B2B Sales: The Problem with Solution Selling
I’ve lost count of the number of organisations who, facing increased competition in their core markets, have ambitions to transform themselves from a product-driven to a solution-led sales approach. They invest in putting their salespeople through “solution selling” training. And then, all too often, they end up disappointed with the results. Here’s why…
“Solution selling” - whether you choose to employ SPIN Selling, TAS (Target Account Selling), Miller-Heimann or any of the other recognised methodologies - cannot be mastered simply by sending people on a training course. Adopting solution selling involves a cultural change that has to pervade every aspect of your sales and marketing activities - or the initiative will surely fail.
80-90% Memory Loss
The training companies admit as much. Their own studies have shown that without reinforcement, 80-90% of everything that has been taught will have been forgotten or abandoned within 2-4 weeks. Moving to e-learning based systems can help to maintain the message, but even that is an incomplete answer.
There can be no “solution” in the absence of a problem. So, to become organisationally successful at solution selling, you have to become experts in identifying and solving problems that your prospects and customers care deeply about, and which you can help them address more effectively than any other option open to them.
Start With the Problem
So there a few foundational steps that I recommend you take before investing in that sales training. First, you need to clearly identify the characteristic profiles of your ideal customers. Then you need to become organisationally expert at identifying the issues, trends and trigger events that are most significant to them.
You need to find ways to align these problems with your core capabilities, and to reflect this alignment across your marketing messages and sales tools. And when it comes around to implementing sales training, you need to take the methodology and use it to create tailored conversation guides that help your sales people explore the issues and consequences associated with the problems you have chosen to become expert at solving.
Train Your Managers First
But before you embark on training you sales people, train your managers first - and be sure that they have enthusiastically bought-in to the methodology. If they don’t believe in it, nothing will happen. But even if they do believe in the methodology, you’ll need to work with them to create a framework that helps them manage day-in-day-out in a way that reinforces and supports the key principles of your chosen methodology.
Put Support Systems in Place
You should also ensure that your CRM system reflects and reinforces the methodology you have chosen to adopt. Does it reflect the sales stages and terminology that the methodology uses? Have you embedded the key qualification criteria and milestones into the system? And when managers review progress with their sales people, does your CRM system give them the information they need to see what’s really going on in your sales pipelines, and to ask the intelligent questions that will enable them to properly coach the sales person?
Many of the sales methodologies now have plug-in applications for Saleforce.com and other common CRM systems. If you’re serious about ensuring your chosen methodology gets used, you’d do well to evaluate whether they might provide some of the support you need. In fact, when choosing between sales training methodologies, you might factor in whether or not they have a plug-in for your CRM system to your decision.
Align Marketing With Sales
Make sure that marketing are familiar with your chosen methodology and sales process. Everything that marketing does should be reinforcing your chosen approach - from attracting more of the right sort of prospects, to ensuring that every sales tool and every piece of collateral has a clearly defined role to play in facilitating the prospect’s buying decision process.
The Methodology is Less Important Than the Approach
All of the sales methodologies I’ve mentioned (and there are many more) are effective tools when applied in the right way. Many reflect striking similar approaches. So the key success factor in implementing "solution selling" is not which methodology you choose, but how you choose to implement it.
What’s Your Experience of Solution Selling?
How do these suggestions resonate with your own experience of “solution selling”? Have I missed out any other important factors? If so, please join in the discussion.