Why businesses are looking in the wrong places when it comes to problem solving

Some will almost always look inward i.e. at the internal processes and systems, and other will almost always put their focus externally i.e. at the market and business environment. While both have merits neither is sufficient on its own.

According to William Buist, CEO of Abelard and Founder of xTEN Club, successful businesses can see a problem from both the customer’s perspective (external) and the perspective of the business owner (internal).

We seek to get customers to remember us for all sorts of things but in reality, in any business, customers only remember you for one of two things: the problems you solve – or the problems you create.

So how can you improve your problem solving? Here are William Buist’s nine tips to help you get clarity and put your focus in the right place:

Clarify your marketplace. In order to solve your customers’ most meaningful, relevant problems, you need to know what problems they are facing – and see them from their perspective. For example, what motivates your target customer? Are they concerned about high-quality products, spotless customer service, or finding the most budget-friendly solution?

Clarify where your customers want to go. Understand where your customers currently are, followed by where they want to go. This gap is, in essence, your customer’s problem. Now you can tailor a solution that bridges the gap and solves their problem.

Clarify with questions. For example, are they frustrated with ad-hoc account management versus automation? Do they need additional capabilities? Is the software simply too confusing or difficult to learn?

Asking the right questions is the key to understanding the problem so you can better sell your customer on the right solution.

Clarify customer problems and proactively prevent them. What are the five most common customer complaints that products or services like yours currently receive across the market place? What are your customers saying about your competitors and about you?

Clarity around these concerns – e.g. high cost of service, diminishing returns, faulty or buggy products – allows your business to proactively prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Don’t make the problem bigger. Sometimes what you think is a customer’s problem is actually quite different from the reality. It is critical to understand the actual problem that your customer is facing – or you risk making the problem bigger.

By asking questions and taking the time to get to know your customers, you can help prevent “assumptions” from dictating your problem solving response.

Is Your Product Clear? What Do You Really Sell? Many entrepreneurs misunderstand the most fundamental question of what they do – what are you in business for? (Hint: it’s not “making money”). There are plenty of ways to cut out the middle man if all you want is to make money. Entrepreneurs create a product.

Are you clear about how to deliver the right experience? Many owners design of the business is wrapped around activities that don’t add value, aren’t needed and which customers don’t want. Focussing on the key activities, the ones that matter, and becoming exceptional at them is what drives a great experience.

What are you measuring? Are you measuring the things that matter to your staff, suppliers, customers, distributors, or measuring the things that matter to you? Find ways to measure what the customer wants rather than what you want. That’s how entrepreneurs in competitive markets get ahead.

Everything has a shelf life. Do you know when you will replace your product, when you will next revisit the processes that deliver it, when you will need to make it fresh again? Why not (internally if you wish) have a refresh date in your business plan for that product.

Businesses with clarity make profits when others struggle, they grow whilst others stagnate and they outperform the market consistently.

Clarity gives us certainty and with it it brings success not confusion, and enjoyment not frustration. Successful entrepreneurs know that, and that’s why they stop from time to time to take a hard look at their model, the products, activities, and markets.