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Imagine that you haven't been feeling well for a while and you've tried a number of different things, but nothing's worked. Finally you say, you know what, I'm going to have to go to the doctor, so you pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. Sure enough, during the time you're waiting for your scheduled appointment, your problem gets worse. By the time you actually get to the doctor's office, the problem still has not subsided, so thank goodness you scheduled that doctor's appointment. Upon your arrival at the doctor’s office, you sign in and they tell you it's going to be a few minutes before the doctor can see you. When the assistant calls you in, she takes your weight and your vitals, asks you what's going on and so forth. This all seems kind of normal, right? Now I want you to imagine that the doctor walks in and says, “here's your prescription. You can go”.

You ask, “what do you mean here's my prescription - I can go? You didn't ask me about my symptoms. You didn't ask me what brought me in today. You didn't ask me why I thought it was significant. I actually took the time out of my day to come see you. How do I even know that whatever information you have is actually correct? How do I know that what I have confirms the prescription you wrote me is exactly what I need?” Then the doctor says, “you know what? I see people like you all the time. I know what your problem is and we can just short circuit all of that and I'm just going to give you a prescription. As a matter of fact, truth be told, I probably could have had the people at the front office give it to you”.  Then you say, “Hold on. How are you going to give a prescription without a diagnostic?  Maybe I self-diagnosed, and maybe I knew I needed a prescription, but I went through all this effort to come in, so at least do me the courtesy of performing a routine diagnostic”.

Now that scenario seems reasonably absurd, doesn't it? Until you think about it. It's exactly what a lot of small business owners and sales people do on a regular basis. We go into customers’ offices and we start off giving them the prescription without having done the diagnosis. Let me tell you how bad that is.

Imagine if the doctor says to you, “not only am I giving you the prescription, but this is the best prescription that you can imagine, that you can ever hope to have. This prescription has been researched. This medicine is made by the best company in the world. Their manufacturing processes are very strict, and the repeatability and consistency in their products are just amazing. As a matter of fact, everybody that's had this prescription has just talked about how wonderful and how amazing it is.” Keep in mind, he is telling you all the benefits of the prescription without diagnosing your problem.

As a supplier, think about this for a second. A lot of times you launch into your solution - how wonderful it is, how great it's been for everybody else under the sun - without first confirming the customer’s problem. More often than not, you get so consumed, so excited about the solution you have put together that you forget to do the diagnosis of the problem you’re trying to solve. You spent a lot of time and effort putting the solution together; it took a lot of resources; it took a lot of brain power to come up with the right components. You're promoting that solution fervently, because you know the benefit that that solution is going to create. You’re married to the solution – rather than being married to the problem.

Here is a perfect example. For those of you that recall, there was a device out called an iPod made by Apple, and Apple said they created a device that could hold your music. Similarly, now, think about this for a second, because once you get into it, you realize that Microsoft had gotten into computers and had the DOS and windows operating systems. Microsoft emphasized that you could have this big mass storage device called a hard drive, and with that hard drive you could do amazing things. It was like there was no end to what you could put on a hard drive: you could put spreadsheets, you could put Word documents, you could put graphics like Harvard Graphics or PowerPoint. You could download files. You could do just amazing things with a hard drive. I mean, it was just a fantastic solution, and they just thought of all the different applications that you could use with that solution. 

Now, Steve jobs with Apple comes along and he says, you know what, a hard drive is great, but people have to do too much work to figure out what the heck to do with a hard drive. So, Apple came out with the iPod. What is the genius behind an iPod? It was a single purpose hard drive - a single purpose mass storage device that was the exact same hard drive that you found in a PC - except it only had one job: store and play music. So if your problems were: you could not carry your music collection with you; you were tired of keeping up with audio cassettes in your car; you had long since gotten past the bulky eight tracks, then the whole notion of having an iPod was huge because now you could get hundreds of different songs - taken from different CDs. You could get a hundred different CDs, or 300 CDs on one single device. You could carry it with you in the car, on the airplane, at work, in your pocket.

The initial problem was the portability of the music. You can't listen to your music when you're jogging? We’ve got a device for you. You can't take your music on the airplane with you? We’ve got a solution for you. When you're driving, you don't have the full range of all your music you want to listen to? We’ve got a solution for you. You have terrible radio stations in your community? We've got a solution for you. We could just go on and on with this, but you’re beginning to see that when you start marrying the problem, you start coming up with really creative ways to help people get to your solution. So as you start thinking through what's the real value of your business - and how you want to engage with your customers and your clients - stop thinking as though you're the doctor, rather look at it as if you're the patient.

If you're the patient and a doctor is trying to help you get to the right prescription, then you want to make sure that the diagnosis is good. You're now in the position of actually having to ask the right questions, get the right diagnosis, and really and truly understand the problem. You're going to have every opportunity to walk through your solution, but you want to understand the problem first - just like Apple did and just like you would want as a patient. Your customers want to know that somebody understands their pain - the problems that they have.

Therefore, be married to the problem - and not the solution. Your solution will then become more viable and targeted toward your customers’ needs.


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