Five Key Elements of Problem-Centric Selling

When it comes to winning over customers, sales teams need to adopt a new approach.

Reading Time: 5 min 


Many companies are just like us, and the start of the new year means making their own resolutions as organizations. Often these revolve around increasing their sales metrics and implementing new technologies. But one of the most effective goals is much simpler — something they can, and should, start doing for free.

After 20 years of working in sales, including eight years running my own consulting practice, I’ve discovered that a simple test can help transform how sales teams operate. In fact, I recommend that teams encourage their managers to give them this test.

You may be wondering why we should add a test on top of what are often already heavy burdens for sales teams. The answer: because many teams miss their quotas. In fact, in 2018, Salesforce found that more than half (57%) of sales representatives expected to miss quotas for the year.

The Challenge

The test involves having a manager look at a salesperson’s notes about prospects listed in the salesperson’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Without providing names or any identifying information, the manager reads back the notes to the employee.

The employee then tries to identify each prospect based just on that information alone.

I often find that salespeople can’t identify many or most of their clients. And it’s not due to a lack of effort or engagement with the clients. Rather, it’s most often due to a lack of asking clients the right questions and getting the right information to drive sales.

Problem-Centric Selling

Often, managers are directing their sales teams to focus on determining their prospects’ needs. This advice often boils down to: Ask the client questions, listen to what they say they need or want, and recommend a solution.

The problem is this traditional method is not enough. In many cases, the first thing a client needs or wants doesn’t necessarily solve their core problem. This new method means salespeople must first diagnose the real problem, as in many cases the potential buyer cannot yet articulate it themselves.

An experience I once had as a customer helped open my eyes to this phenomenon. In the early 2000s, I had a then-popular PalmPilot. While in Boston for a conference, I realized the battery had died, and I didn’t have my charger. I walked into a store and asked whether they had one.


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