Whether you’re new to selling or have been doing it for decades, solution selling is a technique anyone can master with the right amount of practice. It can sometimes be counterintuitive to a new sales rep who thinks their job is to pitch and talk a prospect into buying. Instead, Solution Selling focusing on listening and understanding first before suggesting the right solution based on the prospect’s unique needs.
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What is Solution Selling?
Solution Selling is a sales approach that came along to replace old ‘Product Selling’ practices. It’s a sales process that focuses on selling the solution to the prospect’s problem instead of just focusing on selling the product. Solution Selling sells the ‘solution’ instead of the ‘product’.
Back in the mid-1970’s, Frank Watts, who at the time was an employee of Wang Laboratories, spent an awful lot of time developing a new, and rather an unusual approach to selling. This new sales technique, which would become known as solution selling, had a radically different sales process than the most popular sales methodology of the time which was called product selling.
Solution Selling Vs Product Selling
Product selling involves merely trying to persuade a customer that the product you sell is a better version than the similar products each of your competitors is selling. However, salespeople using the product selling method of sales spend much of their time with potential buyers going over feature lists and pricing options.
Successful solution selling requires an alternative way of making a sale. Salespeople utilizing Watts’ approach to sales don’t concentrate on showing potential customers everything a product is capable of doing. Instead, they pinpoint the real-world problem the customer is currently facing and explain how their product can solve the problem in the best way possible.
Who the Solution Selling Methodology is For
Solution Selling is ideal when selling a product with lots of variables and options as it helps prospects gain clarity on their needs and which solution is best for them. It can be applied to something as simple as selling a new TV to complex B2B sales.
So, it sounds simple enough: Solution selling is finding ways you can make your customers’ lives better with your product. However, to begin to profit from solution selling, you need to master these Four Steps to Solution Selling.
Four Steps of Solution Selling
Here is the secret process of getting the most from solution selling. Following these steps can help supercharge your sales team.
1. Excellent Product Knowledge
Without in-depth knowledge about the products or services your company offers, it is almost impossible for your sales team to know which is the ideal solution for prospective customers. The best solution selling reps are not only knowledgable about their company’s offerings, they also have a deep understanding of what the competition is offering allowing them to simplify the sales process for the customer.
2. Have a game plan ready.
Before any member of your sales team approaches a potential customer, make sure he does his homework first. The seller needs to have a clear understanding of the customers’ needs, what potential problems the customer may be experiencing, and several benefits prepared beforehand to prove your company’s products or services can solve these issues.
3. Ask the right questions.
When meeting with a prospect for the first time, it is critical to ask the right questions to uncover any problems they might be trying to solve. Solution selling pros have a list of pre-created questions to diagnose the needs of the prospect, which positions them as the ideal solution.
4. Suggest a solution.
Once a potential customer shares the problem they’re trying to solve, the sales professional can then propose a solution (one of your products or services) that best meets the needs of the prospect. Instead of focusing on the features of the product or service, talk about how your solution can benefit the customer’s which then solves their problem or pain.
Solution Selling Funnel
The typical solution selling funnel would look like this:
- Prospect: Find buyers who meet your ideal buyer persona
- Qualify: Determine if they have the budget, authority and need for your product or service.
- Diagnose: Uncover the buyer’s needs
- Decision makers: Find out who are the decision makers and include them in the process
- Demonstrate Value: Focus on the value to offering brings to the customer
- Present: Present a solution that meets the uncovered needs of the buyer in the form of benefits instead of features
- Negotiate: Negotiate a win-win deal
- Close: Ask for the sale and close the deal
- Repeat: Nurture the customer to encourage repeat business and referrals
Typical Solution Selling Questions
- What specific challenges are you facing?
- How will it affect the outcome if you don’t overcome those challenges?
- What have you tried to overcome those challenges?
Solution Selling Vs. Consultative Selling
There’s lots of overlap between solution selling and consultative selling. They’re often even used interchangeably. In the end, the main difference between solution selling and consultative selling is that solution selling at its core would focus more on selling the solution to your prospect’s problem instead of selling the product itself, while consultative selling incorporates selling the solution it tends to focus more on the questions and ‘consulting’ before suggesting a ‘solution’.
As we dissect the differences between Solution Selling and Consultative Selling it helps to define Consultative Selling.
What Is Consultative Selling?
Consultative Selling is an approach that profits from utilizing the angle of “trying to help” the customer, rather than only sell a product to them. The approach focuses on building trust with the customer right from the beginning of the sales cycle.
Why? So as a Sales Professional, you’re completely concentrated on the customers’ problems, needs, and wants so that you can best identify, advertise and sell them a solution that will actually work for them.
Consultative Selling Method
- Understand the customers’ problems, fears, desires, and their situation as a whole.
- Work with them, to understand their specific needs and the outcomes they want to achieve.
- Offer them a solution to their problem by introducing a product or service.
- Check-in with them regularly to see the changes it made and evaluate the results.
Solution Selling and Consultative Selling are just two of the many sales methodologies available to us as Sales Professionals. Both seek to resolve the customer’s problems, but how they navigate these issues is different. Below is a simple visual summary of their fundamental differences:
Consultative Selling: What Are The Advantages?
Sales Professionals who endeavor to adopt the Consultative Selling approach will soon find that they reap the benefits of what they sow; Adjusting to shorter sales cycles, which of course encourages momentum, ultimately influencing the customer to buy faster. Improved revenue directly from working closely with customers, potential prospects, and existing members.
All while gaining the market edge you need to compete in an ever-evolving industry, couple this with the opportunity to access larger accounts from uncovering unrecognized needs, and frankly, you’ve got a recipe for success. However, you need to be mindful that this approach will only be successful if the principles are correctly applied.
Is one approach better than the other?
While both approaches are similar, they also have their own qualities, benefits, and ideal situations where they can be applied for the best results, but neither is better than the other. Many have argued that Solution Selling isn’t as impactful as it used to be, and they’re probably right!
Essentially, there’s lots of overlap between solution selling and consultative selling. They’re often even used interchangeably. In the end, the main difference between solution selling and consultative selling is that solution selling at its core would focus more on the solution, and consultative selling would focus more on the questions and ‘consulting’ before suggesting a ‘solution.
Ultimately, it would be best to find the methodology that works for your specific situation, your intended customers, and how you wish to achieve your targets. Once you’ve found your preferred method, continue developing, refining, and honing your skills to keep up with an ever-changing industry!
A New Spin on Solution Selling
A New Spin on Solution Sales: In a Harvard Business Review article, ‘The End of Solution Sales’, the authors cited that “customers completed, on average nearly 60% of a typical buying decision… before even having a conversation with a supplier.” If that’s a fact, what role does the sales professional have in the remaining 40%?
When we’re training sales professionals, we encourage them to implement the following 3 strategies for putting a new spin on solution sales:
1. Becoming Familiar With Your Own Products
There’s good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad news: Buyers have more choices available to them now than ever before and that complicates the buying process. Now, the good news: Becoming a product expert will simplify and shorten the buying process with customers.
You are the product – In the eyes of your customer, you represent the business and they expect you to be knowledgable. What do you bring to the table? What’s your story? What’s your company’s brand story?
Product knowledge – The importance of having solid product knowledge cannot be overstated. Customers are looking to you as being the product expert. So be sure to do your homework so that you can answer any questions they have.
Become a product expert – Read your own brochures, pamphlets, catalogs and advertisements. Go on a plant tour to see firsthand how your products are produced. Talk to other people in your organisation: salespeople, customer service people, delivery people. Talk to your customers. Have you tried your own products and services?
2.Creating a Needs Assessment
Many of us make the mistake of trying to sell our products or services before fully understanding our prospects’ most pressing challenges. This is analogous to your doctor handing you a prescription before taking the time to fully understand your symptoms. Can you imagine that happening?
Diagnose before Prescribing – You can carefully diagnose your prospects’ symptoms by creating a needs assessment. The needs assessment is a benchmarking tool that compares your prospects’ process, or how they’re doing things now, to what you, as the expert, consider to be the industry standard or best practice.
Challenges and Solutions – Here’s a great question to start with: What specific challenges are you facing? Another question I find useful is, “What have you tried to help overcome those challenges?” Next you want to ask your prospects what they have tried that worked. I also find it useful to ask what didn’t work.
Identifying Goals – Another important question to ask is, “What are your goals?” The next few questions help you become more engaged with the prospect and help them to see you as a partner. “What are you looking to achieve in our work together?”, “What would success look like to you as a result of this solution?”, and finally, “Looking back a year from now, what will need to have happened for you to know this has been successful?”
3. Establishing Strong Relationships
A salesperson can compete on the basis of product, price and service but still lose the sale because of the relationship between the customer and a competitor’s salesperson. Your likeability and your ability to form strong relationships quickly will be more effective than having all the credentials in the world or even having the lowest price.
Partnering Relationships – With the increased competition and greater product and service complexity of today’s marketplace, there is a need to adopt a relationship strategy that emphasises the lifetime customer. Instead of viewing prospects as transactional customers that you sell to once, you view them as partners in a long-term selling relationship.
Keys to Partnering – There are three keys to a partnering relationship: the relationship is built on shared values; everyone clearly understands the purpose of the partnership and is committed to the vision; and the role of the salesperson moves from selling to supporting.
Four Key Groups – Your relationship strategy needs to focus on four key groups: customers, secondary decision makers, your company support staff and your management personnel. You need the support of these people to help you reach your goals. What are you doing to establish, build and maintain relationships with people in those key groups?
The bottom line: Customers don’t need sales professionals the same way they used to, but they still need sales professionals to help anticipate, contextualise and implement the solutions available to them.
(Note: With so many different sales training methodologies, how do you know which are contrarian buzzwords and which actually generate results for sales reps? One of our recent client’s closing percentage increased from 20% to 50% within months of our training based on the methodology from my sales book ‘The SOHO Solution’. Curious to learn more? Please share your comments below or send me a message.)
SOCO’s Thoughts on Solution Selling
Solution selling still works to this day; reps still need to know everything about their product, they still need to understand what their customer is looking for, so they don’t blindly pitch the wrong product. They still need to present their solution in a tailored way to the needs of the prospect. Solution selling is not dead. It has instead evolved.
Here at SOCO, our methodology incorporates much of the Solution Selling philosophy, but we take it a step further, instilling the skills reps need to close deals. The typical solution selling process can be too passive at times; instead, sales professionals need to know when the situation calls for guidance on the rep’s part and what it takes to close the deal.