Solution Selling 101: Selling Solutions, Not Products - A Critical Distinction for B2B Selling

JTN Article

Solution Selling 101: Selling Solutions, Not Products - A Critical Distinction for B2B Selling

Solution selling is an approach that has been around for decades, but has been gaining such popularity in recent years that it has become the norm in many industries. In shifting from selling products to selling solutions, organizations of all kinds not only appeal to the evolving expectations of their clientele, but also increase sales while building lasting relationships.

Introduction: Shifting from Product to Solution Selling

Product selling vs. solution selling - what’s the difference? These are essentially two different approaches to the sales process. With a product selling sales approach, the primary focus is on the features, attributes, and benefits of a specific product. The salesperson's goal is to highlight the unique selling points and advantages of the product to convince the customer to make a purchase. The emphasis is on the product itself rather than the broader needs or problems of the customer. Solution selling, on the other hand, focuses more on the customer’s specific needs, challenges, or problems. Solution selling is more consultative and more customized to the individual client. Rather than just promoting a product, solution selling aims to understand the customer's pain points and provide a customized solution that addresses their unique requirements. Solution selling is also more concerned with building a relationship with the customer, not merely initiating a transaction.

Another way to think about it is: product selling is about convincing the customer to choose your product, while solution selling is about understanding your customer’s needs and working with them to identify products and processes that will set them up for success. It places the emphasis on the customer, not on your organization or your product.

In the realm of B2B sales, there has been an increasing shift toward solution selling. There are several different reasons for this. For one thing, traditional sales approaches can incentivize tactics and behaviors not in the customer’s best interest - even fraud. While this is not always the intention, conventional approaches to selling prioritize boosting sales numbers and getting customers to buy a product - whether they need it or not. Naturally, while this might lead to profits in the short term, it breeds distrust and customer dissatisfaction in the long run. Solution-based selling is not only ethical, it is far more sustainable.

Case Studies

Consider these companies that successfully transitioned from product to solution selling.

Cisco, a global networking and communications technology company, successfully transitioned from selling individual networking products to offering comprehensive networking solutions. They shifted their focus to providing integrated systems that include hardware, software, and services, enabling customers to build scalable and secure network infrastructures. Xerox, a well-known provider of photocopying machines, recognized the need to move beyond selling individual devices and adopted a solution-selling approach. They expanded their offerings to include managed print services, document management solutions, and workflow optimization. Xerox now focuses on delivering comprehensive solutions to help businesses manage their document-related processes more efficiently.

Business Impact

As the examples above illustrate, the potential impact of solution selling on your organization’s bottom line is well worth considering. By offering holistic, comprehensive solutions to their customers’ problems rather than standalone devices and products, brands can become more fully integrated into their customers’ workflow and thereby boost revenue while providing value.  Solution selling is good for business.

The Role of Customer Needs in Solution Selling

You can’t sell a solution until you understand the problem. The foundation of solution selling is understanding and addressing customer pain points. Your customer may have unique, uncommon, or highly specific needs. Maybe they have a niche business, or are undergoing a period of transition within their company. Take the time to understand their needs and their goals so you can craft an effective solution.

There are some techniques you can use for identifying and analyzing customer needs. You can start by identifying the most common pain points your B2B customers are facing:

Data - While solution selling emphasizes the unique needs of each customer, it is still useful to have an understanding of the trends in your target market. Leveraging data analytics tools and techniques can help you analyze customer behavior, purchasing patterns, and preferences. By examining data such as website analytics, transaction history, and customer segmentation, you can identify trends and patterns that reveal customer needs and preferences.

Competitive analysis - Studying competitors and their offerings can provide insights into what customers value and expect. By analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competitors' products or services, you can identify gaps in the market and understand areas where you can differentiate and fulfill unmet needs.

Customer journey mapping - Customer journey mapping involves visualizing and understanding the entire customer experience, from initial contact to post-purchase interactions. By mapping out the customer journey, you can identify touchpoints, pain points, and moments where customer needs may arise or go unaddressed. This technique helps uncover opportunities for improvement and aligning solutions with customer needs.

Ask questions - Of course, the most important method for identifying your customers’ needs is asking the right questions. Your sales team may find it helpful to have a prepared list of questions that will help them diagnose customers’ problems and narrow down potential solutions, but don’t get too attached to this list. Leave room for authentic communication. Solution selling is about building real connections. Asking the right questions may even help you uncover problems the customer didn’t realize they had, allowing you to offer more effective solutions.

Gathering Customer Feedback

Refining your solution selling approach will require that you leverage feedback from your customer to better understand their needs and preferences. By actively seeking and incorporating customer feedback into the selling process, your sales team can improve their approach and enhance customer satisfaction. By gathering feedback through surveys, interviews, or direct conversations, sales professionals can gain valuable insights into what problems customers are trying to solve. This information helps refine the solution selling approach by aligning the sales process with the customer's specific needs.

Customer feedback allows businesses to tailor their solutions to meet the unique requirements of each customer. By analyzing feedback, sales teams can understand the specific features, functionalities, or improvements that customers desire.

Gathering feedback on the existing solution can also help organizations identify areas for enhancement or new features that would better align with customer needs. This feedback-driven refinement ensures that the solution is continuously improved, increasing its value and competitiveness in the market.Customer feedback allows for an iterative refinement process in solution selling. By regularly seeking feedback and making adjustments based on customer input, sales teams can continuously improve their approach. This iterative refinement ensures that the solution selling process remains dynamic, adaptable, and aligned with changing customer needs and market dynamics.

Developing Solutions for B2B Sales: A Collaborative Approach

Solution selling requires collaboration between your team and your clients, as well as internal collaboration within your organization. It is well-established that collaborative organizational cultures yield the most innovative and profitable solutions. Developing solutions that work for your B2B client requires input from more than just the sales team. This is a process that requires cross-functional communication and collaboration.

Encourage collaboration and communication between sales, marketing, product development, customer support, and other relevant departments. Breaking down silos and promoting cross-functional teamwork enables a holistic approach to meeting customer needs.

Communicating Value: The Art of Selling Solutions

Solution selling means communicating the value of solutions, not just the product. Solution selling is inherently driven by outcomes. Selling solutions is about the big picture, and requires long-term thinking. So, for example, instead of describing the features and capabilities of your software, focus on how those features will result in better outcomes for your client.

When communicating about the value of your solutions, focus on the ways in which your organization’s products and services can demonstrably improve your clients’ business. This might mean:

  • Increased profits
  • Loss prevention
  • Saving money due to increased efficiency
  • Improved reputation in their field
  • Saving their staff time and energy
  • Improved employee morale

Whatever your clients’ pain points or goals, illustrate how your proposed solutions will alleviate their concerns and help their organization thrive.

Navigating Objections and Concerns in Solution Selling

Just because solution selling is, in many ways, preferable to product selling doesn't mean it is foolproof. You will still encounter hesitation and objections from uncertain customers.  Common objections and concerns in solution selling include:

  • Price and budget concerns
  • Integration with their current software or workflow
  • Lack of urgency
  • Resistance to change
  • Skepticism about results

The answer to overcoming many customer objections in solution selling is customer education. Equip your sales team with the knowledge and the skills to effectively and empathetically educate your customers on how your products and services can meet their needs. This might include case studies, client testimonials, data on industry trends, comparative analysis, and other proof points. You might also choose to implement other methods of allaying your prospects’ concerns such as a pilot program, flexible billing or pricing options, or a roadmap of what they can expect each step of the way when working with your organization.

Ongoing communication and relationship building can help to mitigate concerns your customers may have.

Implementing Solution Selling: From Sales Force Training to Organizational Culture

If your organization has relied on a traditional or product-based sales approach, making the shift to solution selling will require some re-training of your sales force. But, as noted above, solution selling is not the sole purview of your sales team; it must become integrated into your organizational culture, from leadership and management, to marketing, sales, and customer service.

To cultivate a solution-selling mindset in your organizational culture, you’ll need to get everyone in your organization on the same page. Make sure all employees understand the unique value your organization brings to customers and how your solutions address their specific needs. Foster a customer-centric culture throughout the organization. Encourage employees at all levels to empathize with customers, understand their challenges, and prioritize their needs. Make customer satisfaction and success central to the organization's goals and objectives. Establish a standardized sales process and methodology that aligns with solution selling principles. Provide sales teams with the necessary tools, resources, and frameworks to identify customer needs, position solutions effectively, and guide customers through the buying journey.

Foster a culture of continuous improvement and learning. Encourage employees to share insights, lessons learned, and best practices related to solution selling. Regularly gather feedback from customers and internal stakeholders to identify areas for improvement and refine the solution-selling approach. Provide comprehensive training and development programs to equip employees with solution-selling skills. You might choose to offer workshops, seminars, and coaching to enhance their understanding of solution selling techniques, effective communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills. You can invest in ongoing training to keep employees updated on industry trends and customer needs. An agency with extensive experience in marketing and sales can guide your sales team through this transition and provide training on best practices.

Measuring Success in Solution Selling

So, how do you know if your new strategy is working? In order to measure the success of your solution selling strategy, start by identifying some key performance indicators (KPI). Identify the KPIs that align with your objectives and measure the effectiveness of solution selling. These metrics can include sales revenue, conversion rate, average deal size, customer retention rate, customer satisfaction score, or other industry-specific metrics. Ensure that the selected metrics are meaningful, quantifiable, and directly tied to the success criteria.

Key Performance Indicators for Solution Selling

Sales Revenue: This KPI measures the total revenue generated through solution sales. It provides an overall assessment of the financial success of the solution selling approach.

Conversion Rate: The conversion rate tracks the percentage of leads or prospects that successfully convert into paying customers. It indicates the effectiveness of the solution selling process in turning potential customers into actual buyers.

Customer Retention Rate: The customer retention rate measures the percentage of customers who continue to do business with the company over a specific period. It reflects the success of the solution selling approach in maintaining long-term relationships with customers.

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): CSAT measures the level of customer satisfaction with the solutions provided. It is typically collected through surveys or feedback forms and helps gauge the quality and effectiveness of the solutions in meeting customer needs.

How to Measure and Evaluate the Success of Solution Selling

Once you have defined your key metrics, you can start collecting data. This can involve collecting sales data, customer feedback, sales team performance data, customer retention data, or any other relevant information. Honing your solution selling strategy will be an ongoing process informed by the insights you glean from experience and data.

Using this data and your clients’ feedback, you can assess how the success of solution selling aligns with broader business outcomes. Evaluate its impact on revenue growth, customer acquisition, market share, customer satisfaction, and other relevant business metrics. The ultimate measure of success is the positive impact on the overall success of the organization.

The Future of Solution Selling in B2B

With solution selling, your prospective clients feel that they’re getting a product or service that is tailored to their needs and that will help them address their big-picture concerns and objectives. It is not only a better experience for the client, it is also, potentially, more profitable for the vendor or service provider.

As the B2B landscape continues to evolve and customers are increasingly weary of product-based sales pitches, solution selling will allow your organization to build lasting customer relationships and adapt to a changing marketplace. Because solution selling is based on meeting customer needs rather than selling a particular product, this strategy will allow your organization to keep up with changing times. Products eventually become obsolete, but the ability to assess, diagnose, and address customer needs does not.

The B2B business landscape is dynamic. Current trends suggest that the future of solution selling will involve an increased focus on personalization; one size fits all solutions are all but extinct, and customers want customized solutions designed specifically for them. Meeting this demand will require human-to-human connection, and a lot of data. Sales professionals will increasingly act as consultants and collaborators rather than vendors.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence will also play a role in solution selling, assisting sales professionals in gathering and analyzing customer data, identifying patterns, and providing real-time insights. Advanced sales enablement tools and customer relationship management (CRM) systems will support the solution selling process by streamlining workflows and enhancing collaboration.

And, customer success will become a focal point in solution selling. Beyond the initial sale, there will be a stronger emphasis on post-sales support, ongoing customer engagement, and value realization. Proactive customer success teams will ensure that customers achieve their desired outcomes and continue to derive value from the solutions provided.

If you’re ready to shift your sales model to a solution-based strategy or enhance your current B2B sales workflow, JTN can help you make it happen.

Solution Selling 101: Selling Solutions, Not Products - A Critical Distinction for B2B Selling
Kaitlyn Myers

Kaitlyn is a member of the training team at JTN Group in New York. She's a master facilitator with experience leading workshops & training programs for SMBs through to Enterprise organizations. Learn about JTN Group here.


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