The buyer’s journey starts much earlier than the beginning of the sales process. By the time a sales person begins working an active opportunity, the buyer has performed a series of self-generated problem solving activities.


The problem:Buyer directed problem solving lacks problem clarity. This unclear problem is the result of needs based thinking on the buyer’s behalf.  There are three types of needs:


1. Expressed– a need the customer knows they have


2. Unexpressed-a need the customer has, but has not expressed because they don’t believe you can solve


3. Unknown-a need the customer has but does not know they have because they lack information and knowledge.


Sales people get excited when they uncover an expressed need. Customer calls and says “I need XX widget by July 1 and I have budget”. The sales person of yesterday reacts with happiness and anticipation. They create pain between current and future state.  They show how their widget solves the expressed need and they close. In contrast,  the diagnostic sales person of today responds with “tell me why you feel this way.” The diagnostic sales person is curious about how the customer arrived at their current expressed need.  The buyer’s expressed need is a symptom of an unexpressed or unknown need. It is the solving of the unexpressed or unknown need that will deliver a business result. Customers can find fulfillment channels anywhere for expressed needs. Define, clarify and solve the unexpressed or unknown needs through diagnosis.


There are 3 specifics an organization can do to immediately improve diagnostic capability:


1. Buyer Personas—who are all the people that would be impacted by your solution? Not just the Economic Buyer, all of the stakeholders. Who are they, what do they care about and why?


2. Map the Buyer’s Journey—the sales force needs to understand that the buyer’s journey begins in the marketing process and what are each of the personas thinking about as they move through this continuum. Sharon Drew Morgen’s recent post explores the buyer’s journey in great detail.


3. Intellectual Curiosity—hire for intellectual curiosity. Hiring closers is yesterday’s best practice. Hire openers; people who engage with a customer with genuine curiosity to defining the problem vs. driving home a solution.


During your next interview, try the following tip one of our client’s uses:


Ask your candidates to clearly articulate the business problem they feel your product/service solves for the customer. If they answer your question with a thoughtful, clarifying question this is an immediate tell they possess natural curiosity. Curiosity is the underpinning to diagnostic capability. If they answer it with a series of statements and clichés, be mindful; diagnostic capability may not be innate.


Execution of the company sales strategy is dependent on the talent of the team.




Matt Sharrers

Studies and works with the top 1% of B2B sales and marketing leaders who generate above average revenue growth for their companies.

Matt is arguably one of the industry’s most connected, and physically fit, sales leaders. He “lives in the field.” As a result, he is the foremost expert in the art of separating fact from fiction as it relates to revenue growth best practices. Because of Matt’s unique access to the best sales talent, private equity investors tend to turn to him first when they need to hire remarkable leaders to unlock trapped growth inside of their portfolio companies. Matt’s recent engagements include work commissioned by private equity leaders Permira, TPG, Bain Capital and Hellman & Friedman.


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