What is a problem statement? Everything you need to know

Marketing7 mins
Mar 4, 2020
team defining their problem statement

Many organizations feel compelled to show their clients all their creative solutions. But in that process, they neglect their client’s problem and fail to understand the underlying challenge.

Have you ever found yourself writing up a marketing proposal and all of a sudden become confused by the problem you are trying to solve?

If yes, you're not the only one.

Many organizations feel compelled to show their clients all their creative solutions. But in that process, they neglect their client’s problem and fail to understand the underlying challenge. And when there is a misalignment between your solution and your client’s problem, your client becomes skeptical and begins questioning whether or not you are the right fit for them. In other words, your lack of understanding widens the relevancy gap between your product or service and the problem your prospect came to you to solve.

While discussing a prospect's specific challenges and use case applications sound like a fundamental step in the discovery process, failing to address them in a sales proposal is a mistake that has cost many companies in lost business.

What’s even more surprising is that it can be prevented by one simple method: a problem statement.

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement states the challenges faced by your client. The statement may include workflow bottlenecks, resource challenges, or fundamental difficulties, such as understanding a customer base. The problem statement is just that-- restating the issue; it should not include any goals or objectives that they wish to achieve - yet.

What else should you include in your marketing proposal? See our Ultimate Guide to Creating Better Proposals, for a comprehensive overview on the language, content, design, and technology to improve your proposals.

Writing a problem statement allows you to break down the problem in a holistic summary. Of course, before summarizing your client’s problem, you must truly understand it first. This involves an open dialogue about the specific bottlenecks and challenges faced by your client.

You might ask your prospect questions like:

  • What is your biggest inihibitor to growth?
  • What is your biggest pain point?
  • What does your boss obsess about?
  • What consumes the most time in your day?
  • What topic always surfaces in your internal meetings?
  • Where do you feel there are gaps in your sales process? Why are you losing deals?
  • What are your primary gripes or complaints? What would make your life better professionally and personally?

Once you understand your prospect's pain, you are now in a better position to restate it in a problem statement. A problem statement also sets the stage to demonstrate how your product or service addresses your client's challenges, as the content in your sales proposal progresses.

Strengthening the client relationship

Taking a macro approach illustrates the big picture of your prospect's problem and the challenges your client is facing. Additionally, it shows your prospect you are listening-- a big step in creating a personalized buyer experience.

When you summarize the problem, there are two positive outcomes.

  1. You either reaffirm that you understand the problem, so you can now appropriately customize your solutions. Tailoring your offering goes a long way in forming trust between you and your potential client.
  2. You realize you need more information. If you're writing your problem statement and realize that you that you don't understand the issue thoroughly, ask your client for clarity, to get everyone aligned. Your willingness to work together to dig deeper into the root cause of the issue helps build trust and transparency, which are key to any long-term client relationship.

Both outcomes are a win and only strengthen the relationship with your potential client. A word of caution: never try to bluff your way through a problem statement-- your prospect will pick-up on your lack of understanding and look to another solution provider who has a greater grasp of their needs.

The front end: solving complex problems

Let's look at a practical use case example of how your problem statement fits into your sales proposal.

Your client claims they want to grow their revenue and net promoter score. As an agency, you get excited because you know exactly what you’re going to do. You know for sure that you have proven marketing strategies in your arsenal that will exceed your client’s expectations.

However, take a step back. Ask yourself an honest question. Do you really know what problem you are solving for your client?

We often forget to analyze the problem and skip straight to implementing a solution as quickly as possible. And it’s no wonder. Our minds have been hardwired to think fast, solving problems efficiently and with agility.

According to Corey Phelps, co-author of Cracked it! How to solve big problems and sell solutions, jumping to a solution can become a potential stumbling block. When rushing to a solution, you narrow your perception. You become fixated on this one solution, believing that it will achieve the desired results for your client. However, the solution might not be the most appropriate measure for the problem, and thus you end up not delivering the results as promised.

When solving complex problems, spend ample time within the problem space, sometimes known as the “front end,” to gain a deeper understanding of the challenge your client seeks to solve.

Standing out

There's no denying it; the marketing communications space is crowded with emails consistently on the rise. In fact, the average business person receives 121 emails on average each day.


Additionally, buyers, on average, are talking to 4-5 different solution providers at any given time. But how many of these vendors have actually taken the time to fully understand the client's problem and demonstrate their understanding in a problem statement?

A business problem often goes deep. As a salesperson, it's your job to draw it out of your prospect and make sure you understand all the underlying issues.

Too often, buyers may be fascinated by what your company has to offer but still question if it is something they need and solves their pain. When defining the problem, you are also helping your client realize what’s exactly going wrong in their business and why. Additionally, you're assisting your client in understanding the relevance of your solution and helping your brand stand out from the rest, especially when clients are tight on time, innundated with messages, or are talking to multiple vendors.

Taking action

Now that you understand the importance of a problem statement, take the next step and actionize what you've learned. A marketing proposal template is a great first step, ensuring your prospects get a consistent sales experience, every time. Or for a personal demo of how Qwilr proposals can help your sales team save time, stand out, and win more business, we invite you to book a demo now. Because the purpose of information is no.