Problems Have Costs: Harnessing Problem-centric Discoveries to Win More Business

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I want to share some knowledge I discovered years ago that forever impacted how I approached and won business:


Problems Have Costs.


What an A-HA moment that was!


What made the epiphany of “Problems Have Costs” so impactful was the realization that the topic of “cost” was two-sided:

  • Side one was the solution costs (its price and ongoing operation) that the prospect would incur,
  • Side two was the problem’s costs that were impacting the prospect. Costs that were deep and whose scale and scope was rarely understood.


From that moment on, I developed discovery approaches that focused directly on the prospect’s problem and on identifying the scale and scope of the problem and its costs, burdens and impacts on their business.


Approaching discoveries from a problem-centric rather than a product-centric direction created a different perspective for the prospect and strongly influenced their buying journey.


  • A key and recurring message that was consistently reinforced was: “You’ll get back what’s being lost to the problem.”

Problem-centric Discovery

For some context, the products I’ve sold have tended to be the highest “priced” in their respective markets. But, engaging with and applying a collaborative, “problem-cost” discovery method that provided prospects with clarity, perspective and awareness of what was being “lost” to their problem significantly de-emphasized “price” in their minds.


The problem-cost discovery became a catalyst to uncovering their value requirements and expectations. Which when aligned and demonstrated with the solution’s value proposition of giving them back what was being lost in their current situation, became the compelling purchasing trigger. 


As a bonus, what became clear over time with this discovery approach was it highlighted that the solution was often “self-funding,” which created deeper value for the prospects and added urgency to solving the problem now.


  • An important difference between Product and Problem-centric discoveries is a problem-centric discovery is far less “needy.”


This is because a problem-centric approach is a journey to understanding situation scale and scope versus a process of needing needs. The problem-centric discovery engages with focus and attention to uncover, clarify the problem situation and solve versus a practice focused on aligning needs with product features and pushing the sale.


Now, when working with prospects to discover the scale and scope of their problem, you need courage and a willingness to “go there” by asking probing questions that get into their situation deeply. This will entail you asking new and, initially, uncomfortable questions and being willing to get to their feelings and emotions about their situation.


  • Successful selling is all about transferring emotion; believe me, the one constant after thousands of selling situations is; there are always feelings and emotions in play…theirs and ours. 


Taking a problem-centric approach and focusing on the prospect’s specific pain points, challenges, impacts and costs provides a more engaging, focused and personalized experience for prospects and differentiates you throughout their purchasing journey.  


  • A problem-centric discovery builds stronger relationships, strengthens trust and credibility, and ultimately leads to increased value for the prospect and revenue for your business.


By understanding and applying empathy toward the prospect’s needs and then providing tailored solutions that give them back what they’re losing, businesses can create a positive and memorable prospect experience that sets them apart from competitors and drives long-term success. 

Problem-centric Discovery Questions

Asking problem-centric questions can be uncomfortable at first, as learning any new skill is. It takes desire, time, patience, perseverance and a willingness to be uncomfortable to elevate and evolve your prospect discoveries.


  • It took 18 months to develop, hone and consistently apply the “problem-cost discovery” process. But once it was established, our solutions became a market juggernaut. 


To help you begin crafting your own problem-centric discovery approach, here are some problem-centric discovery questions to consider, practice and role-play with. Tweak, tune, add, and modify these to your style and industry. Then practice, apply and hone your approach, and you will elevate and evolve your discoveries, position yourself very differently from your competitors and earn more revenue!


  • Can you describe the problem you’re facing and how it’s impacting your business?
  • How long have you been experiencing this problem, and what have you tried to do to solve it so far?
  • Who is impacted by this problem, and how are they affected?
  • What types of costs and burdens are associated with this problem, and how are they impacting your business and customers?
  • What are the long-term consequences of not solving this problem, and how do you plan to mitigate those risks?
  • How would solving this problem impact your business strategy and growth goals, and why does this matter?
  • What challenges have you faced with this problem, and how have you attempted to overcome them?
  • How is this problem affecting your prospects and customers, and what kind of feedback have you received from them?


Pro Tip: Use open-ended questions to uncover the prospect’s “rabbit holes” within each question…and then go down them. Apply active curiosity and listening to understand their situation from their perspective. When you’re willing to engage in their situation, not on a product, it strengthens rapport and trust and is a powerful way to demonstrate empathy with their situation.  


Pro Tip: When discovering your prospects’ value expectations and motivations, incorporate this five-word sentence to open doors of understanding; “and why does that matter?”. This simple question provides a conduit to discover your prospects’ root or value motivation to solve the problem. This five-word question and “why?” are used extensively in coaching and beneficial within discoveries to engage, guide and understand. And they work well within one-on-one or group discovery meetings.


In closing, working to discover and understand the prospect’s problem and the associated costs from their side enables deeper connections and interactions; it matters more.


Following the rabbit holes that come up with open-ended questions about the problem’s costs, burdens and impacts and what it will mean when the problem is solved provides shared clarity on their value proposition and how you can tailor the solution to deliver value and earn their business.


Becoming competent with problem-centric discoveries will take practice, perseverance and time. But once you are, you will have added a new dimension to your selling that positions you away from the competition and toward sustainable success.  


Cheers and successful selling.