It may come as no surprise, that according to Demand Gen, in 2020, 30% of B2B Buyers brought forward some of their purchase plans due to changing needs.
At True & North, we’ve seen this at play first hand.
As they sought answers to unfamiliar problems, clients took a fresh look at their suppliers. Tech vendors, agencies and consultants were invited into conversations they’d previously been shut out of.
For example, a roster media agency that was previously seen as ‘just for planning and buying’ was brought into strategic conversations about reinventing the customer experience.
These are just the conversations holding companies want (Dentsu to generate 50% of revenue from ‘experience’).
And yet, not all businesses made the most of these strategically aligned rays of sunlight. Some found that while their client-facing leaders were great in their lane, it didn’t mean they were equipped or felt confident enough to unpack unfamiliar client problems.
Tips for navigating client conversations where problem and solution are unclear
No solutions, please
A client sharing a problem with you is a good thing. It’s a show of trust in a challenging situation. That trust won’t be lost because you don’t have a silver bullet. In-fact, if you suggest one, it’ll probably feel out of place.
This is the time to fall in love with the problem. Slow down.
Help the client articulate the problem
Assume the client is only part-way on their journey to understanding the problem — that their current understanding isn’t where they’ll land.
To help, ask them to share the problem as they see it today. I’ve found one simple question effective:
The question invites facts, feelings and points of view. The answer to this question will paint a picture of what today looks and feels like, and what the client would like tomorrow to be like.
The “problem space”
The client has now described their today and their imagined tomorrow. The space in between those two answers is the problem space.
A problem space is a gap, inside of which lie various components that go into creating a solution to a problem. We operate inside of problem spaces all the time, without giving them a formal name. Having one helps you and your client clarify the scope of thinking.
Explore the problem space
Once the scope is set, try to explore and understand the problem from different perspectives. Consider all people who are affected by the problem and ask them about the way they experience it.
To do this, simply ask ‘why’, and consider what the answer might mean. The things you discover here will include insight into human behaviour.
Be comfortable being uncomfortable
You’re thinking with someone, scratching your heads together, and you have no idea if you can help. If the conversation feels uncomfortable, that’s a good sign that you’re doing this right.
For people accustomed to familiar problems, keeping the conversation in the problem space and not running toward a more comfortable place (the solution), is the hardest part to master.
Articulate your new understanding
To finish, clearly explain your new shared deeper understanding of the problem.
Think about the conversation described from your client’s point of view. Being listened to will not only feel nice, but it will let them know subconsciously that you’re both on the same page. In unpacking your problem with a trusted partner, your client also has a fresh perspective.
Sometimes, it’s here when the client starts to imagine potential solutions — a wonderful moment, as you just might be able to help.