor, Mr4/25/2018 5:52:18 AM
    I like this article because, it describe the person I am. A sales person needs to be a problem solver rather than pursuing the money. Build your value and money will comes on is own.

  • /data/userPictures/18D257BD-B292-4363-9955-61D188D61EEA.jpgRohit Madaan7/18/2018 1:01:06 PM
    Great Article. The best parts were to focus on the relationship between sales and marketing and secondly don't be afraid to educate the customers. If you do these things with the right approach and with full efficiency, i believe there is nothing stopping you then to achieve results.

  • /data/userPictures/CB843451-0286-4590-A3B0-ADFB95251EFB.jpgErlita Berisha7/31/2018 3:44:41 PM
    Very interesting case study about Walmart and Best Buy
    Great article

  • /data/userPictures/A64D35E2-FF52-4161-8F9F-D92AD1FB7611.jpgKai Ozogul8/1/2018 10:02:41 PM
    Be a part of solution not a part of pollution!

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgCaleb Kelsey, Mr.8/2/2018 12:45:15 AM
    Great article about providing value to your customers!

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureMale.jpgDaniel C8/29/2018 5:23:26 PM
    Great article!