The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the
Way People Sell
Chapter 1, Looking for Solutions
Learn about the solution selling technique and find out how an organization can begin to make the shift from product selling to solution selling in this chapter excerpt. The chapter includes a complete sales process overview of solution selling and discusses how some organizations are using the solution selling sales process.
The solution selling technique
Looking for Solutions
When I ask salespeople and sales executives whether their company provides solutions, they answer yes—virtually every time. Yet, when I ask these same salespeople what solution they provided for their last customer, their answers tell a different story. I hear all about their products and services, complete with dazzling brand names and mind-boggling acronyms.
My point is that everybody claims they're in the solutions business, but for the most part it's just empty words. The word solution is used so much that no one knows what it means anymore. So, when salespeople say they sell and deliver solutions, buyers ignore these words, because to them it's just more sales and marketing hype. Businesses are recognizing this problem and are starting to change their approach.
Most companies and salespeople who claim to provide solutions are engaged only in product selling, which leads me to ask this question: What is the definition of the word solution? The typical response is, An answer to a problem. After some discussion, we expand on this and agree that the problem has to be acknowledged by the customer, and both the buyer and seller must agree on the answer to the problem. So, a solution is a mutually agreed-upon answer to a customer's recognized problem. In our experience, even companies that do provide solutions don't always measure the effectiveness of their solutions. Therefore, we add that a solution must also provide some measurable improvement, improvement the customer can visualize and understand and want. By measurable improvement, I mean there's a before (a baseline) and an after (the baseline plus a delta). Now we have a more complete definition of a solution: It's a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.
Recently, an executive of a $13 billion company came to me and said, We want to be in the solutions business and deliver what we've been promising for years. One of our marketing messages is, 'We sell and deliver solutions,' but we really don't do that. Just because all our promotional literature, advertising, and messaging has been saying this for years doesn't make it true.
He went on to say they wanted to find a way to transform—notice the key word transform—their company from product selling to solution selling. When I asked why, the answer came back emphatically, Because our customers are demanding it.
I helped him realize that the transformation he was after takes time and has to occur simultaneously from the top down and the bottom up. It takes a total commitment from everyone in the company to develop, sell, market, and deliver solutions. The entire organization has to adopt a new philosophy, a new discipline—a new culture. It means that everyone involved with the customer needs to be on board and do some things differently than he or she did in the past. I helped him realize that their new hires and their existing salespeople need to improve their customer-interfacing skills. Specifically, their salespeople need to be able to define and diagnose customer problems and create visions biased to his company's unique offerings and capabilities. I told him that being in the solutions business means that they have to commit to actually solving problems and be willing to stay engaged until their customers realize measurable, positive change.
The executive convinced me that they could reach their transformation goal and make the difficult shift from product selling to solution selling. This is currently a work in progress, and the early results indicate very good progress on a journey that will take longer than they expected.
WHAT IS SOLUTION SELLING?
It's a sales process. (I'll develop this more fully throughout this book.) It's the most widely used sales process focused on executable selling in the world today. By executable, I mean selling activities that involve direct contact with the customer. For many individuals and their companies, Solution Selling is their total end-to-end sales process. For others with more complex sales situations, it's the executable portion of their selling process. Solution Selling not only helps with what to do, but it specifically focuses on how to do it.
Solution Selling's sales process consists of the following components: a philosophy, a map, a methodology, a sales management system, and a sales architecture. Solution Selling does not become another thing to do (on the list of mounting chores). It becomes the thing to do for salespeople, marketers, and managers.
It's a Philosophy
The customer is the focal point. Helping customers solve their business problems and achieve positive, measurable results is the basis of all actions. The steps within the Solution Selling sales process are aligned with how buyers buy.
It's a Map
Solution Selling provides a map of how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Solution Selling provides an end-to-end series of next steps to follow. End-to-end means from the beginning of a sale right through to winning it. This includes precall planning, creating interest, diagnosing the problem, vision processing, controlling the sale, closing, and postsale tracking. It includes the ability to identify, analyze, report on, manage, and coach individual opportunities using the process. It also provides the ability to predict sales performance success or failure.
It's a Methodology
Solution Selling is a system of methods that includes tools, job aids, techniques, and procedures that help salespeople and sales teams navigate the selling steps that close more sales faster. It results in higher levels of customer satisfaction and increased sales productivity.
It's a Sales Management System
Solution Selling provides sales and executive management with a process to analyze pipelines, qualify opportunities, and coach skills, thus increasing productivity and predictability. It results in a high performance sales culture.
It's a Sales Architecture
Solution Selling provides a complete sales architecture and framework, helping companies interface better with their customers and with the members of their own organization. This architecture is flexible, scalable, and modular. If you want to change a particular module or add a new capability, you don't have to abandon your original investments in other sales methodologies. Solution Selling is designed for change and adaptability.
We're often asked what type and size of companies use Solution Selling. Today, Solution Selling is operating in companies in almost every industry. It is used in small start-up companies and in some of the world's largest and best-run sales organizations. For example, IBM, Microsoft, EDS, Pitney Bowes, and SAS have used or are currently using Solution Selling to transform their companies and create high performance sales cultures.
Continue to the next section: Using the sales process
Download Chapter 1, Looking for Solutions
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This was first published in July 2008