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Does this presentation sound familiar? We have the solution to meet your needs. We will tailor our products and services so that they fit your reality precisely. Our price is reasonable and we'll provide excellent customer service. It's the move from selling products to selling solutions and it's what the vast majority of all companies say to their prospects. Perhaps you've said it to yours. If you're still selling that way, you're missing the boat . . . the one that recently crossed over the horizon leading to the 21st century.The way most companies are selling solutions just doesn't work in today's business world. Things have gotten so complex that most customers can't even comprehend what their problems are, let alone distinguish between you and your competitors. And too many salespeople are out there making smoke-and-mirrors claims, simply re-labeling a collection of their products as 'solutions,' when in reality the customer is not able to connect those solutions to their business. And if they do buy the 'solution,' 80 percent are dissatisfied with the value results.
Solutions offered by most companies fail to deliver real value for a variety of reasons. Maybe the product or service itself doesn't deliver on the promise made. Or the customer is unable to properly implement it. Or the customer is able to implement the product or service, but his or her expectations still aren't met. Not that the reason matters in the end. Unless you can define, address, and connect with value on your customer's terms, you lose.
The answer is to quit selling your solution as you would sell any other product and start selling like a "business advisor," a job that requires the diagnostic skills of a doctor. You must help customers unearth and comprehend their most compelling problems. You must help them recognize the pain they're experiencing in the absence of your solution, anticipate and respond to problems they will face in the future, and help them manage the pain of change they will no doubt go through as they implement your solution. You must help your customers provide greater value to their customers. In short, you become an indispensable source of business advantage.
I call such complex, robust, revenue-building solutions-which fully deliver on the value you promise and often go far above and beyond customer expectations-"prime solutions." Creating them requires the complete consideration of the following:
Clearly, this is not your grandfather's method of selling!
So how can you move away from solution-based selling and toward becoming a prime solution provider? Here are a few thoughts to get you started:
In Era Three, which began around 1995 and is still in effect today, the salesperson is seen as a source of business advantage. He or she essentially says, "Let me help you diagnose your problem and design, evaluate, and implement a solution that provides a high level of value to your customers and sets you apart from the competition." Operating in Era Three is a daunting prospect. It requires taking on the mindset of a physician and advising the customer, and it really is a deeper, more complex process than most salespeople are accustomed to. But if you want to gain and keep a solid foothold in a time when your customers have an endless supply of choices, you must do it.
Start paying close attention to the abilities, personalities, and attitudes of your sales team. When you hire new people, look for Era Three characteristics. Selling is no longer about psychological games and forceful personalities. After all, the goal of the Prime Solution salesperson is not to get a signed order. His or her goal is a high-quality decision based on an honest, thorough, and rational evaluation of the correlation between the customer's problem and the seller's solution. That decision may well indicate your solution is not the best fit. You need salespeople who recognize that is a quality outcome.
Discover. Here, you set the stage for a compelling engagement and a continuing relationship based on trust and respect. You push beyond the traditional boundaries of prospecting to create a solid foundation on which to build a long-term, profitable relationship.
Diagnose. You maximize the customer's objective awareness of her dissatisfaction, whether or not that dissatisfaction supports your company's offerings. You assist the customer in understanding her situation and, as a result, reinforce your credibility by refusing to alter the customer's reality to fit your needs.
Design. This is where you help the customer create and understand the solution. It is a collaborative and highly interactive effort to help the customer sort through her expectations and alternatives to arrive at the optimal solution.
Deliver. You begin with the preparation and presentation of a formal proposal, and the customer formally accepts your solution. Next comes the implementation and support of the solution and the measurement and evaluation of results. Finally, the Deliver phase includes the maintenance and growth of the sales team's relationship with the customer.
Since the salesperson puts himself in his customer's shoes, so must everyone else in the company. If not, the salesperson's efforts are wasted. You need to take a good, hard, honest look at the inner workings of your company, and, more to the point, your culture. Successful solution development depends on open communication and broad-based inquiries. If you see any evidence that such information flow is being impeded, do what is necessary to open up these channels.
Okay, you may be thinking. I understand that a solution-focused approach may not work for all companies. But it seems to be working fine for mine. If it ain't broken, why should I fix it . . . especially when fixing it sounds so difficult? To companies with that attitude, a word of warning.
No one can afford to be complacent. No one. The technological and global changes that have taken us from Era Two into Era Three will continue to unfold, probably in new and unforeseen directions. Your products and services can-and will-be copied.
Only by ingraining yourself deeply and inextricably into every aspect of your customers' day-to-day realties can you escape being replaced on a whim or due to a sudden shift in the market. It's tough, yes, but it's a tough marketplace. Shifting to this new paradigm will not only help you live to see tomorrow, but it will foster in you the agility and plain old street smarts to take your business in completely new, highly profitable directions. Realize that and you'll see that it's well worth the effort.
Jeff Thull is a leading-edge sales and marketing strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. As President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, he has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies like Shell Global Solutions, 3M, Microsoft, Intel, Citicorp, IBM and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies. Jeff is a compelling and thought-provoking keynote speaker for corporations and professional associations worldwide. He is also the author of the #1 best selling books Mastering the Complex Sale, and newly released, The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. For more information contact: Prime Resource Group, http://www.primeresource.com, 1.800.876.0378.
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