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Diagnosing Business Problems and Building Diplomacy in B2B Sales

Posted by Glenn Chapman

business diplomacy

The pain of change must become less than the pain of remaining the same for meaningful change to occur. Many wise philosophers and business gurus have generally agreed on this principle. But what does this look like exactly in a B2B sales environment? How do we use this principle to our advantage rather than see it as a roadblock? And is this principle even relevant to B2B sales?

The principle is more than relevant to B2B sales -- it is central. Most often, businesses make purchases to solve problems, plain and simple. Occasionally, businesses make seemingly frivolous purchases of "unnecessary" or flashy new things. But even in these cases there will be a justification (real or perceived) that says the purchase was good for the business. A private jet is a good example. Seems very flashy, but the justification could be about preventing negatives for the business, like not being able to attract the right executive talent, and reducing wasted time of highly-compensated employees. The point is that serious businesses do not engage in the same impulse purchases as consumers do. A central role of a business-to-business sales effort is to clearly identify and communicate existing problems, or problems that will occur in the absence of your solution.

Diagnosing Customer Problems

In the early stages of a B2B sales relationship, your team should research all the relevant publicly available information about a prospect and company before interacting with your prospect's decision-makers. If it is an inbound prospect, your B2B marketing team can help uncover this information. This is the price-of-entry to successful B2B selling.  Obviously you will be looking for your product's relevant indicators to be present with the prospect.  But also make sure to get a sense of the CEO's strategy, the customer's current financial picture, and learn a bit about the personal circumstances of your key contacts.

Once you have established a positive working relationship with your key contacts, they will gladly share the problems their organization faces. This is when the real work of diagnosis can begin. Customer collaboration is key: you will have seen similar problems repeatedly in other organizations, but your customer will know much more than you about their specific situation. And a specific and correct diagnosis is important because once communicated more broadly within the organization, your diagnosis is sure to be challenged for validity.

Ask the Stakeholders

In B2B sales, the later stages of the process include spreading the news to stakeholders about a potential change. If you waited until later stages to meet these people for the first time, you may be in trouble!  Rather than wait and hope, have your key contact arrange early interviews with stakeholders to gather their thoughts about problems and challenges they face. You are not to sell solutions at this stage; merely gather the information and let them know they will hear back.b2b sales interview with potential clients

After meeting with several stakeholders, you and your contact will likely be in a position where you are the only ones that fully understand all the problems, opportunities and implications of doing business together. This should be clearly documented; in many cases, a single page of bulleted stakeholder challenges makes the case. For the private jet example, bullets may look like this:

  • $8,392,548 lost last year on travel re-booking for executives
  • 46 meetings missed due to flight rescheduling
  • 2 additional executives being recruited due to demanding travel schedule of current execs

The list could summarize a dozen business problems. Notably, the 3 fictional problems above would come from different stakeholders, yet they are presented together without source names, to be diplomatic. Notice, there is nothing salesy or subjective in the list.  Just a painful set of realities that most any business person would want to address. This sort of presentation provides numerous benefits. Stakeholders have their individual issues represented in a diplomatic manner, yet within the context of a broader, objective set of business problems so each problem supports one another and the case for change.

Diplomacy is possible with a multi-stakeholder list since no individual is put on the spot alone. A frequently-used response to why these problems exist today is that things changed over time -- which is often the case. A list like this can be a very powerful introduction for the presentation of your solution to decision makers since they immediately understand the broader gravity of doing nothing. They can even become very engaged in problem solving with you -- a great development!


Diagnose carefully and collaboratively. Do not be bashful about looking for customer problems -- in fact, recommend approaches to gather additional issues from other stakeholders. Finally, use the information factually and fairly to present your case for change.

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