Closing Too Soon: The Importance Of Understanding Your Prospect’s Problem

Here's why you need to show understanding of your prospect's problem.

Last week I had an interesting experience with an entrepreneur/consultant who was pitching his marketing services to me. I was curious about what he had to offer and wanted to spend some time discussing how he might be able to help market my product. He kicked off our initial phone call with a description of his services followed by two small client stories. We briefly touched on some of my high level goals and started to wrap up the call because we were both running late for other meetings. At the end of the 40-minute call, I asked if we could continue our conversation with a longer phone chat or better yet, an in-person meeting.

His response was: “Sure! This is my hourly rate, I’d be happy to meet with you for x amount of time for x amount of money.”

I was dumbfounded. I thought to myself, “Does he really think he made the sale? Did he go above and beyond in demonstrating value to me as a potential customer?” From my perspective, he hadn’t yet taken the ball into the end zone. Instead, he was sprinting down the field with his eyes closed!

This experience left a bad taste in my mouth. He hadn’t yet earned my trust, nor was I ready to buy his services. Yet he just assumed that his job was done.

Here’s a little morsel of sales advice:

When you’re selling anything, your motto should always be “Be helpful from square one”.

You can’t force a prospect to do anything. They don’t care about how you helped “Joe Schmo” gain 10x more impressions. They care about how you are going to help them. Remember, the prospect agreed to speak with you, hoping you can solve the problem they are experiencing.

Some tips for handling your initial sales call:

Understand Your Prospect’s Problem

Your initial goal is to understand the problem your prospect is experiencing. The first set of questions you ask should achieve the following:

  1. Help you gain a complete understanding of the prospect’s problem
  2. Help your prospect understand their problem better than they had prior to speaking with you.

Demonstrate Understanding

Once you have your head wrapped around their issue, it’s time to demonstrate that you actually “get it.” Summarize all of the points in your conversation like you would when telling a story. If your summary connects all the dots in a digestible way, your prospect is likely to say “Yes, that is exactly what the problem is!” At this point, you and your prospect are on the same page.

Give Actionable Feedback

Now it’s time to demonstrate that you can help. Start by providing them with a few top of mind solutions (yes, for free). Remember, you’re the expert, so this feedback should be high level, but still be insightful. And don’t worry about “giving them something for nothing”. The fact that you’ve provided thoughtful feedback in a short amount of time will likely have them asking for more.

Now that you’ve demonstrated an understanding of their problem throughout the conversation, you’ve likely gained more trust from your prospect. They’ll be much more curious about the service you offer, hopefully asking “So how much do you charge?” or “What do your typical engagements look like?”

In short, obtaining a comprehensive understanding of your prospect’s problem is the most important thing to do during an initial sales call. Ask thoughtful questions that facilitate learning about the problem for you and your prospect. Offer helpful solutions for free. A prospect who trusts you is more likely to buy what you’re selling.

I help early stage companies bring their software products to market through holistic product development, sales operations development and optimization, and user acquisition strategy and development. Previously I was the Product Development Lead at Axial, where I managed their transition from a financial advisory consulting company into a product-driven technology startup with an online private network of over 10,000 financial professionals taking thousands of private companies to market for late-stage financing. Prior to Axial, I launched and built profitable outsourced Sales and Customer Service Operations for a number of technology and software companies, including HP, Intuit, Polycom and ADP.