“Shana,” called out Nick, who had just been transferred into the downstate regional office, “I need a couple of minutes or so . . . got a problem and want to ask you what you think.”
Shana had been the sales manager in the downstate office for the past three years, and if things kept going like they had been, she figured another year and she’d be moved to the national level. Nick seemed to be an asset from upstate. Wonder how they let him escape, she asked herself. “Sure, give me a sec to drop all this in my office,” holding up two briefcases and an umbrella.
“What you got?” she asked two minutes later, sitting down at the desk across from his.
“I’ve got this problem with the Burand account. I’ve never dealt with an account that had multiple offices scattered across three states. On my first visit there, well, it seems like to get any sort of commitment from anyone, I need to get someone in each office nodding his head. How am I going to do that when there are eleven offices? The day’s not long enough.”
“So what’s your problem?” asked Shana.
He looked at her. “How do I get 11 people in three states nodding their heads at the same time?”
“That’s their problem, Nick, not yours. Step back for a second. If the need is there, they will figure out a way to work it out.” Shana sat back and relaxed.
“My contact, Ed White, told me that everyone has to agree or it won’t happen.” Nick was hunched over the desk.
“Nick, role-play this one. All right? Ed, if I hear you correctly, you have to get 11 people in three states to agree before you can proceed, right?”
“That’s it. All 11.”
“I’ve got a question for you, Ed . . . hope you don’t mind . . . would it be fair to say that you’ve used the same product from another vendor?”
“Sure. For the past three years.”
“So three years ago, it sounds like you switched vendors, fair to say?”
“Well back then, how did you manage to get the 11 offices to all agree?”
“Well, we had a conference and . . . OK, I see your point, Shana. My real problem is to get Ed White to do what he did last time.”
“Bingo. Let me know how he solves his problem.”
Now Nick is solving the real problem.
The challenge for Shana was that Nick was fixated on solving a problem that wasn’t his. Then, her next task was helping him to see what the real problem was. It took her four attempts to guide Nick into seeing that the problem he thought he had didn’t exist. Then it took some role-playing for him to realize what the real problem was.
Consider the confusion that would have resulted with the account if Shana had jumped in and started suggesting solutions to Nick’s phantom problem. They could have spent more than a few minutes going back and forth. Then Shana would need to know how their possible solutions were being accepted by the account. It would all have been a waste of time.
How often do salespeople adopt problems that aren’t theirs to solve? Quite often. While salespeople should learn how to separate internal problems from problems they must deal with, sales managers must also learn to step back and determine whose problems their salespeople are bringing to them.
Consider for a second if Nick had plunged ahead trying to contact 11 people in three states. To have done so would mean that Nick believed that the prospect company had no procedure set-up to handle such a situation. Might not the prospect company find this presumption a bit insulting. Look at it from their side. Three years ago they did. Maybe they still do.
Just as Shana suggested to Nick, step back and look at the situation as if you have nothing to do with it. If you think the problem you are trying to solve is yours, mentally hand-off the problem to someone else and now take a look.
Your involvement in solving a problem may be nothing more than finding the right person to solve it. Once you find the right person, you may need to assist him in seeing it as his problem.
Make sure that the problem you need to solve is your problem and not a problem someone else needs to solve.
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