Uncovering Problems

4 min readOct 4, 2023
The best salespeople know how to think about the customer’s business.

In this story: What can happen when you find and solve an unrecognized problem.

Written by Maria Edelson, Founder & CEO of Edelson

What are you paying your salespeople for? You’re paying them to think and get results. You get results by selling your solution using value, not discounts and price.

To do that, you have to uncover the customers’ needs. The best sale you can make is when you help the customer uncover an unmet need — and solve a problem they didn’t even know they had.

When you can do that, you get results. You know the customer’s world so deeply that you can uncover problems they don’t see. Then the customer can’t un-see the problem you showed them. And then they want to team up with you to solve it.

Now it’s no longer a “sale.” Now you’re on a problem-solving journey together. It’s a joint business plan.

Here’s an example of how we did this at P&G.

First, a few key details:

  • Our customer was a major grocery chain.
  • We had some history selling them various products, including health & beauty products. Past trends suggested that the retail stores turned over their health & beauty inventory just 4 times a year. In the balance of the store, inventory turnover was around 9 times per year.
  • We’d gotten hold of research that suggested people wanted a different experience when shopping for cosmetics versus shopping for vegetables and detergent. In other words, not surprisingly, the health & beauty aisle wouldn’t perform well if it looked and felt similar to the rest of the store.

With the customer, we talked about inventory turnover. We talked about how much it was costing them to stock and warehouse all those little boxes of cosmetics for such a long time.

We pointed out how different their cash-flows could look if they could turn over that inventory even 6 times a year instead of 4 times.

We shared the research that suggested they might sell more of that inventory if people actually wanted to be in the health & beauty aisle.

“The problem is, nobody’s even going into that aisle,” we said. “So, you’re missing out on those sales. But do you realize you could be selling those products if the aisle looked different from the others?”

We suggested a cheap, fast experiment: make the health & beauty aisle more closely resemble a specialized cosmetics store like Sephora. Add a beauty kiosk, soft lighting, and some special mirrors.

The results of that experiment were remarkable. Shoppers noticed the aisle looked different. They started to walk down the aisle — and shop the aisle. And most importantly, they started to buy cosmetics.

We had uncovered a problem the customer didn’t even know they had. And we’d given them a taste of the solution.

From there, we co-invested in redesigning the health & beauty aisles in all of their stores. This was a paradigm shift at the time when everyone expected every aisle to look the same. And of course, P&G products got a disproportionate share of the preferred merchandising locations.

So, the customer sold more beauty products, and most of them were P&G beauty products. They realized more revenue in total as a result, and so did P&G. And of course, the inventory turned faster and reduced holding costs.

It all started with salespeople who knew how to think about the customer’s business, uncover a problem they didn’t know they had (or knew they had but didn’t think they could solve), solve the problem with our products or services, and “grow the pie” for both the customer and the company.

Feedback is a gift. Let us know what you think about this story in the comments below.

This is part 1 of Sales Bites, a 12-part series of stories from 35 years of sales experience with P&G and from training 13,000 sales executives globally. Follow or Subscribe below so you don’t miss the next story.

Next Up: Grow The Pie!




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