When meeting buyers for the first time, the salesperson's primary focus should be to build rapport and trust. Without rapport and trust, it is unlikely that buyers will share their goals and virtually certain that they will not admit problems to a salesperson.
We suggest that a sales opportunity should go from inactive to active status when the buyer shares a goal. A prospect is defined as a buyer who has admitted a problem. This may sound easy, but it's not. Over the years, we've discovered that there are very few sellers (particularly young sellers) who are able to get senior-level executives to admit critical business problems.
Sometimes the solution lies in focusing on goals rather than problems. Experience has taught us that it is far easier for salespeople to get a buyer to share a goal than to admit a problem.
Let's look at it from the other end of the telescope. You will have a much easier time getting someone to share that he would like to lose a few pounds (goal) than to admit that he is getting fat (problem). In fact, there are cases where the salesperson should help the buyer turn the admitted problem into a goal, since it's more fun to talk about goals than about problems.
A sales cycle begins once a buyer shares a goal with a seller. The seller now has the opportunity to use our solution development process (or their own) to ask a series of questions to understand the current situation, and to empower the buyer with usage scenarios that will help the buyer understand how he or she can achieve the goal by use of the seller's offering. But without a goal, there can be no solution development and therefore no prospect.
Goals may have longer-term value as well. In longer sales cycles, sellers often get to a point where they are working with delegatees—lower-lever implementers—who may get lost in the details of evaluating particular features. In such cases, the seller may find it helpful to refocus the implementer on the previously stated goals of the business buyer.