There’s a multi-million $ industry built up around solution selling. Training companies deliver courses promising to help delegates achieve it. Authors write books promising to reveal the secrets behind it. Consultants (your writer included) charge sales organisations for advice on how to achieve it. Sales people claim to have mastered it in interviews.
I've blogged frequently on the subject - including my previous article. But maybe - just maybe - there’s a huge flaw in all of this. Because surely the only one who actually has the right to call anything a solution is the prospect who had the problem in the first place, and who has seen it resolved to their satisfaction. Not the vendor, not the sales person, just the customer.
Surely the most that we can credibly claim to do - in most situations - is to help them solve the problem. How could any rational person (and I include most of my readers, and occasionally the author of this blog, in that category) argue otherwise?
Partly Satirical Broadcast
The UK’s Private Eye magazine ran a fortnightly column for years debunking this all too common practice, famously satirising one hapless vendor of humble cardboard boxes as a supplier of “Christmas ornament storage solutions”.
So does that make all those sales people, all those marketers, all those vendors (and I include myself in this group) that have proudly promoted their “solutions” all these years no more than over-hyping charlatans?
Well, for the sake of our collective self-respect, hopefully not. But perhaps we all ought to be a lot more cautious about over-using the S-word, and concentrate instead on understanding what our prospects are trying to achieve, what’s holding them back, and what we can do to help.
Avoiding Premature Elaboration
If prospect already has a clear grasp of the issue they are trying to resolve, then we would do well to better understand the symptom, the causes, the consequences and the steps they have already taken to try and fix it before we claim to have a potential solution.
If the need is latent, then it's to our and the prospect's benefit to highlight the issue, draw their attention to the consequences, to persuade them of the need to change, and to establish our credentials as the organisation best placed to help.
But in either case, the worst thing we could do upon uncovering a problem we know we can help with is to pile straight in and propose our “solution” without having first built the foundation for change. I refer to this all too-common and somewhat unfortunate behaviour as premature elaboration.
Supporting Solution Buying
In most complex sales environments, we would be far better off promoting the problem and our expertise of helping other similar organisations to find and implement a lasting solution. Maybe instead of teaching solution selling, we should be coaching our sales people in the art of facilitating solution buying.
It’s an approach that Sharon Drew Morgen has been promoting for years. Perhaps we should be spending less time promoting our products and services as solutions, and more on helping our prospects focus on their issues, recognise the need for change, and understand what it would take to decide upon and successfully implement something that they would be prepared to call a solution.
In addition to understanding the issue and how it might best be solved, we would also need to get far better at understanding why our prospects often find it so difficult to agree on the need for change, and how to navigate the buying decision process through all the stakeholders in their organisations.
You see, it seems to me that if we could all find ways of helping our prospects to buy more easily - and to implement more effectively - everybody would benefit. And a far higher percentage of the so-called “solutions” that are sold would end up actually resolving the problem that the prospect bought them to address in the first place.