Faced with increasing competition, commoditisation and margin erosion most B2B vendors have chosen to embrace “solution selling” in one form or another. But, as many have learned to their cost, simply slapping solution lipstick on a product pig tends to be a cost-added, rather than a value-added strategy.
Applying solution selling in today’s increasingly well-educated and often justifiably cynical buying environment requires a profound change in mindset and selling (and marketing) behaviour that many companies never manage to properly master - but the ones that do usually reap substantial rewards.
Having observed some of the best exponents of the art, I’d like to suggest that there are six critical foundations of the new solution selling. They involve more than the sales person - in fact they reflect and require a co-ordinated approach between the sales and marketing organisations. Successful solution selling is a team effort.
1: Educate before you Sell
Today’s buyers are inclined to trust - and to buy from - organisations that appear to be experts in their field, and who are prepared and able to share their learning with the prospect. Buyers like learning something new, but push back against the “hard sell”. If you’re to earn the trust of your prospect, you need to educate them before you sell. Make them want to learn more.
2: Focus on the Problems you are Best at Solving
It’s all very well being a trusted advisor, but your goal is still to sell. So you need to identify the problems that you are best at solving, and concentrate on them. Focus on the problems that you can address better than any other option open to the prospect. Otherwise, you’re just educating the market on behalf of the competition.
3: Sell the Problem Before you Sell your Approach
There’s a tendency amongst inexperienced sales people (and sales organisations) to leap straight to propose their solution the moment a prospect agrees they have an issue you know you can solve. This is usually the worst thing you can do. Pause instead, and explore the implications of the problem. Make sure that the prospect accepts that the problem is actually worth solving.
4: Sell your Approach Before you Sell your Solution
Jumping straight to your product features plays right into the hands of the commoditisers. It’s becoming increasingly hard to justify price premiums on product features alone - it’s far too easy for your competitors to claim the same. You’ll do far better selling your approach, and explaining why your company has chosen to follow a distinctively different path from your competition.
5: Show Why you’re Different Before Claiming you are Better
Prospects remember different. They find it hard to distinguish (and often can’t relate to) claims by vendors that one product is better than another (and they’re usually right). That’s why the smartest vendors (and the smartest sales people) recognise that they need to show how (and why) they are different before they claim to be better.
6: Enable the Buyer to Convince Themselves
Last, but not least, the only person entitled to call anything a “solution” is the prospect whose problem has actually been solved. Any prior claim to providing a solution is, simply, premature. But if you’ve successfully sold the problem, sold your unique approach, and shown how you are different, you’ll find it a great deal easier to convince the buyer that their best option is to go with you.
Trying to wrestle with solution selling? There are more articles on the subject here.