Are you a product seller or a problem solver?

I recently went shopping in Portland’s Old Port to find an anniversary gift for my wife. This was our 22nd anniversary, and the traditional gift for the 22nd is copper. So, I was on a mission to find a gift that was both copper and remarkable.

As I paced the Old Port in search of my holy grail, I wound up speaking to a lot of merchants and salespeople. Each conversation began the same way: I’d explain that I was looking for an anniversary gift, and that the gift had to be made of copper. Each person listened carefully as I described my needs.

But what happened from that point on revealed a distinct difference in selling styles; a difference that ultimately determined who would win my business, and (perhaps of greater importance), where I will likely shop first in the future.

Sellers in the first group, after hearing my requirements, began showing me each item in the store that was either made of copper or even remotely resembled copper. They brought me from product to product, encouraging me to make a selection. Let’s call this first group the “Product Sellers.”

The second group started out the same way – by listening to me describe what I was hoping to find. But then, instead of jumping to their products, they did something different than the first group – they asked me more questions. Questions about my wife and her interests; questions that would give them a better sense of what might make a noteworthy gift for the occasion.

The merchants in this second group didn’t focus on products; instead, they focused on my desire to charm my wife. Let’s call this group the “Problem Solvers.”

The Product Sellers were predominantly polite, well-intentioned people who wanted me to walk out of their stores as a happy customer.

But their speed in shifting the focus of the conversation from my situation to their products actually prevented them from knowing more about my needs – knowledge that would have enabled them to build the bonds of trust that form a substantive buyer-seller relationship.

contrast, the Problem Solver group asked me more questions. And asking more questions gave them two distinct advantages over Product Sellers.

First, they gained more information and insight that helped them craft some creative ideas that lead to a great gift solution. And the process of doing this resulted in their second advantage – they began to build rapport with me, as their customer. And from rapport comes the trusting bonds between buyer and seller, and future repeat business and referrals.

Throughout the entire sales process, the Problem Solvers kept the focus on me, their customer, and my needs, or “problems.” Their products were a distant second. contrast, the Product Sellers moved the focus of the conversation to their products, at the first possible opportunity.

So, how would you classify your own selling style? Are you a Product Seller, or a Problem Solver?

How many questions, on average, do you ask your customers before making a product recommendation? And what kinds of questions are you asking?

And how about the other salespeople in your organization? What can you and your sales team can do, to be perceived as, perform like, and become a true Problem Solver?

For starters, ask more questions. Get to know your prospect. Make it a point to understand what’s driving their need.

An old adage is to think of yourself as a “doctor of selling.” When you meet with your physician, he or she doesn’t jump to prescribing a specific medication without first acquiring more information by asking a series of questions, taking vitals or running tests.

When you meet with your prospect, do you also conduct a deep diagnosis, before introducing a prescription?

the way, I did finally find a gift with the help of a shopkeeper who took the time to uncover some things that I hadn’t thought about. I left her shop with a great gift, some interesting ideas for the 23rd and beyond and a new buyer-seller relationship that will make my life easier in the future.

Problem solved!