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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer


Updated: Apr 19, 2018

What's your problem, man?

Everyone has problems. Heck, even Jay-Z has 99 despite being one of the wealthiest humans on the planet – and married to Beyoncé to boot. But problems are meant to be solved.

The very existence of companies and products is intrinsically linked to solving problems. Restaurants (solution) feed the hungry (problem). Clothing stores (solution) help us cover our nakedness (problem). Social networks (solution) enable us to post pictures of what we ate for lunch (problem, apparently).

It does not matter whether you have launched a startup to tackle an unmet or underserved need or if you are selling the product of another. To be successful, you have to convince your customer that your solution meets their specific want. But how to get your solution accepted – and more importantly, paid for – when there is an abundance of offerings?

Sell the problem effectively, or your solution will fall on deaf ears. Sounds easy enough, right?

Here’s how you do it:

Do your research. First, understand who is sitting across the table or in the audience. What makes them tick? What’s the best approach to get through to them? For an investor, take the time to understand their strategy and know what is in their current portfolio. Ask yourself, is my company a fit? Can an investment in us create a cross-benefit to a portfolio company? For a prospective customer, assess their needs and determine what solution, if any, is currently in place. Is my solution right for them and their budget? Will my offering improve their outcomes?

Change your perspective. Clear your mind and put yourself in the place of your audience. Forget for the moment that you are in love with your own solution and try to see the world through their eyes. What is their core problem and its consequence? What objections might they have to your offering or to making a change away from their current solution? Do they even work with companies like mine?

Get personal. Tailor your pitch, presentation or conversation to that specific audience. If the problem is made personal, it is internalized. Instead of waiting to tell you why your premise is wrong, your product flawed or why they will not make a change, the listener has scanned their mental Rolodex of experience and brought forth a concrete example that embodies their individual problem. Now, they will lean in and listen to your solution and measure whether it is the key to ending their pain. With preparation and a customized message, you can describe your solution in the context of their particular use case. No two pitches or sales calls I have ever given have been the same. Yours shouldn’t either.

Blunt concerns early – and with subtly. If during your research or in your perspective shift exercise you identify obstacles, address them early. And not with, “Here is why you should not be concerned.” Don’t remind them to be negative. Instead, weave the concern/expected objection/bias into your pitch and provide a satisfactory antidote. That way, you have taken that point of contention off the table early, and if done well, entirely. Think, “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

Wear. Wash. Repeat. Use these tools. Often. And not just in making a sales call or during a plea for funding. Use them anytime you have to put forth an idea, build consensus or even choose a place for dinner. Really, they can help anytime there is a decision to be made.

It’s okay if they say no. Not everyone needs your solution. Not every investor will throw money at you despite the perfect fit and an elegantly executed pitch. In fact, not even everyone who needs your solution will be on board. Sometimes the answer is just no.

But with the right preparation and execution, you tilt the field in your favor and will set yourself up for hearing yes with greater frequency. Maybe then you will be saddled with the problem of what to do with all of your newfound success.


Problems by Pinegrove

Admittedly, 99 Problems would have been an easy and obvious choice here. However, I intend to remain true to my objective and draw only from my own collection. Hence, here I am with an unspecified number of problems with this Pinegrove tune. The music is just messy enough to have a recorded-in-the-garage edge to it, but with a certain beauty and depth. This song is an easy one to dive into – and it is short at just over a minute. If you like it, give Old Friends and Cadmium a listen. These two were on endless repeat for me in 2017.

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