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Product Versus Solution Selling

by David Brock on November 29th, 2017

It must be that time of year, but recently I’ve gotten a number of queries from thoughtful executives:  “Dave, we need to transform the way we sell from product to solution selling……”

That statement is always a little confusing to me,  naturally I ask, “What does that mean and why do you want to change?”

Here the conversation usually gets a little fuzzy.  Usually the response is “Customers want solutions not products….”

My response is, “I get that, but what do you mean when you want to move from product selling to solutions?”  Alternatively, I might ask, “What solutions do you have to sell?”

By this point, the executive is usually a little frustrated with me, she may be on the verge of hanging up–fortunately we work through things.

Don’t feel bad if you are confused with this issue, the concept has achieved a life that has been somewhat separated from the true intent of what we are trying to achieve.  The concept of solution selling has been around since the mid 70’s (that’s the earliest reference I can find), and popularized in a number of books with Solution Selling in the title.

Today, I think a lot of the original distinction has been lost.  Many organizations claim to have switched from selling products to selling solutions.  Their sales people meet with the customer, their focus is on “pitching the solution.”

The problem has become the way we view this concept, it continues to focus on “what we sell,” rather than “how we sell,” or “how we help the customer achieve their goals.”

If our focus is on what we sell, regardless of what we call them–products or solutions, the way we engage our customers is very different.  We tend to focus on the thing that we are selling–it’s features, attributes, performance, comparisons to alternatives, and so forth.

Inevitably, the customer is left to figure out, “What does this mean to me?  How does it help me improve, how does it solve my problems?

Unfortunately, too often, we put new labels–perhaps after some well intended training–on what we are doing, without changing what we are doing.  We adopt a new approach, perhaps calling it solutions, consultative, customer focused, insight, or whatever label is fashionable, but we fundamentally haven’t changed.

But as long as our focus is on what we do. what we offer, and our own goals; not what the customer is trying to achieve, we will never engage the customer in the most impactful manner.  Inevitably, whatever discovery process we may go through, what ever need identification is focused on determining what we pitch, but the conversations are focused on what we sell and do, not what the customer is trying to achieve.

Wrapping “solution oriented” words like “we help our customers reduce costs, we help improve quality, we help improve productivity, we help grow revenue,” are simply attributes or your product or solution, much like the features and functions.  But they aren’t focused on the customer, what, why, and how they can achieve their goals.

High impact selling, regardless of the label, always has the customer at the center of the focus.  It is their goals, dreams, challenges, problems and opportunities that drive the focus of the conversation.  It is within the context of these things that we position our products, solutions, services; identifying specifically how we help them achieve those goals.

As you think about transitioning your approach to selling, think about your focus.  If you, your products/solutions, and company are the center of your focus, you will never engage the customer in the most relevant and impactful manner.

If your focus is always centered on the customer, you will transform the conversations you have, and your ability to be successful.

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4 Comments
  1. Kurt Haug permalink

    Devil’s Advocate or Voice of Reason– whatever you want to call it, you always do a great job of reminding us to not stray too far from our legitimate roots that are so easy to lose sight of once a new buzzword hits the wire.

    Simply put, the original intent was to focus on the CUSTOMER’s needed Solution, whereas we often now think of it as OUR Solution (basically another word for “product”).

    Too much of “solution selling” has gone from asking the customer “what is your problem?” to “let me TELL you about my ‘solution'” along with all the squishy $5 words you describe that may sound thoughtful, but end up being platitudes and generalities that obscure the fact we are still positioning our own product from the get-go.

    Care to take down some other chestnuts that have also been twisted beyond their original intent or utility? Consultative Selling… Win-Win… Challenger… Sales Process… Buyer’s Journey? Oh, you did a great job with that one recently.

  2. Brilliant post!
    I really have to find a way to get my clients to talk to you.
    Solution selling, consultative selling, challenger selling is all about uncovering needs so you can position your solution. It really has nothing to do with helping the customer.

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