Have you ever walked into a store, told the salesperson what your requirements were, and they pointed you in the direction of the solution that answered your needs?
Congratulations! You’ve just been “solution-sold.”
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Solution selling is a sales methodology in which the seller diagnoses the prospect’s problems or pain points and presents their product as a solution to that problem.
You’ve got a unique problem? Here’s how my product is the unique solution. Simple, right?
The solution selling methodology was invented in 1975 by Frank Watts, who began teaching it at the Xerox Corporation in 1982. Mike Bosworth, who was affiliated with Xerox at that time, popularized this method and started licensing his technique in 1988.
So why did HBR declare the solution selling methodology dead in 2012?
Well, they had a fair point. Buyers in 2012 had come a long way from the buyers of the 1980s. Before the information age, a buyer could understand they had a problem but genuinely not know what solutions were out there.
Now, procurement teams are armed with loads of data. Chances are good they know what solutions are on the market — and have likely done an enormous amount of research on you and your competitors by the time you reach them.
So…is solution selling dead? Absolutely not. I’ll explain why.
Solution selling is far from dead. It works exceptionally well, even in this day and age.
Aside from just meeting their current needs, the PandaDoc team was also able to point out use cases that the Autodesk team had failed to consider. But here’s where the magic of solution selling really worked:
Travis Evans, Manager of Sales Execution Strategy at Autodesk, had the need for an editorial solution, but didn’t know if any product could seamlessly fit with their existing systems.
The PandaDoc team noted his requirements, and we were able to match him with PandaDoc Editor 2.0, which ensured no hiccups occurred during the transitioning process.
Here are a couple of other key ways solution selling adds value to your sales process.
Think of the times a prospect has needs which extend beyond the scope of your off-the-shelf products.
Imagine you run a hair salon. You offer basic services: short cut, long cut, blowdry, and coloring.
You have a client come in the door, scrutinize your board, and look disappointed. You lean into a hard-sell for coloring. You talk up the benefits. You offer a discount. The client is visibly shutting down. What did you do wrong?
Instead, start by asking questions. What does the client need? What is she looking for?
Identify the customer needs, then present a customized solution. What? All she really wants is a super classy mullet? Amazing. Figure out a pricing option for a short-long cut, and offer the desired result, tailored exactly to her (questionable?) needs.
Sales may be a “numbers game.” But nobody wants to feel like a number.
Think about it: if you entered a store, and the sales rep there was just trying to sell you stuff, what would you think? Possibly one of the following scenarios:
Let’s flip the script: if a sales rep asked you questions, understood your pain points, and genuinely tried to assist you with the decision-making process — what would you think then?
When you spend time getting to know the prospect and their needs, it makes them feel heard. This builds trust and empathy and a genuine relationship — which drives your sales performance.
As an added bonus, when a prospect genuinely enjoys their interaction with you, they’re likely to recommend you to other buyers — and become your champion within their org.
Are you (solution) sold? I hope so. I’ll walk you through five steps you need to master the solution-selling process.
Use your product yourself. Uncover benefits and use cases you might not have thought of.
You can even gain a ton by seeking mentors in your org outside of sales.
If the product team is giving a presentation, focus in. Find out what they’re building and why — if they’re doing their jobs right, their releases should be addressing a market need. Learn what that need is, and help your prospects understand how your product was built specifically to address it.
Practice makes perfect, right?
Practicing and preparing for questions your customers might have during the buying process will help you perfect your approach and response.
As an exercise, write down all the common questions you have received from customers and jot down the answers you gave. Now, on a new sheet, take the best part of each response and create the perfect, award-winning answer.
Alternatively, you can also anticipate customer questions if you identify their pain points. Which brings me to our next topic…
Want authenticity? Understand pain points before the sales calls even begin.
Your company’s sales training should provide you with scripts and talking points on these topics. If not, tell me, and I’ll go (figuratively!) shake some sense into your director of enablement.
You can also learn a ton by sitting in on sales calls, especially if you’re new to the product and the org. Shadow more experienced reps in the field. Take note of the common customer pain points.
Focus on the value your product will provide instead of its features.
For example, consider arguments like how much time your prospects will save with your product, what tedious processes it can eliminate, is it a more economical choice than the current systems set in place, etc.
Don’t let price be the defining feature of your product. Rather, focus on what your customers can do with the product and how it will impact their lives.
Perhaps also important to mention: you can’t just read out features or speak in generic statements. Customize the solution as per your prospect’s needs and let them know how the product can address their distinctive pain points.
And the principles of solution selling agree with this philosophy, too. So, how to build relationships in sales, you ask?
First and foremost, be human. No, really. Don’t communicate like a robot stuck with a script. Be human, speak human — it’s okay to add some playful tone to your pitches, or show a little personality when talking to prospects.
Also, show your customers that you care about them by being proactive in communication, addressing their queries, and being prompt in your responses.
And, as a final touch, always aim to exceed your customers’ expectations. Always!
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