It seems like everyone has been beating up on solution selling recently, so I’d like to join the fun and kick it while it’s down.
That may not sound fair, but I have good reason to dislike the phrase. The idea is a good one—but most salespeople hear the cliché and forget the true meaning behind it.
Those who view it most superficially fall into the trap of thinking don’t realize that calling your product a “solution” does not automatically make you a solution provider. I once saw a sign above the door of a deli in New York which touted its “lunch solutions.” Believe me, it did not make the lunch taste any better. Salespeople aren’t the only ones guilty of this; it also seems to have infected everyone who writes marketing collateral.
Those who sort of get it are a little better. They know they have to ask questions to understand the customer’s problems, capsule probe further to get the customer to understand the implications, and then help the customer arrive at their true needs. The only problem is, they tend to view questions as a means to make a hole to shove their solution in. Once they have reached a sufficient size hole that is close to the right shape, here it comes, ready or not.
Those who truly get the idea of solution selling also probe to understand needs, but they don’t stop at the surface. When the customer describes a problem that appears to be a fit for their solution, they make the effort to go deeper, because they know that in the long run, a band-aid solution that merely covers up symptoms is going to lead to problems down the road, for both the seller and the buyer. Rather than focusing immediately on implications, they drill down into diagnostic questions, to make sure they understand the root causes of the problem.
Sometimes they don’t get the answer they want, and lose the immediate sale by telling the customer that their own solution is not the right one for them. Sometimes, their diligence is rewarded by uncovering a larger and more significant opportunity.
Either way, they gain respect and trust that pays off in the long run. More importantly they maintain their own self-respect as professionals who have the customer’s best interests in mind.
Sales professionals know that the true spirit of solution selling requires them to slow down, worry much less about getting to the solution, and focus more on the problem. They know that if the diagnosis is correct, the prescription follows naturally.
Ironically, slowing down often results in faster sales, because when the buyer sees that they are sincerely focused on understanding the right problem to be solved, their trust and comfort level go way up.