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Boost Your Sales by Solving the Unknown Problem Use your creative skills to find the problem that needs solving. Your customers will thank you.

By Jeff Shore

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Over the past 30 years I've met professionals selling everything from micro plots of land to entire islands. From investments in software startups in Seattle to investments in soybean farms in Mozambique. From lemonade on a street corner to Gatorade for the entire Pac-12 conference.

The sale fascinates me, period. But there is one particular type of sale that intrigues me more than anything else -- pre-paid funerals.

Think about it. You are selling a product that no one wants to buy and certainly never wants to use. You are selling it before they need it (hopefully well before).

Related: Creative Problem-Solving Strategies to Test Your Business Idea

Let me ask you: how much do you think about your own burial or cremation? No, let's make that more difficult -- how much do you want to think about such things? Answer: You don't.

In the face of difficult headwinds, pre-paid funeral salespeople face the toughest of challenges. I recently spoke to such a sales professional and she offered an interesting perspective that she shares as a part of her sales presentation.

"Someone has to take responsibility for this -- it is a 100 percent guarantee. Take care of it now and you'll have peace of mind for the rest of your long life. Don't take care of it now and you'll force your loved ones to handle arrangements at the most difficult time of their life. Act now and everyone wins. Don't act and everybody loses."

There is a lot to break down in that presentation, but I'll start with this question: What is she selling? Her product: peace. (By the way, wouldn't it be wonderful to describe your product in just one powerful word? Something to think about...)

Related: 8 Problem-Solving Practices That See Startups to Success

In a recent interview Daniel Pink, author of "To Sell is Human," opined that the most valuable sales professionals go beyond simply solving their customers' problems but actually finding the problems about which their customers are unaware.

Says Pink, "If customers know precisely what the problem is, they can find a solution. Where you're more valuable is when they don't know what the problem is, or they're wrong about the problem, and you can identify a problem they don't realize they have. Or you can look down the road and say, "Here is a problem you are going to confront; you'd better get ready for it now'."

Well-said. Let's apply that to pre-paid funeral services. The customer knows deep down that final arrangements are a fact of life (so to speak). But are they thinking:

  • Who makes the decisions, and what strife could that cause?
  • How much does it all cost, and who pays for it?
  • What were the precise wishes of the deceased?
  • How much stress will the family members be under at the time they have to make these arrangements?

Knowing that everyone will ultimately face these questions, the sales professional can identify problems of which the customer is not yet aware.

This requires a different way of thinking. According to Pink, "Problem solving is very much an analytic skill. Problem finding is more of a creative skill."

Related: Don't Just Start a Business, Solve A Problem

Here is a worthwhile exercise. Spend a few minutes answering this question: What are the problems my customer is not yet aware of? How can I solve them? How can I sell the solution?

If you really want to add value, solve a problem that the customer does not know even exists. Solve the unknown problems and you'll undoubtedly boost your sales. Who knows...you might even change someone's world.

Jeff Shore

Entrepreneur, Sales Expert and Author; Founder of Shore Consulting

Jeff Shore, of Shore Consulting, is a sought-after sales expert, speaker, author and consultant whose latest book, Be Bold and Win the Sale: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Boost Your Performance, was published by McGraw-Hill Professional in January 2014.

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