How to sell a solution when your clients don’t know they have a problem

A couple of years ago, I received a bunch of junk mail in my mailbox and just about threw some of it out when a bold headline told me that I could save money by buying a new (more efficient) furnace. Until that point, I was happy with my furnace because it heated my house adequately. But when the letter showed up in the mail, I suddenly realized that I had a problem I didn’t even know about (inefficient heating). I ended up buying a new furnace because of that letter.

As a financial or real estate professional, you offer solutions to a variety of problems. Unfortunately, your prospective clients don’t always know that they have a problem until you point it out to them. The challenging part is to point out the problem in a way that highlights the pain… not necessarily the problem itself.

If I received a letter in the mail that told me I had an inefficient furnace, I would have discarded the letter along with all of my other mail. Furnace efficiency is the problem but I didn’t care about it and I would have no way of knowing whether or not I had an efficient furnace. But the letter didn’t focus on the problem, it focused on the pain. My wallet. It told me that an inefficient furnace was costing me money and I could spend less each month by buying a new furnace. The next step was to have a salesperson come by my house and help me calculate how much I would save. I was skeptical about this step but I have to admit, the numbers were very real and quite compelling… and that’s what convinced me to buy a new furnace.


First, know who your target market is. (“Everyone” is NOT your target market). Rather, your target market is a specific group of people. Use my 55 Target Market Questions to help you figure out who your target market is and what they are like. Once you know who they are, you can market to them more effectively. Note: It’s possible to have a few target markets. That’s okay… but you do need to define each one and fill out the 55 questions for each of those markets.

Second, know what problem you solve for your target market. I call it “the pickaxe factor” of your business. A few examples: Investment professionals provide the expertise to help someone build their wealth more than they could do on their own; Insurance professionals provide a way for people to preserve their wealth and minimize the impact of dramatic life events; Real estate professionals help people find the perfect home by navigating the overwhelming number of houses on the market and the complicated sale process.

Third, figure out where your target market experiences the pain of their problem. Do they notice it in their wallet? In their enjoyment of life? Do they lose sleep over it? Will their children suffer because of it? The possibilities are wide open (although for financial and real estate professionals, they tend to be focused on just a few similar factors… mostly wealth, peace of mind, opportunity, comfort-preservation… but there are others). If you have more than one target market, you need to figure out where each target market feels the pain.

Fourth, highlight that pain. In all of your marketing and communication with your target market, highlight the pain they feel in a compelling way.

[Image credit: AprilBell]

What’s the “pickaxe factor” in your sales funnel?

I’m renovating my kitchen. I have a company come in and do the cabinets, the countertops, and the floors, but I do the plumbing myself.

The reason? I’m a half-decent plumber (usually — there was one time when that wasn’t the case, but that’s another story) and I don’t mind the work of plumbing. Since I can solve most plumbing problems in less time than it would take for a plumber to even get to my house, I just do it myself. But cabinets and countertops and floors? That’s another issue. I don’t have the skills and tools or time. Therefore, I pay someone else to do it.


I call this the “pickaxe factor”. To me, a pickaxe represents work. Hard work. Nearly impossible work that builds up a sweat, breaks your back, and makes you wish that you could just sit on the couch and pay someone else to do the job while you drink something cold and watch American Idol. For me, plumbing has a very low pickaxe factor. I’m happy to knock out a plumbing job in a short time. On the other hand, kitchen cabinets have a high pickaxe factor (for me) so I pay someone else to do it.

There are lots of problems/challenges/needs that have a high “pickaxe factor” because they are difficult to solve/overcome/fulfill. For example, some people may find it hard to…

  • Start a business when they’ve worked for someone else all their life
  • Meet a potential romantic partner
  • Get to work in nasty weather
  • Look good
  • Do your taxes

These are just a few examples of problems, challenges, and needs that people find hard… they have a high “pickaxe factor”.

Now here’s the exciting part for any business owner: The higher the pickaxe factor, the more value people place on a product or service that solves the problem, overcomes the challenge or fulfills the need. That’s why people pay for the following products or services to help them with the high pickaxe factor the challenges I listed earlier…

  • Business consulting services to get help starting a business
  • Online match-making services to meet a potential romantic partner
  • A vehicle to get from home to work in comfort and style
  • Personal trainers, dieticians, and plastic surgery
  • An accountant


Your products or services help people to solve a problem, overcome a challenge, or fulfill a need. If you want to sell even more products or services, or if you want to charge more money for your products or services, you have to do one thing: Identify and exploit a higher pickaxe factor in your sales funnel. In other words, you need to demonstrate to your sales funnel contacts how the hard task they’re facing can be made easier by you. And, the harder the task seems to them, the easier and faster you’ll sell your products and the more money you can charge for them.


If you are just starting a business and looking for a great product or service (or a point of differentiation on a product or service), then figure out what your target market finds difficult, hard, impossible, or unfathomable, and sell a solution to that.

If you are in business and looking to grow, take a look at that problems your products or services solve and how high the pickaxe factor is. Then, take a look at the marketing messages in your sales funnel and identify whether you are making full use of the pickaxe factor by highlighting the challenges of hard work and explaining how your product or service eliminates the pickaxe factor completely.

Schedule time to return to the pickaxe factor in your sales funnel every 3-6 months. Develop your products or services further to solve even higher-pickaxe-factor problems, and hone your marketing and sales language to keep up with the challenges that your target market faces.