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Peak Performance Management, Inc. | Pittsburgh, PA

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If you’ve been involved in the sales profession for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard some form of the saying, “People don’t buy products and services; they buy solutions to problems.”  While that’s essentially true, the saying only tells a part of the story. 

Actually, people buy “outcomes.”  And those outcomes tend to fall into one of two categories.  One category is, as the saying suggests, solutions to problems; the second category is achievement of goals. 

What’s the difference between solving problems and achieving goals? 

Practically speaking, very little.  But, from a conceptual standpoint, quite a bit.

The conceptual difference between a problem and a goal can be found in the connotation of the words and the motivation to take action associated with each.

“Goal” tends to have a positive connotation.  Goal achievement is typically a positive experience.  People are pleased when they accomplish goals.  They often celebrate their achievements. 

“Problem” tends to have a negative connotation.  Few people look forward to experiencing problems or having to deal with them.  Problems are, for the most part, things to be avoided…or at least, solved quickly when they are encountered.

Additionally, there is a notion that people are more motivated to take action to solve a problem (or perhaps prevent it in the first place) than they are to achieve a goal.   

Therefore, it would stand to reason that representing your product or service as a means for preventing or solving problems would be the most advantageous position.

But, that’s not necessarily so.


Because a prospect’s journey of moving away from an undesirable situation (solving a problem) or a journey of moving toward a more desirable situation (achieving a goal) are essentially the same journeys—viewed from different perspectives.  They are opposite sides of the same coin. 

For example, recurrent delays in the shipping department may be viewed by one manager as a problem to be addressed—the bottleneck in the staging area.  Another manager may view it as an indication of the need to develop and implement new packing and staging procedures in order to speed up shipment processing.  Regardless of whether the situation is viewed as a problem to be addressed or a goal to be achieved, the outcome is the same—speedier shipment processing.

How a prospect views the situation your product or service addresses is more important than how you view it.  If your prospect views it from a “goal-oriented” perspective, for instance, and you present it from a “problem-oriented” perspective, your message will be out of sync with your prospect’s view. 

So, how do you know if prospects view their situations from goal-oriented or problem-oriented perspectives? 

Listen carefully to the language they use when discussing their situations.

Prospects with problem-oriented perspectives will discuss their situations as ones from which they want to “move away.”  For instance, they will refer to the difficulty or uncertainty of their situations.  They will describe broken aspects of processes and systems, wasted resources, and duplication of effort.  And, they will talk about bottlenecks, pitfalls, and traps.  Their descriptions may be more subtle, but if you listen carefully, you’ll pick up on it.

Prospects with goal-oriented perspectives will discuss their situations as ones to which they want to “move toward.”  They will talk about the processes they want to put in place; the standards they want to establish; the results they want to achieve; and the systems they want to develop, improve, or build.

Another aspect of the sale to help you be in sync with your prospects is their motivation to take action—to buy your product or service.  The most common reasons why people take action are: to obtain something, to learn something, to accomplish something, or to be known for something.  It will likely be one or more of those reasons that cause your prospects to buy.

How do you uncover a prospect’s motivation?


While discussing a prospect’s situation and the outcome he or she seeks, you might ask: If I can help you (solve your problem/reach your goal)…

  • What will that mean to you?
  • What will that mean to your company?
  • What will that enable you to do?

The answers to these questions should give you a glimpse into the prospect’s motivation.

Knowing how your prospects view the outcomes they desire—solved problems or achieved goals—and the motivation for those outcomes will enable you to present your product or service from the most favorable position.  It can give you that slight edge advantage that causes prospects to give the business to you rather than one of your competitors.

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