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To sell more, find out the problem that's BEHIND the problem you solve

Kai Madrone
July 6, 2021



Do you know the real reason your customers buy from you?

Hopefully you’re a genuine expert on your people’s problems. As an entrepreneur, knowing the ins and outs of your potential customers' struggles is foundational to being able to provide them an effective solution. But did you know that this intimate knowledge of their problem is also an essential ingredient in your marketing message?

To do great marketing, you need to be well-versed in all FOUR kinds of problem the people in your market face. (Yes, four!) But if you’re like most business-owners, your focus is mostly--or solely--on just ONE of them: the External Problem. The thing is, in most cases that’s not the problem that actually drives people to buy from you…


Purchase decisions are driven by the invisible problem

In order to do great marketing (and great business) you need to be well-versed not only in the External Problem your brand solves, but also in your people’s Internal Problem as relates to what you do. You can think of the Internal Problem as the problem behind the problem.

The Internal Problem is how and why your market experiences the External Problem. While the External Problem is easily visible, the Internal Problem is mostly invisible. It's the feelings and beliefs people have related to the External Problem that you solve. Here’s the way I like to explain it to our clients:

The real problem with dirty windows

Say I’m in the window-washing business and you have dirty windows. What moves you to call me up? What prompts you to get on Google and find my website? What gets you to click on my ad?

You may think you clicked because your windows have dirt on them, but if we slow down and look closer we’ll see that’s not actually why you hired me. The real reason you sought me out is because of something you felt or believed.

Purchase decisions are driven by the Internal Problem

Maybe you clicked because of embarrassment at the thought of your in-laws visiting next week and noticing your streaky, smudgy windows. Maybe you searched me up because you felt bad that you haven’t gotten around to cleaning them like you told your partner you would. Maybe you called because you’re tired of the house feeling gloomy and you want to let more sunlight in. Maybe you requested an estimate because you’re sick of someone you live with asking you to wash them.

Dirt on windows in and of itself doesn’t move you to dial my business number.

A belief that someone else will judge us…
A belief that we’re letting someone down…
These are the real reasons we call the window-washer.

These are examples of Internal Problem.

If you want to be able to speak straight to your customer’s heart you need to get inside their head. You need to know what Internal Problems they’re struggling with.

How to uncover the invisible reasons people buy (or don’t)

So how do you find out what Internal Problems your people are dealing with?

1.) You listen.
2.) You ask good questions.

When you’re in a conversation* with a potential customer or client and they’re talking about the External Problem (dirty windows) be on the lookout and listening for the Internal Problem (feelings and beliefs).

(*Note: Sales calls and Discovery sessions are a perfect and natural time to discover the Internal Problem because the purpose of the call is to listen to the problem they're experiencing and then share the solutions you can offer.)

There are a variety of questions you can ask to uncover the Internal Problem, but here is one of my favorites:

Tip of the week: Ask The Problem-Behind-the-Problem question

When someone is telling you about the External Problem they experience, you’ll be able to learn more and uncover the Internal Problem by inviting them to share more in a specific way. When they tell you about their dirty windows, ask them the Problem-Behind-the-Problem question—

“And how is that a problem?”

This question will either A.) give you more specific details about how they experience the External Problem or B.) reveal the relevant Internal Problem/s they’re struggling with (feelings, beliefs). Either way, you gain valuable information about your people’s struggle and become that much more of an expert on their problem.

And keep asking

Before you try this question out, there’s something else I want you to know. The insight goes deeper if you ask again.

In fact, you can ask multiple times. If the first time you ask "And how is that a problem?" the person says more about the External Problem, awesome, you learn more. But if they say nothing about their beliefs or feelings, you can simply ask the question again. Each time you ask, another layer is revealed.

Whether immediately or eventually, the Problem-Behind-the-Problem question will reveal the Internal Problem they’re struggling with. Just stay attentive to the conversation and respectful of the other person and you’ll know when they’ve said enough and it’s time to shift the conversation to something else.

Know who your work is for, be their trusted guide, and use their words so you can speak straight to their heart

We're here to help

If you want a hand getting clear on what really drives people to buy from you and how to incorporate this knowledge in your marketing, we invite you to schedule a Clarity Session with us to learn more about how to use Strategic Storytelling to develop a clear, compelling marketing message that you can repeat consistently anywhere you do sales or marketing.

Book a free Business Clarity Session

Thanks for doing what you do in the world,

Kai & Michael

Kai Madrone
Posted on
July 6, 2021



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