So what does your [hypothetical] startup do?
We send managers a text message as soon as their employees make unusual use of the company card.
Over time you realise you’ve been touting features, so you follow the classic 1940s sales advice and switch to articulating benefits.
We keep managers in-the-know about misuse of the company cards.
That’s framed as a “benefit” but it still feels weak.
It’s now likely to morph into the canonical pre-traction startup pitch, where you are selling both a problem and solution.
It’s a huge problem for managers to stay in-the-know about spending on their company cards. They have to keep checking the bank website — which is a huge pain! We’re the only service around who sends you activity alerts in real-time.
Let’s pick this apart.
Explicit and implicit problems
The real issue here is that I don’t believe your proposed problem is serious.
Benefits, in the classic big sales sense, solve explicit problems. They are explicit in the sense that the customer has said they want to pay money to solve that particular problem.
Solving anything other than an explicit problem is an advantage (e.g. “it’s the strongest vacuum on the market!”), not a benefit.
Benefits solve explicit problems.
The pitch above is trying to convince a customer, investor, or colleague that the problem you are solving is explicit, and then suggesting your solution to that problem as an authentic benefit.
The primary goal of all early customer conversations, MVPs, and interviews is to find explicit problems.
You can solve implied problems till the cows come home, and you’re still going to be stuck at the starting gate.
The list of problems people care enough about to overcome their inertia and solve is very short.
Two of my four living room lights are currently blown out. Is that a “problem”? Yeah, sure. It’s annoying. In an ideal world, they would be functional. And if you and I had a coffee to talk about my household annoyances, I’m sure that would come up.
But is it annoying enough for me to fix? Noooope.
You can’t fix this pitch
I was intending to conclude this post by crafting a version of the flawed pitch which solved its shortcomings.
However, that is not possible. The premise of the product is fundamentally flawed. It solves a semi-problem with a bullshit benefit.
This isn’t an issue you can fix with a marketing message — it’s rotten to the core. You need to loop all the way back to problem interviews (or other appropriate discovery mechanism), dig deep into the alternate solutions, and find an explicit problem to solve.
 Pitching the problem can still be useful when talking to people who don’t know your industry, such as your startup buddies, the press, and certain investors.
In those discussions, I think it’s helpful to differentiate between fake problems and real problems by avoiding empty hype phrases like “It’s a huge pain to…”Instead, show it’s an explicit problem by quickly mentioning a couple traction points like pre-orders or interview results.
 Implied problems can become explicit problems in two ways. On an individual basis, you upgrade it by asking the customer about the implications of that implied problem until they realise it’s costing them boatloads (and if that works well enough, you may be fine — it’s becomes a crucial part of your sales roadmap or marketing message).
On a market-wide basis, you’re waiting for an emerging technological, cultural, or industry trend manages to shift your customers’ worldview. This can happen through either foresight or luck.