Market the problem, not the solution


This is not an idea I came up with – it’s very common knowledge among pragmatic marketers. However, visit any trade show, peruse the ads in any industry rag, or visit a random sampling of web sites and you will see how few high tech companies seem to execute on this concept.

Case in point, I recently attended a very large Health IT trade show and conference, and one of my goals while there was to find some very specific products and companies for my clients. The show floor consisted of acres of companies which I had to quickly navigate in the time I had allotted, and what I unfortunately found was that only a handful of companies actually assisted me in finding them through their listing descriptions or booth graphics. Most of the conversations went like this: Me  – Staring at a booth trying to figure out what this company does. Them, “Can we help you?” Me. “What do you do?” Them, “We have a fligamaflag that is the market leading blah blah with features X, Y, Z….” Me, “That’s great. What problem does it solve?” Them, “Problem?” Me, “You know, what problem do you solve and who would buy this?” Them, “Fred, can you help this guy?”  And so the conversations would go until, if I got lucky, I got a seasoned sales person that understood how to sell the problem, not the solution. And if such a person did present themselves, he/she usually lamented the bad booth graphics and couldn’t understand why “marketing” just didn’t get it, etc.

In another example, I just happened to be sitting with the CEO of a company when he received a call from his sales people on the floor at a trade show. He asked how the booth traffic was and the staff lamented that it was weak, that perhaps everyone who might care about their solution already knew about them, or that what they were doing was not new or exciting any more. I had a hunch and asked to see a picture of the booth. Sure enough, what I saw was just what I expected: the booth graphics had no mention of the problem this company was solving, and worse yet, no benefits of the solution either. Unfortunately the booth backdrop had the company’s name along with a tag line that illustrated a feature of their product. Of course no one was stopping in – there was no ‘what’s in it for me’ from the buyer’s perspective. Worse yet, the main graphic was a user using a product they did not even sell!

So, what’s going on here? Well first, High Tech marketers as a rule tend to market products or solutions. And in doing so usually showcase the product itself, along with the features and because they are good marketers, they make sure the benefits are right up front. The problem is even when benefits are front and center, they don’t always connect back to the problem, or it is a one to many mapping and that is where the disconnect is. Customers have problems and that is how they self segregate when looking for a solution. When prospects land on your website they are looking for things like “Click here if you have Problem X.” What catches their eye when passing a booth or scanning an ad is the problem statement because that is what they will identify with.

Another way to think about it is to consider what does your product deliver, not what does it do. Put this  into a clear and articulate message that uses terms and phrases that the customer would use themselves. Then, take it a step further and add what the value of your solution is, and what about it is unique. Doing this will give you a positioning statement that outlines your unique selling proposition from the buyer’s perspective, and which you can leverage across all your marketing programs and sales tools. By marketing the problem, not the solution, you will greatly simplify the entire sales process and you will see immediate improvements in your conversion processes.

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