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Problem Stories

This lesson is a part of an audio course 15 Sales Stories That Work by Paul Andrew Smith

One of the most important stories you’ll ever tell as a salesperson is about someone who encountered exactly the kind of problem your product or service is designed to solve. It lets buyers understand the problem in a more personal, visceral way than just being told, “I’ll bet you have this problem.” And it’s especially useful if the buyer doesn’t even know they have a problem.

Here’s an example.

Kevin Moulton was director of sales for an online security company. When he met with prospects in the banking industry, he’d have all the research and statistics he needed for the main sales pitch. But he was also likely to tell them about a trip he made a few years ago to Las Vegas.

He was there for a corporate event, but like everyone else, he made it a point to take in some of the Vegas nightlife.

“About 1 o’clock in the morning,” he said, “I realized I was out of money, so I found the nearest ATM. I put in my card and password, but the machine denied the transaction. And I knew immediately what was happening. I live in New Jersey. All of a sudden, I’m 2,000 miles away. It’s the middle of the night. And I’m trying to get a ridiculous amount of money out of an ATM machine. They think someone stole my card. And, I don’t have a problem with that. I like that my bank looks out for me that way.”

What they did about it, however, did create a problem for Kevin. He said, “They called my wife!” At 4 o’clock in the morning, in New Jersey!

And you have to imagine what she’s hearing on her end of the phone. It must have sounded something like, ’I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but your husband is trying to get a boatload of cash at a casino in Las Vegas at 1 o’clock in the morning. Do you approve of this transaction?’ How upset do you think I was at my bank?”

What bothered Kevin, even more, was that the bank had an emergency phone number for him on file, which was his cell phone number. “But did they use it? No! They called my wife instead. I called the bank the next day and reminded them that they had my cell phone number. They said, “’s our policy to call the home number.” Well, then, why do they even have it?”

Okay, notice how the story illustrates the problem that in their effort to protect their customers from fraud, banks sometimes make it too difficult for their customers to do legitimate business with them. They can even cause trouble in their customers’ personal lives.

Now, instead, he could tell them, “Our research shows that 37.5% of your customers are moderate to significantly dissatisfied with their interactions with your bank.” And if he has that data, he should share it. But the story communicates the issue in a much more tangible, memorable, and human way.

After telling his story, it’s easy for Kevin’s prospects to realize that they might be similarly frustrating their customers and not even know it. And after talking about what their issues might be, Kevin shares ways his company can help fix those problems.

This kind of “problem story” is a critical part of a sales pitch and is a must-have in your repertoire of stories.

Talk to some of your better customers and find out what problem they were having that made them come to you in the first place. You don’t have to mention the name of the company. But you do need to tell their story.

Alright, in the next lesson we’ll talk about the most common (and perhaps most important) sales story any salesperson ever tells—a customer success story.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith