4 Ways to Identify a Client’s True Problem

A patient walks into the chiropractor’s office complaining of numbness in the foot. The doctor asks a series of questions and, to the annoyance of the patient, diagnoses “numbness in the foot.” The doctor, feeling quite sure of herself because she has a remedy to the malady, prescribes treatment immediately. After a few acupuncture pin pricks and deep massages later, the doctor asks the patient, how is your foot? The patient replies, “My back hurts now, I think the pain moved.”

What does this story have to do with sales? Just as the chiropractor provides the patient with one solution that may reveal additional problems, sales professionals often have to provide multiple solutions to clients . As sales pros, we listen for problems we can solve for our clients, but often we learn that the first problem may not be the real problem or the biggest problem.

The “true objection” is the objection or problem that really can get the deal done. This objection isn’t always revealed by the client or organization until further in the discussion, but it’s the pain they’re really feeling. So what is the true objection? Is it the first roadblock that the client throws your way? Is it the second? No, no, it must be the third, right? Who knows, and more importantly, how can you tell?


The key to getting a client to open up is to understand what they are and what they aren’t saying. Identifying the true, and sometimes hidden, objection not only helps in facilitating a conversation but gets to the heart of the client’s painpoints. Although this may seem like an exercise in patience, what’s important to remember is if a client is giving you objections, you are still engaging them. Which is a good thing! If they give you another objection then you may have answered or overcome the original objection. If we can uncover the real issues, then we have a good chance to getting to the next stage.

So how do you uncover the true objection and the real problem for your client?

1. Understand what the client is asking. We all just want to be understood, don’t we? So align yourself with the thought process of the person at the other end of the desk or telephone line. Repeat back to the client the thought process or dilemma that you believe they are describing. By showing your true understanding of their problem, you demonstrate empathy for their situation and build trust.

2. Build an authoritative trusted adviser rapport. The word rapport is often overused in sales to refer to the dry joke or insincere personal connection. Although creating superficial rapport is important, as an adviser we can’t care about rapport for sales sake. Getting the sale has to be almost an afterthought in our conversation. An adviser will tell a client that they should look elsewhere, that a client should reconsider and that a client is not a right fit for their offering. This will create a rapport that leads to improved communication and greater trust.

3. Never assume you know the entire issue. Ask more and more questions. The stated issue may just be the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes clients will share a base-level concern, which many times is not the main issue. Rather it’s the impact the issue has on some other facet of their business or life. It is there that we will find the true objection or issue.

4. Sell yourself as an asset for solving the problem. Make yourself valuable and the client will ask you questions about what you’re offering. How do you do this? Give examples of other situations where clients found their problems solved from your advice. The person you’re speaking with will trust you for giving them a wanted asset and that advice can come in the form of a service or product. When you feel as if you have resolved the core concern, the prospect lets you know that s/he really needs help with a new issue.

Remember: There is usually more to the aching foot than just the aching foot. So as professional salespeople, we have to act like practitioners who are able to get to that hard to reach, impossible to pinpoint, numbing “center of all ailments” pain. Then, because we found the root of patient’s discomfort, we’ve identified the true objection and we can prescribe a solution.