Sell the opportunity

Treat every problem as an opportunity, we are told. At first sight it is an attractive idea, but further investigation reveals that it is a little too glib. Problems and opportunities are similar but different things; in a sense they are the opposite of one another.

Edward de Bono, I think it was, who captured the difference as follows. Presumably, in general, we do things because we can see the benefit of doing them. A problem exists when we can see the benefit of doing something, but we do not yet know how to do it. An opportunity exists in the opposite situation: when there are things that we know how to do, but we have not yet seen the benefit of doing them.

Seth Godin’s post Sell the problem describes a neat shift in thinking which is potentially useful to many people in many fields. His point is that there is no sense in trying to sell a solution to someone who does not know that they have a problem; so he suggests concentrating on making them aware that they have a problem!

His approach has a lot of merit, however maybe the change in the framing of this situation can be taken one step further. If they do not have a problem, then they do not have a problem! And who wants to pay for, i.e. buy, problems? So why try to sell them problems?

Surely, in fact, Seth Godin is not recommending that we “sell the problem” at all? He is recommending that we “sell the opportunity”!

Concentrating on describing their opportunities which can be addressed by our capabilities, rather than on describing our solutions for their problems, is surely the way to have conversations with those people who do not have problems … and, frankly, do not want any!

But they do want opportunities, and they might be prepared to buy them!

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