This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: www.market-partners.com Solving Solution Selling
by Martyn Lewis
President & CEO, Market-Partners Inc. What is Solution Selling? T o illustrate how I would define the term "solution selling" let me begin with a personal
Recently my car needed new tires so I drove over to my local car exhaust, brake, and tire
center. I navigated my way through high stacks of tires and mag wheels to arrive at a
service counter. The man behind the counter, Ken, greeted me. I knew that his name was
Ken because of the embroidered patch on his shirt pocket.
Ken had a clipboard with a pad of paper on it. Starting on a new sheet, he asked me a
series of questions, dutifully writing words and ticking boxes that reflected my responses.
Did I want all-weather tires or performance? What size and profile? Which brand would I
prefer? Did I want wheel balancing and new valves installed? Did I want my wheels
aligned? Did I also want my brakes and exhaust systems checked while the car was on
the hoist? The list of choices continued. After a few minutes he presented me with a
quote, which I signed. 45 minutes later I was back on the street with a new set of allseason radials on balanced rims.
I was pleased with my purchase and with the service provided by the tire center. But was
the experience that I had gone through with Ken behind the counter a solution sale? After
all, hadn't I gone to the center with a problem of worn tires and, somewhat thanks to Ken,
wasn't my problem solved? Well, the answer is - it depends, as we shall see in a moment.
First I want to dispel a couple of popular myths about solution selling. The first is that
solution selling must involve complex products and services or at least products of
significant value. According to the myth, if you are a salesperson for Boeing and the
product you are selling is a 747-400, the complexity or value of the sale implies by its
very nature that the sale is a solution type. Conversely, if the sale involves a pair of socks
costing $4.00 then, by implication, it must be a commodity-type sale.
Let me assure you that the even the least expensive product may involve solution selling,
as we shall see in a moment, and the most expensive is not guaranteed to meet the
solution sale criteria. Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 1 www.market-partners.com The second myth is the strange notion that if companies sell solutions, rather than
products, they will somehow be more profitable. Not to say that this may not be the case
but, in my experience, it is far from a cause and effect relationship - and I have yet to find
anyone who has ever been able to articulate why they see a direct connection between
selling solutions and profitability.
To answer the question: What is solution selling? let me illustrate how the same selling
situation can be either solution selling or commodity depending on the situation.
Imagine that you live in an age that predates the modern drug store, the time of the
apothecary. Imagine now, that on a particular day in that era, you find yourself suffering
from a pain in your stomach and chest. Today we might easily recognize this pain as
heartburn but at the time of the apothecary, to most people, the cause of the pain would
have been a mystery. All you understand is that you have a burning sensation, almost
akin to having swallowed a hot rock. Although you have felt this before and it has gone
away, on this day it is particularly acute, so it’s off to the apothecary.
You walk in the door and are faced with a long wooden counter. Behind the counter from
floor to exceptionally high ceilings are endless small wooden drawers and glass jars.
Each of these drawers and jars contains an amazing array of potions, lotions, salts,
minerals, powders, pastes and liquids.
You walk up to the counter and are greeted by the chemist, a most serious individual. He
asks you a series of questions. Where is the pain? How long have you had it? Have you
had this before? What did you eat last night? How much Meade do you usually consume
in an evening? After listening carefully to your responses he turns to those drawers and
jars, collects an assortment of “ingredients” and mixes them together in a pestle and
mortar, then presses the powder into 3 small round pellets. He instructs you to swallow
these pellets with clean water, one immediately (which you do), one when the sun goes
down today and then the last one when the sun comes up tomorrow. Feeling significantly
better already you pay him, thank him, and leave happy.
Fast forward to today. Knowing that you are likely suffering from indigestion you walk
into the local drug store and, without even talking to the druggist, pick up a bottle of
Tums, perhaps a bottle of water and swallow a few down the hatch. The Keys to the Solution Selling Process T he first scenario would be considered a solution sale while the second would not, even
though the buyer in both cases apparently had the same need. The key that differentiates
these two selling types is whether it is the buyer - or the seller - who has responsibility for
understanding the situation and building the solution. Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 2 www.market-partners.com Paradoxically, solution selling is based, at least at first, less on the sales process and more
on the purchase process. For a solution selling process to even exist two things must be
happening in the mind of the buyer.
First, the buyer must perceive a need for value from the organization beyond the
individual products or services being sold. This value usually takes the form of expertise,
from the selling organization or its representative, which the purchaser believes is
necessary to make a good purchase decision.
Second, they must perceive the prospective supplier, and its representative, as having the
credibility to deliver that expertise while along with the purity of motivation such that the
supplier's power of knowledge will not be used to take unfair advantage. In other words,
the buyer must feel sufficient trust in the supplier and the representative to be willing to
surrender the design of the solution to that organization.
In our apothecary scenario you knew that you had a pain but you had little or no idea
what caused it or what to do to cure it - you just that wanted it to go away! In the days of
the apothecary, the chemist would have been viewed as a respected individual with
considerable training in human physiology and chemistry. Likely, you would have had
faith in this individual's capability to prescribe and sell you a solution to your problem.
On the basis of that trust, and the urgency of your symptoms, you would have been quite
willing to answer the questions that the chemist posed in the diagnostic phase. You would
have answered all these questions truthfully and honestly, adding information wherever
you thought it would be helpful for the chemist to understand your particular situation.
Then you would have listened attentively whilst the chemist prescribed the remedy and
the instructions for use.
Now contrast the apothecary scenario with that of the drug store. Common knowledge of
the human body has increased dramatically in the past 130 years so. In this case you
knew you had heartburn pain, likely caused by the numerous tacos that you consumed the
previous evening. You also knew that all you needed to make the pain go away was a few
Tums, and that it would be helpful to swallow the Tums with a bottle of water. You chose
to go to the nearest drug store, walk to the aisle, pick up these commodities, and pay at
In the case of the apothecary, the chemist needed to ascertain the cause of your problem
from the symptoms and information that you provided and then concoct the appropriate
solution. This is the key element of solution selling. In the modern-day drug store
scenario, it is you - the customer - who has self-diagnosed the problem and has
determined or self-prescribed the components of the solution. In this case you don't
believe that you need a solution selling approach because you already know what it is
that you need and want. Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 3 www.market-partners.com When Not to Solution Sell? L et’s imagine now that you faced a solution selling process when you walked into the
drug store. In fact, let’s imagine that you walked into the apothecary but that you had
modern-day knowledge about your problem and the likely solution.
Gone are the rows of aisles and products, replaced by the counter, the chemist, and the
bottles and drawers. What you want is a pack of Tums and a bottle of water. But the
chemist has never heard of Tums. Whatever potential the chemist had for establishing
credibility with you is now gone. The chemist now proceeds to ask you a number of
questions. You view this as slowing down the overall process and as confusing,
frustrating, even frightening. Why is he asking you about the last time you had your
blood-let and what possible connection could there be between your case of indigestion
and the removal of your nuciform sac!
You resent answering the questions and give only brief uninformative responses. The
chemist becomes exasperated and tells you that he can't help you unless you answer his
questions fully and honestly. Finally, in total frustration, you leave the apothecary
without a product or solution and with your indigestion worse than ever!
The moral of this story is that if your customers truly are self-diagnosing and selfprescribing, don't bother trying to sell them a solution. Have the equivalent of the drug
store aisles with the products on display for them to select and buy. Because they
perceive no difference between one drug store and another, their purchase decision will
be based almost entirely on price. The supplier must have a very efficient and low-cost
selling process in order to capture and keep the client's business. As an aside, that is why
we are seeing so much in the way of commodity purchasing being done over the Web.
Companies that try to solution sell to prospects engaged in this style of buying will not
only fail to capture customer loyalty; their process will be seen as a purchase barrier that
will likely lead to frustration and loss of business. Solving Solution Selling W e have already seen that there are two keys to starting a solution selling process: the
prospect must see a need for a solution sale and they must perceive the supplier as
credible and trustworthy such that they are willing to allow the supplier to design the
solution. If customers do not see themselves as capable of self-prescription then the
solution selling process can begin. Questions must be asked in such a way as to develop a
full understanding of the situation and, at the same time, establish the necessary trust and
credibility. When the prospect starts to respond to questions with such statements as
“That’s a good question” or “I never thought of that”, this is a good indication that the
supplier is successfully demonstrating expertise, increasing credibility and establishing
trust. Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 4 www.market-partners.com Once the supplier has gained a comprehensive knowledge of the prospect’s situation an
appropriate solution can be designed. The solution may consist of off-the-shelf products
and services; it may include elements of customization, or it may be totally unique. It
really doesn’t matter how the solution is built - what matters is that knowledge of the
prospect’s desires, wants, motivation, fears, anxieties and pains, enables the supplier to
define and present a solution that meets the prospect’s specific needs and the prospect
believes that only that supplier can provide the solution. Solution Selling vs. Cross-Selling and Up-Selling L et’s go back to my friend Ken in the tire company. Was he solution selling? According
to what we have described above, he was not. The pain in this case was my need for new
tires. Of course I also needed them mounted, the old tires dealt with, and the wheels
balanced. But if we look at the two elements that trigger a solution sell - need for
expertise and credibility to provide it - neither was in place.
I did not perceive any particular anxiety about my level of knowledge as it related to the
tire purchase decision. I knew I wanted equivalent replacement tires, nothing exotic or
fancy. I did not perceive that tire center as possessing any special expertise or credibility
beyond that of any other tire center. And I did not see Ken as a credible expert but merely
as a guy in the employ of the tire center, possibly being paid commission to push certain
things on to me. The questions he asked me were essentially from his chart, and were not
part of any process that would build his credibility in my mind.
I was retaining control of building the solution. I knew I wanted four name-brand tires,
and did not want the wheels aligned, the brakes checked, or new chrome wheels. So I was
basically looking for the best price. I chose the tire center due to its convenient location
and recently advertised specials.
Companies often confuse cross-selling/up-selling, or the bundling of products and
services, as components of solution selling - they are not. These are simply an attempt to
sell more products to a given prospect. In itself this is not bad, and can be the most
efficient and profitable process in many cases, but it is not solution selling. Solution Selling Out of a Box The very notion that a sales force can be transformed to solution selling through a
training course, or some other out-of-a-box approach, is flawed and it is this notion that
can be blamed for the lack of success that companies have had in trying to implement
"solution selling" processes. Successfully transforming an organization to a solution
selling process usually takes an overhaul of the company's entire sales and marketing
system. That transformation must be founded upon a realistic understanding of the
prospects within the target market place and the knowledge that these prospects will view Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 5 www.market-partners.com the supplier organization and its representatives as credible enough to surrender the
diagnostic and prescriptive phases of the sales/purchase process.
Once determined that the target market will indeed engage in a solution sales process, the
organization then needs to ensure that all of the customer touch points, and all those that
support them, are aligned and coordinated around this different style of selling. Gone are
the company and product pitches, to be replaced with the tools that allow the sales
representatives to ask questions and to develop a broad and deep understanding of their
prospects. The sales organization must then be equipped to build solutions and present
these in a manner such that each prospect believes their unique needs will be met.
Examples of some of the differences between the sales and marketing system, in a
solution selling process, and for those organizations not engaged in selling solutions are
given in the table below. Component Solution Selling Web Site Building credibility as
White papers and
Short, focusing on
capability and philosophy Customer Collateral
Sales Presentations Non-Solution Selling
Product spec sheets,
overviews Selling Style Ask questions and listen Pitch and present Proposals Unique and custom Boilerplate Sales Cycle Length Longer Shorter Changing the Way People are Buying C an we take the individual that walks into the drug store and sell him a solution? As we
discussed above, these prospects have self-diagnosed and self-prescribed; therefore the
supplier is simply the organization that is going to fulfill their needs. We also discussed
how, if we try to engage this prospect in a standard solution selling process, it will likely
result in frustration, confusion, and even a lost sale. However, that doesn’t imply that we
can’t change the way they are buying.
Going back to the two starting points for a solution selling process to occur – need for
expertise and credibility and trust to surrender the diagnosis/prescriptive phase - let’s
explore how we may be successful. At the risk of stretching the analogy, lets imagine the
drug store scene. Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 6 www.market-partners.com Just as our hero is picking up the Tums a very respectable white-coated woman passes by
– obviously the pharmacist – and engages our suffering individual in conversation.
“Good morning. Didn’t I see you in here just last week picking up Tums?
What’s the problem? Indigestion again? Do you have a minute? I may be
able to see if we have something more effective? While I'm at it, do you
mind if I take your blood pressure? You may have an ulcer or hernia.
Here you are. These pills are considerably more expensive than TUMs but
are designed to coat the stomach lining and reduce the inflammation. And
why don’t you consider coming back next week for our health and fitness
check-up? We can see if your problem has improved or if it's time to visit
Many folk will still just grab the Tums and run. However, there is likely to be a portion of
the market that now views this individual as a credible resource and may well sign-up for
their check-up program. And, in so doing, they are surrendering the diagnostic and
prescriptive process over to someone else.
Even my buddy Ken at the tire store might have been able to turn me into a solution sell
prospect. But the nature of his questions would have had to bring out some unique aspect
in my situation that would have caused me to re-think my conceived solution. For
instance, if he asked me how happy I was with the original set of tires I may have
responded that I liked them but would have preferred to have something with longer tread
life. At that point, he could have shown me his expertise by telling me about some new
tires on the market that, for a few dollars more, would give 30% more tread life without
compromising the softness of the ride. Then, I likely would have seen Ken and the tire
center in an entirely new light. I may have gone with his recommendation and would be
far more likely to return when I needed new brakes or exhaust. Apothecary or Drug store? Look at your prospects - do they want to come in the door of an apothecary or a drug
store? Is there an opportunity to understand their needs, sources of pain, and desires or
will this just lead to confusion and frustration? L ook at your company - are you an apothecary with a credible chemist at the counter,
or are you a drug store with aisles and products? If your prospects are only looking for a
drug store, are your aisles easy to navigate and do you have a good choice of easily
available product for them? If there is the opportunity to diagnose and prescribe, how
well do your processes transform their shopping needs from the drug store to the
apothecary? And are your diagnostic and prescriptive processes in place? Will they see
you as a credible source and will they trust you with the responsibility of providing them
with a solution to their needs? Copyright © 2003 Market-Partners Inc. Page 7 ...
View Full Document
This note was uploaded on 01/29/2012 for the course INTERNATIO 101 taught by Professor Mr.johnnash during the Spring '11 term at Symbiosis International University.
- Spring '11