How Solution Selling Can Grow Your Business

How Solution Selling Can Grow Your Business

I’ve come across companies that don’t believe in the internet. They think that competing on the internet means they have to give their products and services away. I admit, if they don’t create a unique selling point and deliver their products and services through solution based selling then they may well have to compete on features and price. Let’s face it, these are the type of customers most businesses would prefer not to have.

A value selling practice is often advocated as the most profitable one compared to more traditionally selling practices Sharma, A., Iyer, G. and Evanschitzky, H. (2008). Personal Selling of High-Technology Products: The Solution-Selling Imperative. Journal of Relationship Marketing, 7(3), pp.287-308.

The difference between selling solutions and “feature selling” is that one sells the color and cost of things, and the other sells the benefits of the product or service. I met with a business owner at dinner event the other night, and he believed he had to give his products away if he tries to compete online.

So How Does Solution Selling Work for Products??

Well this guy sold wheelchairs and stair climbers.

Elderly and frail people are worriers. Why wouldn’t they be they? Age slows them down. It’s easier to fall over, harder to get in and out of chairs, independence can be stripped away, and self esteem torn to shreds when you need someone to help you about the home.

I couldn’t believe the opportunity he was letting pass him by. This was an excellent opportunity to provide true value for his customer base by providing a solution to a myriad of problems and emotions.

I had a feeling he was limiting his revenue generation by selling the “old way“, based on price and features. I visited his website and the design was nice. But what I noticed was the usual feature sales talk. I knew immediately why he felt he the internet eroded his profit margins. He wasn’t selling value!

The description of the scooter read like this: the new stylish, simple and colorful microlight scooter. Trendy range of colors, and easily taken apart without the need for tools.
solution selling services

The scooter is not suppose to sound like it appeals to a 16 year old! There was nothing of emotional value that would give a potential customer a reason to buy.

I didn’t see any problems that could be solved. Yes, an incredible feature was that the product could be taken apart easily. But what emotional issue is that solving? What benefits could be explicitly stated from this feature?

How could that feature drive sales? Does the customer worry that they will not be able to attend family functions and networking events outside the home because their wheelchair won’t fit in a car? Probably.

What would it mean to them to have some mobile independence when outside the home? Could they leave the house and enjoy their favorite meals instead of eating ready meals delivered?

If you can get your customers thinking about the emotional issues your product solves, and build benefit statements around features that demonstrate you understand their needs, then you’ll create trust, a bond, and more value in your products or services when you sell them online.

The intention behind selling value is not only to maintain the customer whose expectations go beyond product delivery (Geiger & Guenzi, 2009), but also to capture more value for the own company through a value-based price (Anderson et al.) Geiger, S. & Guenzi, P. 2009.

“The sales function in the twenty-first century: where are we and where do we go from here?”. European Journal of Marketing; Anderson, J. C., Kumar, N. & Narus, J. A. 2007. Value Merchants. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

So How Does Solution Selling Work for Services?

Let me give another example, Gamma and Delta is a company that believed that solution selling was a waste of time and argued they had nothing to gain since they were already able to set prices according to customer value by using their gut feeling and experience.

They agreed to a solution selling practice that resulted in enhanced relationships and a stronger power position in negotiations with customers.

They benefited from deeper insight into customers’ needs and were more focused on customer value, rather than price and discounts.

Customer inquiries were handed to product designers who delivered suggested products solutions.

Information enabled them to pinpoint product value for customers.

When you listen to your customers needs, you can develop new exciting and revenue generating products and services around their needs.

So What Do the Big Consultancies Have to Say About Solution Selling

DON’T GET ME WRONG…..I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about selling online, what I am saying though, is that data is showing a major shift in how business earns revenue and profitability online.

There’s a large consultancy company called CEB, their website is here and they identify best practices of the worlds best companies.

They are currently championing the “end of solution sales”. They base it on a study that had 1,400 B2B customers across industries and revealed that 57% of purchases are made before the customer even talks to a supplier.

It is inevitable that the selling process ultimately will evolve or else it will become ineffective in the quest for business success and survival Wotruba, Thomas R. (1991) The evolution of personal selling. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

They say the Old World was aligning customer’s needs to products, services and solutions. The New World is where companies define solutions for themselves that are based of purchasing consultants armed with droves of data.

They say, no longer do we need to ask questions to “hook” the customer and then attach a solutions to their problem. But rather we need to upend their idea of what a solution is and instead, create insight selling.

Their premise is this. Customers in the old world did not know how to solve their own problems but now they do, due to data that can be analyzed and turned into actionable steps.

This means companies are using conversations with suppliers as fulfillment conversations to simply ensure that they are on the right track.

If you want their business, then you must upend their idea of a solution and see valuable insights to a solution.

Now I completely agree with this. However, I think there’s a massive fundamental gap in their logic.

The fact the 57% of purchases are made before they meet with suppliers is your biggest opportunity!

If you are providing valuable educational information, in your content marketing, about solutions to business problems, then who are customers going to turn to for a knowledgeable and capable source to implement those solutions?

ECB seem to think that because a company comes armed to the teeth with solutions to their own problems that they’ll run off and do it themselves.

Look, whether your sales person went in and found a hook and then sold a solution, or whether the company knew it’s own problem and sourced a possible solution; the customer was going to find a solution one way of the other!

This concept of an evolutionary pattern can be compared to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, whereby the species (organizations) that adapt to the changes in the environment survive, and those that do not adapt cease to exist Lampkin, Mary, & Day, George S. (1989, July). Evolutionary processes in competitive markets: Beyond the product life cycle. Journal of Marketing

What I’m saying is businesses are driven on metrics: Return on Investment.

Regardless of a consumers knowledge of the solution, they will want to trust that the solution is implemented efficiently and effectively.

The time it takes to hire and mobilise a skill specific team, coordinate with other functions, and integrate the solution has far greater immediate costs plus the opportunity cost of missed revenues form the delay in implementation.

Not to mention the costly mistakes along the way!

Chart displays ibm sales

I worked at IBM for a period of time (2008) when the world was going through a recession, all sales reps were trained in Consultative Sales (Solution Selling) and during that time.

Look how their sales increased while the rest of the world was hurting.

What you will notice is that from 2006 onwards, solution services create a bulk of their revenue. They sold the solution service.

Solutions may include products, but they are only bolt on’s to their solution services.

Why did IBM do so well during this depression era? It was faster and more cost efficient to hire experts and professionals to get the job done right the first time around.

In addition, hardware sales, shown above, are marginally less each year, and software has taken off, and it will continue to take off as business learns to integrate it into their sales approach.

Businesses are only just starting to realise the full potential of revenue generation through software and software technology in their online marketing and sales funnel efforts.

The process of visitor engagement online that makes your business more profitable is called consultative selling.

It’s a move towards developing the prospects needs and desires before aligning a solution to those needs and desires. It fulfills the need of the visitor in their buying decision process, and employs sales copy to deliver solutions to their challenges.

ibm strategy for the futureOnce the solution is identified, you’ll need engagement technologies that use the data analysed from the customers journey through your website.

The data will allow you to continue creating relevant content and continue the process of engagement through your sales funnel.

How to Apply Solution Selling to Selling Online?

I will go into detail of the solution sales, but for now, understand that each service / solution you offer is best delivered through a four stage process.

If you are in the fast moving goods sector this can be accomplished in as little as a few paragraphs and some relevant images that help the persuasion process.

For luxury, high ticket products and services, a four page journey works. One page should lead to the next in the solution selling process.

The four pages, starting from the first page a customer lands on, is as follows: Explore, Refine, Influence, Consult.

Each page accomplishes a particular goal and is summarized below.

The Four Stages of Solution Selling

After you’ve covered objections, simply restate the key benefits to the solution and request contact.

Close the Deal at the Most Opportune Time

Consultative sales is not about selling in the first meeting. The primary objective is to get a second meeting.

So, you will want to wait until the consult phase before you ask for contact details or to offer a “buy” call to action.

You may need to add some value in your exchange : Ebook, how-to article, or a guide relevant to the discussion to facilitate the exchange.

Keep options for your visitors limited.

Providing too much information and too many options can overwhelm the visitor, create more objections, and reduce your your probability of sale.

What you want is to get the action at a time of least resistance: the most opportune time.

You’ve sparked interest, created a desire, overcome objections and now you want to create the first contact of the relationship.

Focus on getting the lead and then apply a system for converting a lead to a sale through an email marketing campaign.

When To Get started?

solution selling
The world’s technology is evolving a rapid pace. Technology has become integral to our everyday lives. As a species our behaviours change along side technology.

We are evolving in our communication with others and how we make decisions based on information that is easily accessed online.

Business that welcomes the changes and works with them will accumulate market share and efficiency.

Emergent change process, on the other had, can deliver flexibility – the capability to build receptive settings for change and the sensitive customization of action to meet local conditions. Beer, M. and Nohria, N. (2000). Breaking the code of change. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

business evolution Business used to grow through an evolutionary cycle that could take decades of growing before they would have to compete on a national or international scale.

In today’s business, we must compete internationally straight out of the gates.

Today you emerge yourself virtually, and from there, you continue to evolve in real time, into a virtual organism to compete in the international pecking order.

How do you protect yourself from financial and time costs of growing the wrong way?

Always listen, keep you ear on the heart beat by using engagement technologies, to communicate with your social community, and a/b test everything as you go. Then you can’t go wrong for very long!

In fact, by continually testing, you create an efficient best practices process for everything that you do.

You maximise your return on time and investment, and minimise the damage of wrong decisions.

Weick contends that planned changes have a high probability of relapse and regression; may precipitate uneven diffusion through a system; invite unanticipated and negative consequences; and tempt initiators of the change into hypocrisy, detachment and delusion. Beer, M. and Nohria, N. (2000). Breaking the code of change. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

To compete around the world, there’s no longer time for investing in gut instincts, and planning for what might work, especially if you can test your theory cheaply first.

Just start solution selling today and test it. Let the customer tell you if your right or wrong quickly and cheaply with a/b testing.

We are results driven. Instant real time results from our testing will keep our business engaged, keep our customers happy and allow the creative essences in all our employees flourish.

You may just find that you manifest valuable exchanges between your business and your customers. Solution selling is part for your overall digital marketing strategy, fell free to get in contact and explore how we can help?

Robert is the Chief Marketing Officer at Exodus Digital Marketing. He has achieved a 1st Class Honours B.A in Marketing from Vangaurd University, California, and 1st Class Honours M.B.S in Management Consultancy from UCD Smurfit Business School, Dublin, Ireland.
He has worked for companies like IBM and BT Telecommunications. He consults and trains small businesses in all things digital marketing. Learn more about us here

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