The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 3)

Well, we survived. 12/12/12, that is. Or is it supposed to be 12/21/12? Whatever. Thank God that the Mayans were not describing the end of the world. Apparently, the whole thing was mistranslated. Unfortunately, there is now a Mayan god named Bolon Yokte walking around Manhattan in underwear and a really big headdress. And people are tossing him their coins in pity. C’est la vie.

With that clarified, let’s head back to the next installment of my version of the “end of the world.”

The second topic of our infographic is the key economic generator. In simplest terms, this asks: what produces the money? (And if taken to the extreme philosophical conclusion, what produces wealth?)

Stack of MoneyIn the Agrarian Age, selling the fruit of your land was the way you made your money. If you didn’t have good, fruit-producing land, you didn’t make money. Instead, you worked for the people who owned the land. In the Industrial Age, selling the fruit of your manufacturing and equipment was the way you made your money. If you didn’t have great machines – or knew how to maximize their use – you didn’t make the money. You worked for the people who owned the machines. And now, in the Information Age, you can make money selling your problem-solving abilities. Or work for someone who does.

Note that all of these definitions included the word “selling.” Not acquiring. This goes back to the idea from my last blog that the economy is derived from consumption. What we consume most becomes the foundation for making money. If that is true (and it is), then selling provides the easiest way to consume.

Think about that for a second. I can make my brain workMillionaire really hard to solve my problem or I can be lazy pursue another option. That other option is usually to call a friend (followed quickly by ask the audience – anyone want to be a millionaire?). But when all else fails, I go find someone who is offering the answer to my problem — and buy their solution. People need stuff. Stuff they can’t always readily acquire. This is why selling is the oldest profession in the world (sorry, but that last statement is totally true).

Now, let’s get back to the topic. As the focus of consumption for each Age changed, so did the key economic generator. When nature was the focus, selling was attached to what was consumed. The same can be said for the other ages. But the completely insane difficult bit of this last shift in consumption is that it isn’t about consuming a “thing.” It’s a concept. You can’t grab it, hold it, or shove it into the trunk of your car. But it’s real. Very real.

And the reality of it is determined by the problem(s) that the information solves. Or to put a finer point on it, the value of your information is determined by the problem(s) that it solves. If you want to quantify the value of your information, explain how it solves a problem. Shucks, you can even go so far as to demonstrate how to use that information to solve a problem. Using information to solve a problem is a tangible asset today. And this, my friend, is the currency of the Information Age.

Pause. How much “currency” do you carry in your virtual workbox every day? Or in other words, how much problem-solving information are you ready to access and share with your clients? Do you position whatever it is that you sell as a product – or as a problem-solver? And I am not simply talking about a “solution.” This concept is the more evolved definition of a solution.

Which causes me to shift gears one more time. (I can’t help it – it’s the ADD.)

What exactly is a problem? I mean, what is the definition of a problem? We have to be crystal clear on this idea if we are going to go any further. And instead of trying to be long and drawn out clever, let me just offer this: a problem is the result of unmet expectations with limited alternatives to address them. Notice that meeting my expectations is only half of the Problemidea here.  It also has to address the idea that I have limited alternatives. So, if I don’t have any expectations, or the expectations that I do have are not very big, your “problem-solving” isn’t very valuable. And just as critical to this discussion, if you are one of many alternatives, or your alternative is nowhere near as valuable as the one I currently have, your “problem-solving” isn’t very valuable. Problem-solving is about addressing unmet expectations AND limited alternatives (which is why I say that this concept is the more evolved definition of the old-school “solution”). Simply hooking into a perceived need is not enough in the Information Age. You have to sell your value as the answer to a complex problem.

Modern sales professionals need to be excellent at solving these kinds of problems. And at communicating their value offering in the context of the problem(s) it solves (not the features it has or the benefit it provides). And if your own marketing department isn’t capable of producing the right content and tools you need to communicate your value offering in problem-solving terms, you are going to have to develop your own content and tools. Which, as our research shows, many of you are already doing.

Hello, Marketing? Anybody there?

I could on and on (and I will in another blog, trust me), but I want to close with these two thoughts. First, make absolutely every effort to understand the structure of the problems that your products and services solve (especially the expectations and the alternatives that define the problem). If you find that the expectations are big enough AND the alternatives are limited, you have the ingredients to bring genuine value to the conversation. Second, and more importantly, make absolutely every effort to understand the problems that YOU solve. Get past your products and services. Create an interpersonal exchange of value where you, as a trusted adviser, are solving problems with your clients. Look for ways to meet expectations that have limited alternatives. Become the rare and special relationship that your clients desire, regardless of what you are selling. If you can do this, you are a modern seller – and are on your way to a bright, bright future.

I mua… Onward and upward.

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2 Responses to The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 3)

  1. Tim, congratulations to another thought provoking blog post!

    First, one comment to the Mayan cycles. Three of their most important cycles ended December 21, 2012. So, it’s a new beginning and regarding the world as it is today, we can all be more than blessed that we are living in this time of great transformation and that we can all contribute to that current transformation. I truly believe that we all have a certain purpose to do so.

    Second, I love your thoughts on the term “problem” and “problem solving”. As I’m a huge fan of designing selling systems, we have to be clear what we are talking about. I did a similar exercise a year ago with the term “account”. What is an account? Another pretty interesting adventure, I promise…
    And problem solving is also one of those terms. In my opinion it is understanding certain challenges, issues a person/organization has to solve. It’s a situation they feel pressure, they don’t feel satisfied and they have a first idea how it should be, but maybe not considered the whole impact and maybe no understanding of possible solutions – All that has to be considered in the context (!) of different stakeholder (that creates complexity or as you might say – chaos). Then, it’s about understanding the general patterns that can be used to solve such a problem and to apply those approaches in this specific case (how much standardized knowledge we already have, how much do we have to learn etc.). Based on that, it’s about developing a future vision of success, a desired outcome/end state, a customer wants to achieve. We have to challenge customer to think about this initial outcome, it might look a bit different and better in the end if we can share and apply insights they didn’t know before. Then, it’s about describing a phased approach to get there. Last but not least, it’s how to put this – hopefully shared – vision of success in a win-win business case, that creates value for all involved parties.
    Problem solving then is to create a future vision of success in the context of a certain situation, which creates more value for the stakeholders than before (this is much more than money!), which provides trust regarding the step-by-step path to get there and which proves also the economic value as described before.

    I’m not so sure with the “limited alternatives to address a problem”. I think, most of the limits are created in our own mind… we could overcome a few…

  2. Pingback: Developing Your Credibility as a Problem-Solver (pt. 1) | Tim Ohai

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