"Sell the problem you solve, not the product you offer."

A simple messaging tweak that will help your company sell better.

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I saw a post on LinkedIn that actually made me think.

It said:

Sell the problem you solve. Not the product.

I thought it was interesting because every business sells something: shoes, airplanes, cupcakes, buildings, etc.

But is every business solving a problem?

If it’s a successful business, then, most likely, yes. Billionaire businessman Richard Branson said, “To launch a business means successfully solving problems.”

When I saw the LinkedIn post alongside Branson's quote, it clicked. There is a prevalent mistake businesses make in their sales presentations and marketing messaging. One that's preventing them from selling more successfully.

In the past, sales and marketing was all about showing off features (“This medicine has 600mg acetaminophen”), then it moved to benefits (“This medicine will make you feel better”), now, it’s evolved to solving problems (“This medicine will remove your headache”).

Let me give two examples.

First, in this article about features vs. benefits, the author lists “Open 24 hours” as a feature of a store. “The benefit of a store open 24 hours is you can buy when you want,” he writes. The problem solved is “When my pregnant wife craves pickles and ice cream at 4 a.m., I won’t have to disappoint her.”

Lesson learned: the problem solved is much more specific and personal to the customer’s needs.

Second, let’s take an example where the problems are much bigger, more general, and complex. In other words, business-to-business (B2B) sales.

I work in B2B at a digital tech agency called Viget as a digital strategist. We are a services company, not a product company, which can make this exercise slightly more challenging — but the principle remains the same.

Here’s a pass at answering the question: what do we sell?

Viget sells the time of its talented visual designers, strategists, UX designers, software engineers, project managers, and digital analysts. We design and build digital products, experiences, and tools — such as custom content management systems, data visualizations, and interactive marketing campaigns. We've worked with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies such as PUMA and ESPN, to some of the world's largest nonprofits including WWF and WCS, to startups such as Opower, Virtru, and HelloWallet.

Viget has a unique creative process to achieve amazing results. Other agencies have good ideas, but Viget has the ideas and the efficient, systematic, organized plan to execute them at a professional level.

That's what we sell: really smart and talented people and a time-tested creative process.

I underlined everything in the text above as what we sell — a list of features and benefits. But there was no mention of the problems we're solving.

What problems are we solving?

(This is the exercise I believe everyone should do for their company. It's made me think differently about how I sell Viget's services.)

  • Companies hate risk. Our unique collaborative and iterative process mitigates that risk.

  • Product managers have big ideas but don’t have the strategic bandwidth to bring them to life. Viget strategists put together the perfect team to shape, plan, and execute an idea through launch — and beyond.

  • Slow, unwieldy, ugly digital experiences are frustrating, especially on your own company’s sites and applications. Our web designers create and deliver beautiful, clean, and fast digital experiences for our clients.

  • Businesses are inundated by huge amounts of complex data. Our engineers develop software tools that make data understandable and actionable.

  • CEOs and CMOs fear bad (costly) experiences with outside vendors. Viget values and maintains trust through a transparent, detailed, clear, and organized project management structure.

  • Marketing teams run into walls not knowing how to make their website generate more revenue. Viget's product designers, user experience designers, and brand strategists use psychological principles, data, and behavioral science, as well as decades of experience, to craft user journeys that increase website conversions and our digital analysts test and optimize them after launch.

  • Startups get overwhelmed by really tough, time-intensive digital projects. Viget provides the skills, leadership, and insights that startups need at the critical early stages to design, build, and scale their products quickly and efficiently.

People love (and remember) stories. A good story has a clear conflict and a satisfying resolution. If you can frame your business as a story with a vexing problem and then a simple solution, people will listen and remember what you do.

I didn't change what Viget does. I just reframed it from features and benefits to problems and solutions. The key to reframing is knowing your customer. It will take more time to figure out the right framing for each customer; but, in the end, it will be much more effective and successful.

Your turn. Try this exercise out on your business. What problems does your business solve? Do you know your customer’s problems well enough?

Dave is a digital strategist in our Falls Church, VA HQ. He's an idea guy who loves hearing and telling stories about tech, startups, and design.

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