In the past year we have seen businesses undergo dramatic changes in their attempts to meet customer requirements and serve their markets more professionally and successfully. Competitive pressure is relentless, especially when it's becoming more obscure as to whom the competitor actually is and how the customer is evaluating their choices.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to pause and re-evaluate what has worked well and what has not, what's evolving and what we need to do differently to meet the challenges in front of us. As you examine your own business strategy, I want to share with you the top three challenges that I have observed organizations struggling with, and give you some ideas on how to reposition yourself and win more business in 2008.

1. Customers don't fully understand their problem and what to do about it.
The complexity of today's business -- advancements in technology, evolving global markets, unanticipated competition, creation of robust and more complex solutions, etc., make it nearly impossible for the customer to be expert in all areas of business and be able to recognize the best opportunities for improvement.

Customers need business advisors to help them sort it all out and it's important that they see you and your team in that role.

Like an experienced doctor who continually diagnoses for problems and recognizes symptoms, you see the issues your solutions address far more frequently than your customers do. You know the business drivers that your solutions impact and the symptoms that verify that your customer's performance is at risk. You know what to look for and how to help. To determine if those symptoms exist, develop a diagnostic approach to clarify the situation with your customer. Don't let the customer self diagnose when they don't clearly understand the problem to be solved. Leverage your experience and become an advisor who helps your customer optimize their performance.

2. Customers are bombarded with options that are difficult to comprehend.

I'll share an example from our business. We will soon purchase a new phone system. It's interesting to hear that two of the three competitors described their solution as equal in features and quality to the "#1" supplier, and yet they offered 10-15% less in cost. From their position they're emphasizing the value of their product and not its impact on our business and the resulting impact on the value we deliver to our customers. That's a serious gap in their approach to solving our problem.

On the other hand, top sales professionals walk into an opportunity with higher levels of experience than their customers and focus on bringing clarity to the problem to be solved and the cost impact on their business in absence of the products and services available. They consider an entire industry, come into contact with a full range of operational practices, and become experts in their customer's business. It is this advanced perspective of the issues facing the customer, combined with their customer's expertise that enables the sales professional to help their customers make informed, high-quality decisions. They help their customers connect business objectives to the capabilities of their valuable solutions and do not cloud the issue with irrelevant features.

3. Customers fear the risks associated with change.
A fundamental element of behavior is that people will change if the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. As a result, customers tend to avoid change and the risks associated with it. They know that making changes to the organization's operations, systems or processes will be difficult, lengthy, and resource consuming. Why would they personally take on that pressure?

If you can help your customers recognize the symptoms of their situation and clarify the risks they are facing, you can then help them understand that a decision to change is a better option. Your role as business advisor is to help them calculate what it's costing them not to have your solution and bring clarity to that decision. You will also want to position yourself and your organization as a vital resource that will guide and support their change process, thereby assuring they will be successful in making the changes required to implement your solution.

Ensure your customer's success, and you will also ensure your successful future. It's no longer about selling solutions; it's clearly about helping customers create more value in their businesses as a result of their relationships with you.