I hear a lot of people talking a lot about solutions selling, all keep telling they are moving to that area, but do we really understand what solutions selling means?
Solution selling does not means we have to sell “a solution” in terms of a complicated architecture or a set of interconnected boxes or whatsoever.
Solution selling is a sales methodology. Rather than just promoting an existing product, the salesperson focuses on the customer’s pain(s) and addresses the issue with his or her offerings (product and services). The resolution of the pain is what is a “solution”.
What does it means moving from selling boxes to solutions?
For a solution selling approach is key to be able to understand customer pain points, and be able to relate those pain points to your offering. This should be the common selling approach to be used in the IT market since 15 years (may be more) and it should be common for 2 categories of vendors:
1) The big ones that want to scale and need recurring deals from its customer base
2) The small ones but with qualityunique offering, typically innovative startups.
That vendor that does not stay in these 2 definitions does not need, basically, a solution selling approach.
So you do not need solution selling if you are a pure box seller.
The real difference between solution selling and box selling is the proactive approach that is required for the first selling methodology.
While a box seller can go from door to door offering its products, putting the minimum effort on convincing the customer and having a shortimmediate time view, the solution seller need, first of all, to build a relationship in order to know its customer, and therefore the outlook can’t be immediate, but medium period, since create a relationship require time.
So box selling advantage compared to solution selling is to have:
• Immediate revenue
• Minimum effort
But what is the solution selling advantage, if any? In short the main advantages of a solution selling approach can be:
• Lower price pressure
• Recurring deals with the same customer
Lower price pressure:
The reason for the lower price pressure is mainly related to the fact that in a solution selling approach targeting the pain point raises the value of the productssolutionsservices proposed. Even in our consolidated technology market.
Of course lower price pressure means higher margins, so it is understandable why so many ITICT vendors historically moved to solution selling.
But better margins, per se, do not completely justify a solution selling approach. The aspect most interesting is the recurring deal possibility due to a better understanding of customer needs and relationship.
At the end solution selling allow a more healthy growth, better margins and a better used customer base.
But solution selling comes with a price; the biggest skill required is to be able to understand the customer.
“Solution selling” in the Enterprise Market.
If solution selling require to identify customer pain(s), this means being able to understand the customer.
Understanding customer’s needs require a different approach, sound silly but the first one is to be able to “listen to the customer and understand himher”.
This requires being able to:
1) Understand the business issue
2) Being able to relate it to technical aspect related to our offering.
The first point requires a business understanding that goes beyond the simple product. In order to solve a problem you have to understand the problem. And to understand the problem you have to put yourself in your customer “shoes”.
The second point basically means to be able to have a technical approach that is not limited to the product specification, but how the product “lives” inside customer environment.
Both points 1 and 2 require, usually, the involvement of 2 common sales roles:
The Customer Account Manager and the Pre-sales Engineer
Both roles are key in the solution selling approach because are engine to understand the issue, translate it into a technical offering and communicate the value to the customer. While the first is usually the holder of the relationship and the economic interface the second is the “translator” from business need to productssolutionservices offering.
Keeping the two role separated is usually a good thing since pre-sales engineer should not be seen as “sales person” in order to give them more technical credibility.
Things become more complicated, in an Enterprise environment, when we add to the equation the role of the channel.
How can, a vendor, add this value to its channel? Well basically this is done through 2 specific approaches:
Channel segmentation and channel education.
Since through channel the approach with the customer is not direct, what it is usually done is to provide to the channel shared resources that can fill the eventual gaps they have to implement a solution selling approach.
This is done, basically through channel specialization (vertical, product, certification), and channel support through sales specialists and presales channel engineer.
POC or why I should trust you?
We already understood that solution selling approach require different attitude when approaching the customer, but a solution selling approach means also the customers will act in a different way with us. The most evident aspect of this change is the necessity of Proof of Concept or POC.
Basically, from customer side, the point is:
“Ok I am buying a value from you, which will solve my pain point. But I need to be sure because I need this pain to be withdrawn so please I need you to demonstrate that:
1) You can actually solve my pain point
2) You will not generate more problem with the introduction of your offering”
This means, basically, that we have to prove what we say is the truth, and usually this is done by example. This means:
1) References when available
2) Proof of Concept
Sometime a proof of concept is just a demo, sometimes is a test in a virtual environment and sometimes (it happened to me in the past) is a test in a live and running production environment.
So we should be so brave to accept the challenge and proof our customer we are trustable and we can actually help himher out. If we don’t do we risk losing our credibility and loosing the customer, at least for the value space selling.
From product marketing to solution marketing
One of the other consequences related to the solution selling approach is the need for a different marketing approach.
While selling isolated boxes can give the focus on the box itself even from a marketing perspective, a solution approach require more of anything else the built of company credibility. In other terms if you want to offer a solution for a pain point, the customer need to trust you in terms of:
You are able to understand the pain,
You are able to solve the pain.
Those two aspects are not strictly product related; therefore it is necessary to change the communication approach, moving toward a more “institutional” one.
This communication need to target 2 different audiences:
1) Potential customers
This is why usually it is common to have 2 different but integrated communication plans.
Where are you on this journey?
If you are box sellers, no doubts, you have to start the ground to move from box to solution.
It is interesting to notice that the Solution selling approach is not mutually exclusive to the box seller one; they are just two aspect of the selling activity of an ITICT vendor.
Focus on vertical will require, sooner or later, to change the generalist approach used as box seller to a more targeted approach where you start focus on qualified sales people (with deep understanding of specific verticals) and the introduction of a skilled pre sales figure that is still missing in action if you look for inexperienced young and cheap rookies.
You will have, at the same time, yet a lot of things to do in terms of your MKTG approach and, I am afraid, in terms of people management.
But the good news is we have a lot of space for improvement.
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