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.
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!
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.Once 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
What are the needs of your customer? Forums, blogs, social media and other platforms are places your target market will go to discuss their challenges.
They will openly discuss what they want from a solution and what they don’t want. What you get from these platforms is a general theme of what they want to accomplish and which words or phrases they use to describe their problem.
Take some time to read up on their desires and pain points and use that information to develop your content. Use their words to advertise your content through paid Adwords or organic techniques such as content marketing or social media.
This is known as using lead intelligence and will provide a gateway for your target market to find you and enter your virtual world.
As your volume of traffic increases you can get feedback directly from your visitors about what they want by using engagement technologies such as pop ups, feedback forms and questionnaires.
The exploration page is critical to beginning a conversation. It’s like that belligerent man. You won’t listen to him unless he’s got something compelling for you to listen to. So be sure that you are not immediately selling.
Your only goal at the explore stage / page is to give them links to possible solutions so that you cater your sales pitch their desires.
For example. A person needs footwear. This is a general problem. If they arrive on your site and you pitch them wellingtons when they live in a warm climate by the beach, then your offer is not relevant.
Use your sales copy and understanding of the consumer buying process to develop appropriate relative content. Content on this page should split and segment your visitors based on where they are in the consumer buying process.
If they are in the problem identification and information search stage you may need to answer question like “what is xxx?”
If they are evaluating offers, you may need a terms of service or FAQ’s page.
Generally speaking, the explore page should grab their attention, highlight the customers problem, and spark interest through some benefits they would enjoy if their problem was resolved.
Then leave one link to the refine page with a call to action that paraphrases “get a list of possible solutions to this problem”.
The refinement stage is about leaving a set of links to possible specific solutions to their general need. Customers are not fools. They’ll have an idea of possible solutions already in their head, they just don’t know which solution to pick and who to pick it from.
This is very important to understand as it allows you to build a relevant solution to their specific needs.
Before you list your solutions, I find it best to engage them further by demonstrating you understand their needs.
Identify, understand and remind them of their external pressures (pain points) that are causing them the need to act.
Also focus on their needs. Needs are created by emotions. So identify and lead with the emotions that are causing the person to look for a solution.
Is foot-traffic dropping in their brick and mortar business and they need a new way to sell inventory? Then leave a link to a solution to this pain point.
Is PPC so competitive and expensive that they are struggling to generate a positive ROI on their online advertising budget? Leave a link to solution that solves this issue.
Focus on the forces that are compelling them to act. Use their language and information you learned through your research in the exploration phase, social platforms etc.
This will build empathy and the discussion will cause a release of chemical in their body that cause associative emotions.
The external influences will create a deeper need in the psychology of the individual to engage and participate in the delivery of a solution quickly.
By leaving a link to a solution you are letting the customer tell you what they want!
The path they choose on your site will dictate the benefit statements you use within the influence stage of your sales pitch. Keep it short and build rapport by using a storyline and other proven sales copy tactics that engage.
Create a call to action that invites them to learn more about the solution and link to the influence page.
Your potential clients just want to make the right decision. Our herd mentality compels us to seek out a leader who can guide us the right solution for our problems.
You must be that leader. Help them to make the best decisions for their business.
This is best done by the following these points within your consultative sales copy.
Bring attention to the internal pressures the person or business is facing. Are they finding it hard to pay employee salaries because revenue is falling of a cliff?
Is their employment in jeopardy because their boss wants them to hit seemingly impossible sales targets?
And would family life be better if they could spend less time working IN THEIR BUSINESS and more time working at home supporting their children with studies, and playing with them?
Internal pressures engage the emotions of the individual. When followed after external pressures the individual as a strong sense of responsibility to identify a solution quickly.
Now employ social proof (keeping up with the Jones’s).
List case studies or social media shares on how business owners are already achieving success with your solution. People want to know that it works.
This further deepens the desire because they can see a viable solution closer to their grasp but it is still just out of reach.
Next employ benefit statements: Now that they know others are successful, they will want to follow the herd and will seek reassurance they are making the right decision.
You know how your solutions will change their life. So tell them. What ever you do, DO NOT make statements on the features your solution(s) provide or you’ll lose their engagement. What you want to do is focus on the benefits they will receive from your solution(s).
Poor Example: Buy a sleek looking website with SEO functionality.
Good Example: Got a anxious feeling about your business revenues online? Stop worrying today. You can get record sales this month with a selling machine website. Drive traffic, get tons of social shares, and get record leads & sales so you can pay your business and personal bills while you get back to enjoying what you do best.
The consulting phase is the stage where you help guide the visitor with empathy as any parent would a child. Help them to understand what objections are stopping them from moving forward and put that objection into perspective for them.
Help them to decide what to do.
A number of reasons exist for objections, and despite the fact that objections can delay the sales process, for the most part they should be perceived in a positive sense as useful. Moncrief, W. and Marshall, G. (2004). The evolution of the seven steps of selling. Industrial Marketing Management Journal.
Here are some objections and how to pass them.
Solution Costs Too Much: As a guide, you want to get them to think about what the costs are if they choose to avoid the solution you provide.
“How much business have you lost this week, month or year in comparison to other years?”
“How much have your costs increase this week, month or year compared to last year?”
How minimal is the cost of a solution compared to the value of potential revenue and cost savings?
I’m not in a rush: As a guide, present questions that increase time scarcity
“How long does your business have before the ROI is negative or debt accumulates out of control?”
Are your competitors utilizing these strategies and how would a lag in your response time affect your market share in today’s digital age?
If your life was on the line, you wouldn’t go out into a battle field without intel, experience and support would you?
What about your business and livelihood?
We can learn to do it ourselves: As a guide, present these questions and try to back up your point of view with case studies and examples.
“How long would it take your business to learn and deliver a solution vs the time it takes for an expert to deliver the solution?”
“How much revenue would be missed in the self learning and development time vs revenue earned from quick delivery of the solution?”
If the solution was implemented right away could you be better of financially and emotionally in 3 months from now even after money spent investing in your growth?
I believe in the solution but I’m not a decision maker: As a guide, help them build support. Present slides or sales pitches they could download and give to decision makers.
Who is the decision maker? What would they need to implement the solution?
What facts and figures would the decision maker need in a business case?
Would a pilot scheme help to dip the toe in the water and measure the ROI?
What could a digital marketing agency do to help you push your ideas for your business?
I don’t know who to build relationships with to support my idea: As a guide, here’s an informative chart that can help you identify who to build relationships with courtesy of CEB:
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?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.
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.
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.
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?