How to become the best at solving your customers' problems?

As you and I know, a lot of the success of a SaaS business is related to the problem you solve. I talked about that many times.

But as always, the devil is in the details, meaning – if you get your problem statement wrong, it instantly lowers your chances of success. And believe me or not – many things can go wrong and do go wrong JUST on the level of problem definition.

That’s why I decided to dedicate this essay to that problem – to give you a framework. A framework you can use when you’re defining your roadmap, updating a landing page, creating a campaign, or just doing a sales discovery call with a prospect.

So let’s get started.

What’s actually ‘the problem?’

First, I want to zoom into a misconception: What’s actually ‘the problem?’

Through my encounters here are the two most important distinctions:

  1. The issue that causes that experience: The ROOT CAUSE.
  2. What the customer PHYSICALLY experiences.

Where most software vendors go wrong is in focusing all their effort on #1, where they’d thrive if they’d focus on #2.

Let’s give an example:

We often believe that ‘inefficiency’ is a significant customer problem.

What a customer physically experiences, however, is something different. They don’t see ‘ínefficiency’ as the problem, but their inability to consistently meet the expectations of their customers around, f.ex. the timely delivery of their services.

Technically, of course, both ‘problems’ are factually correct. They are just different perspectives on the case. Still, you’d better focus on the latter for two simple reasons:

  1. Customers aren’t AWARE of the root cause.
  2. Context is missing.

And that brings me back to the key question:

 

Why is defining a problem important?

Because if the problem is ill-defined, it derails everything.

To take the component of context, without that simple ingredient:

  • Product development is steerless
  • Marketing is steerless
  • Sales is steerless
  • Professional service is steerless
  • Customer success is steerless

And with that, the customer is steerless because whether you remarkably solve their problem is a gamble.

Context is everything in defining the problem. Context gives you a better understanding of the situation and allows you to go to the essence and

  • solve that in a way that stands out
  • market that in a way that stands out
  • sell that in a way that stands out
  • Implement that in a way that stands out

In a nutshell:

Stop focusing on the root cause of the problem.

Start focusing on the way your customers physically experience the problem.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If you honestly assess your roadmap, website, or sales deck, what problem is in focus – The root cause or the physical experience of your customers? What if it was the latter?


The SaaS problem definition framework

Step 1: Explore – What wakes them up at night?

Success in a B2B SaaS company starts with the clarity of what their ideal customers are struggling with.

Getting clarity the slightest bit wrong impacts everything: Top-of-funnel momentum, sales momentum, implementation momentum, product adoption momentum, etcetera.

It’s, therefore, a fundamental element in any work I do with my customers – whether that’s related to re-positioning work, sales performance, product strategy tuning – or what have you.

For example, in workshop 3 of the Traction Foundation pressure cooker, I always zoom into “What wakes them up at night?”

And that question is chosen deliberately.

Here’s the thing:

You need a thought-provoking question to get beyond the fog.

There are many angles to take:

  • What problems keep your buyer up at night?
  • What would get them fired if they mess up?
  • What promises is your buyer struggling to keep?
  • What expectations from the business are they failing to meet?

Essentially, you’re looking for the things that matter most to your customer.

Capture as much as you can. From there, we’ll zoom into the essence.

Step 2: Define – How do you define the real problem?

The things your customers or better your most important stakeholders tell you will be raw, high-level, and likely full of biases. It’s your job to get it to the essence and structure it.

In that process, I’ve come to love a framework to create a powerful, yet simple problem statement:

Inability to … followed by [a commitment to] or [expectation from the business] that needs to be met, followed by (bonus) [a constraint they have to respect].

Let me give some examples:

  • Inability to stop profit erosion from getting out of control when we’re at full capacity.
  • Inability to meet SLA requirements within the capacity constraints we have.
  • Inability to effectively handle negative publicity in crisis situations.

As you can see – IF you’re responsible for this, it will do something with you if you can’t deliver on this. And that’s what it’s about. It captures all the relevant aspects of the problem.

Don’t forget:

A problem is only a problem if someone cares enough to solve it – urgently.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What is the #1 problem that wakes your ideal customer up at night?


Step 3: Challenge – How do you know you’ve nailed the problem definition?

Defining the problem can be done in various ways, and I shared my favorite template for that above. But even with the best framework, we can still go wrong.

Avoiding that comes down to challenging it.

Here’s the thing:

A problem is only a problem if someone else feels the pain. And the essence is in the word ‘feel.’

So, to challenge whether you’ve nailed the problem definition, I always check these questions:

Does reading the pain:

  • get to an emotional connection at the sensory level?
  • give the owner of the problem an itchy feeling?
  • make the owner of the problem cringe?

If your problem definition doesn’t give that reaction, most of the time, you need to dig deeper.

Remember, the art is in being concrete.

Concreteness gives context, and context helps to make it resonate.

The best problem definitions address pain and link it to an emotion.

But you can’t stay there. you have to hit it, clarify it, empathize [not sympathize] with it.

What that does is this: It elevates the perception of the value and criticality of the problem in the mind of the problem owner. And that’s what it’s all about.

  • If it’s not valuable to solve, who cares?
  • If it’s not critical to solve, who cares?

You want both because:

  • Valuable without critical means ‘nice to have.’
  • Critical without value means nothing.

So, how do you get it to the right level? Here are two techniques I value a lot in my day-to-day work.

  1. Keep asking, ‘Why?’ or ‘So what?’ It helps you explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a problem. It will help you peel away the layers of symptoms, so you’ll get to the essence.
  2. Reframe the problem: Take the problem as you understand it and restate it in several different ways. It will provide new perspectives and deeper understanding.

That’s it.

Don’t stop your problem definition process unless the problem owner can vividly ‘feel’ the pain.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If your ideal prospect visits your website – will they get an itchy feeling or even shiver when you talk about their problem? What if they would?


Step 4: Rank – How do you identify the most important problem to solve?

When you talk to a prospect, for example, in a discovery call, you’ll quickly realize they’re all over the place when they talk about the problem they want to solve.

They talk about the symptoms they experience – but often don’t put their finger on the true problem at hand. And that’s OK. That’s what discovery calls are for (remember: they’re not specialists).

There are multiple ways to get your prospects to reveal the essential list of problems. So below, I’ll take you through three steps to nail this. Doing this prevents you from focusing on the wrong problem.

Step 1: Get all the ‘problems’ on a list.

Asking questions like these works magically:

  1. What do you believe is your problem?
  2. Tell me about your biggest challenges when it comes to X.
  3. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing that you’d regret not solving six months from now.

The art is to listen and just let your prospect talk.

It will give you a list to work with.

Step 2: Get to the essence.

Here are some questions you can use to do precisely that:

“I get why you’d want to focus on improving [challenge you just shared]. But there are many things you could prioritize.

  1. Why this? Why not something else (or nothing) instead?
  2. What’s going on in the business that’s driving [what they shared] to be a priority?
  3. What metric is suffering most as a result of that?
  4. Why now? Why not wait a year or two?

Step 3: Value-rank the list.

Now, you have all the ingredients to create a value-ranked list.

In my book The Remarkable Effect, I discuss ‘The Broken Triangle’ on page 24. It’s about answering three core questions to narrow the list to the essence, i.e., a framework to avoid speculation and know what’s the right problems to solve.

For each problem your prospect mentioned, answer this:

On a scale of 1-10:

  1. How valuable is this problem to solve for them?
  2. How critical is this problem to solve for them?
  3. What’s your ability to exceed expectations solving it?

It gives you a formula: (1 * 2 * 3) = a number between 0-1000.

Focus on the problems on the list above 500 – these are mission-critical (instead of nice to haves), AND you have a competitive edge.

Everything below: forget about them.

Remember:

The problems worth solving are both valuable AND critical.

The problems worth focusing on are the ones you can solve like no one else.

 

Now you have the foundation to sharpen your segmentation, take a unique position in the market, and carve out a value proposition that resonates.


Question for you to reflect upon:

Assessing your SaaS pipeline: how many deals are you chasing where the core problem to solve has a value <500? What if you’d ditch those?


 

In summary: How to turn ‘problem definition’ into your advantage?

In a nutshell, this essay is all about understanding: What is the difference between a well-defined problem and an ill-defined problem – and how do you go about getting it right?

Let’s start by zooming into what are, from my observations, the biggest mistakes made in defining the problem:

  • It’s not clear, i.e., it leaves many ways for interpretation.
  • No one bothers, i.e., the right people don’t see it as a priority.
  • No one acts, i.e., it doesn’t trigger an emotion.

In contrast, Well-defined problems:

  • Focus on the physical experience your customer has (not the root cause).
  • Provide essential contexts so nothing gets lost in translation.
  • Are written in such a way that it makes the problem owner vividly feel the pain.
  • Are addressing an issue that’s both valuable and critical.

 

Getting to a well-defined problem definition starts with understanding what the problem really is.

There are two important distinctions to make:

  1. The issue that causes that experience, i.e., the ROOT CAUSE.
  2. What the customer PHYSICALLY experiences.

The art is to focus on the latter because that gives the essential context to what needs to be solved.

Here are the four steps:

 

Step 1: Explore.

Let your customer elaborate on some basic questions – one could be: Tell me about the challenges you’re facing that you’d regret not solving six months from now. Just listen – and pay attention to the essence: What problems keep your buyer up at night?

Step 2: Define.

A framework you can use: Inability to … followed by [a commitment to] or [expectation from the business] that needs to be met, followed by (bonus) [a constraint they have to respect]

Step 3: Challenge.

Challenge it, so you know you’ve nailed it. E.g., does reading the pain get to an emotional connection at the sensory level? If not – keep asking ‘So what!’ or reframe the problem.

Step 4: Rank.

It’s not about solving a problem; it’s about solving a problem that matters. So, rank the problems you’ve revealed by their value AND urgency for the customer.

 

Remember: How you explore, define, challenge, and rank the problem determines whether you will solve it in a way that people will notice and talk about.


Question for you to reflect upon:

Imagine your ideal customer visiting your website now. What’s the chance they’d be captivated by the detail with which you describe the problem they struggle most? What if you would?


Additional resources to help you become the best at solving your customers’ problems.

The easiest way. Book a free call to explore if there’s a fit to do this together.

Otherwise – here are three other options

 

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About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.