Got “content” challenges? Apply the problem-cause model

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Serious practitioners of content marketing inevitably face significant content challenges. But sales professionals do as well — especially to conduct effective change conversations with customers.

Surveys, as well as client discussions about top content challenges, reveal the operational nature of the underlying causes of many of content related problems.

Content challenges Priorities 2016

Operational Issues

However, I seldom see content strategy guidelines address operational issues. This is a major shortcoming of current thinking.

Content strategy and planning for content marketing is a different and complex task for most newcomers. But if you look at the challenges early practitioners have faced, you will want to figure this out quickly.

One of the most useful models we use we call the “problem-cause model”. Like many powerful ideas, this idea is simple. But work with it and you will experience important insights that will help with your content strategy and execution.

Problem-Cause Model Explained

In this 4 minute video you will hear how this important shift can help you develop more effective messages that in turn inform compelling, useful content.

To gain efficiency and productivity enhancements many people and organizations tend to rely solely on new tools or technology. A rich history with ERP, CRM, CAD and other systems have demonstrated that process change is often the key to realizing expected productivity and cost breakthroughs.

Selling Conversation Implications

Using the problem-cause model sets up a conversation that is not about your company, product, solution or “value proposition.” It is all about the customer, and how they see — and quantify — their problem. Remember, conversations are content. For maximum effectiveness and consistency, they must be designed just as media-based content is.

The first “sale” is to get prospects to see a new cause(s) they haven’t considered.

Be very careful here. You are in the territory of telling prospects they are wrong, or worse, incompetent. It helps to frame this either in the context of something new that has recently developed, such as new changes in market conditions (customer requirements or competitive threats) or new capabilities. Otherwise, you can frame it as a common oversight. You must “give them permission” to acknowledge this as an important missing consideration, without making them defensive, or at risk for internal criticism.

The second “sale” is to get them to acknowledge the Impact, or cost of the Causes (more specifically than the problem.)

This is critical because it defines the cost of status quo, the cost of doing nothing. The natural tendency for organizations is to continue to live with the problem as they have prior to your arrival. They will continue to prioritize the problem and solution below “all the other things on our whiteboard of priorities.”

Calculating the cost of the causes is not based on your current ROI calculator for your product or solution. It has to be a calculator for the cost of the causes, based on each customers data. The input to this calculation should be captured in the discovery stage of your sales process. In a dialogue mode, step prospects through this calculation to gain agreement for each number. You can’t “sell” the impact. Customers must “own” it. It must create an emotional reaction, similar to “oh my word – I never knew!”

The third “sale” is to get them to agree to the capabilities required to resolve the causes.

By capabilities, we mean approach to solving the problem as well as specific capabilities needed. Of course these will relate to your capabilities. But it’s important to discuss these generically as “the capabilities you will need,” and not “here are the capabilities we bring to resolve this problem.” This different approach from the traditional is critical.

The next step in the conversation is the “trial close.”

But now you are closing on agreement of the causes, impact and required capabilities, not on your company, product or solution. You are closing on the “sale” that the current state (the customer’s status quo) is untenable, or at least very expensive, risky, etc. Unless and until you hear strong conviction on this point, it’s premature to present your solution.

One technique to test as part of this summary conversation is use of the “what if” question. “What if there is a way to resolve these causes?”

This is where you begin the fourth “sale” around the buying vision.

This tests the prospect’s willingness to change, while presenting a compelling future vision. We use this language to describe this point in the process: “no presentation (or pricing) without a clear, quantified, and agreed to ‘gap’ between (the prospect’s) current and desired states.”

Finally, in the fifth “sale” you are ready to explain and prove your capabilities, and how they will uniquely resolve important causes.

Be careful not to overstate capabilities that other vendors will have or claim to have. A good technique here is to present your capabilities in three categories:

  1. Table Stakes Capabilities are those required, but commonly shared by other vendors or products. This is an opportunity for a little honest humility, always a refreshing experience for prospects.
  2. Unique Capabilities or those you can demonstrate you do better than other vendors.
  3. Best Combinations are typically your best winning play. This is where you show the need for a combination of capabilities that others can’t meet.

This is the point where proof is most important. But it must relate to how others have experienced the causes and impact in their organization. It must also validate your approach, specific capabilities (and combinations) and your ability to execute effectively.

To summarize: customer conversations based on the problem-cause model break down into five sequential conversation elements, essentially like this:

  1. You have a problem, we see several possible Causes that look this this. You may not have considered some of these causes.
  2. The Impact or cost of these Causes in your organization looks like this. This must create a “must fix” not a “nice to have” situation.
  3. To resolve these causes you will need a set of capabilities.
  4. With these capabilities, this is what your future will look and feel like (gap between current and future states).
  5. Here are the capabilities we bring to resolve these causes: table stakes, unique or better, and best combinations. Follow by, here is proof that what we’ve said is valid.

Content Creation Implications

Marketers can learn from these previous paradigm shifts. The traditional “point production” process for creating content is too limited for the new requirements of the content marketing world.

The problem-cause model has been used by companies to shift from selling products to conducting a consultative, solution-oriented sales approach.

This is directly related to what content marketing is about: identifying and providing useful insight as compelling content. Compelling content comes from identifying key buyer issues. A problem’s underlying causes reveal specific and tangible issues better than higher level problems.

You can also use causes to organize buyer questions. Focus your content efforts on answering buyer questions about specific problem causes that others aren’t addressing.

Using the problem-cause model will give you many more sources for small content pieces that support your lead nurturing and social marketing objectives.

Study References:

Start with this excellent 4 minute video:


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