Solution selling has earned itself a bad rap in recent years as buyer behaviors and the role of the sales rep have both changed drastically. So is there still value in solution selling that can be harnessed if this classic sales philosophy is approached with a fresher, modernized mindset?
The answer is yes! Solution selling still has tremendous value for today’s sales team when adapted for the way that today’s prospects want to buy.
In this article, we’re exploring what sales leaders can do to leverage the fundamentals of solution selling by adding a contemporary twist to make those principles effective in the context of today’s buyer preferences and attitudes.
Let’s get to the heart of solution selling. What is it exactly?
Solution selling can be defined as the process of establishing a prospect’s problem or pain points and then selling one of your services or products as the resolution to that problem or pain.
Sales teams using a solution selling approach tend to focus on asking questions about problems the prospective organization faces in the preliminary discussions. Reps are taught to surface symptoms of the problem, requirements of the solution, find a “hook” and then to sell to those characteristics.
The criticism of solution selling is that it doesn’t account for today’s hyper-informed buyer who subconsciously devalues the role of the sales rep due to their own access to information and research.
In addition, advocates of newer sales philosophies challenge that the buying process has become more complex, adding more decision makers, new gatekeepers and a longer sales process, thus reducing the effectiveness of a solution seller.
However, even a data-equipped buyer may not fully understand the ‘big picture needs’ of their business, focusing on treating a symptom rather than their greater need. Not every buyer in every industry and role are as deeply informed and knowledgeable about the specifics of their needs as more modern sales approach proponents would have you believe. With a skilled sales rep, this is where a solution-based approach can still bring significant value.
“65% of buyers found value in discussing their issues with salespeople.”A recent study by CSO Insights
So, how can the modern sales professionals adapt their approach to gain access to the powerful fundamentals of solution selling that have been successful in years past?
Focus on prescribing the solution criteria vs. the solution itself
It used to be that the role of the solution-focused sale was to help ‘fit’ a solution to the prospect’s determined problem or surfaced need. However, today’s buyers have so much purchasing information, data, and competitive context that they often believe they already know the right answer as to which solution is the ‘right’ ones for their needs and are looking for the rep to function as an order-taker vs. a strategic partner.
To get ahead of this typical solution sales challenge, help the prospect better define the problem itself and criteria they’re trying to solve for.
When this is the case, it can require that the rep is comfortable pressing the ‘pause’ (or even ‘rewind’!) button on the sales conversation to confirm that the problem and solution have been framed accurately, avoiding misdiagnosis and that there aren’t better solutions which have been overlooked during the buyer’s research phase.
Pivot the objective of sales dialogue from information gathering to strategy-focused
Too often, sales reps center emails, phone calls, and scheduled meetings around their information gathering and discovery objectives. Instead, reps should reframe the touch points of the sales journey as value-delivery exercises for the prospect.
This means that reps need to be extremely focused and economical about information gathering from the prospect early on so that they can quickly move from discovery to delivering value.
Sales enablement needs to go much, much deeper than scripted communications
Solution selling is built on an implied trust between the prospect and the rep. If the prospect doesn’t believe that the rep can or will be able to solve their problem with a solution, they won’t allow the rep into the process early enough, nor will they open themselves up to input and guidance of the sales rep.
Part of the challenge in continuing to leverage the solution sales methodology lies within the changing tides of buyer behavior, as we’ve mentioned above, and the fact that buyers have more trust in their own abilities to research and solve the problem with a solution than ever before. That’s why the role of the sales rep must shift from simply serving up information as a response to a predefined problem to actively assisting the prospect in defining the problem (or requirements) and the criteria they’ll use to evaluate potential solutions.
The other part of the problem lies with sales reps who fail to garner the confidence of the prospect as someone that can truly understand and appreciate the prospect’s problem or pain, and then prescribe a successful solution that’s reflective of the prospect’s best interests. Sales reps that lack critical business acumen lack the ability to engage in a meaningful way with senior executives on the prospect’s side of the table.
The prospect (and any relevant decision-makers) need to believe that the rep has a deep understanding of their business and can offer a critical perspective on how the proposed solution can best solve their problem(s) and pain(s). Without the buyer’s confidence in the sales rep, a solution-based approach is apt to fail because the buyer will discard the rep’s input, revert back to believing they know their business and challenges best, and force the rep into the default order-taker role.
How can sales leaders help reps develop their business acumen and cultivate a sophisticated understanding of their prospects’ business so they can prescribe a relevant, effective solution?
5 practical recommendations to improve sales performance
- Ask a senior sales team member to present client case studies to new reps for Q&A. Each case study presentation should explain, in detail, the buyers’ problems, the sales process, and conversational proceedings in that particular scenario, and the chosen solutions (and why they were prescribed in the first place) that solved the customers’ pains.
- Get sales reps into the field, so that they can listen (and ask questions) to current and prospective customers under the mentorship of a company veteran — it doesn’t have to be a salesperson, and in some cases, reps may gain a fresh perspective from someone who is not focused on selling. Make an ongoing commitment to field work and training no matter what your industry.
- Enable reps by providing them with a ‘reading list’ of the prospects’ industry-specific resources like blogs, whitepapers, newsletters, books, podcasts, etc. (as well as specific pieces of content from those sources) that can help them build context and empathy with their prospects. This is an excellent initiative for the person in charge of sales enablement to take on.
- If budget allows, get your reps to industry events where they can interact and hear from industry leaders. The topics of presentations and panel discussions are often direct insights into the pains that industry professionals are feeling.
- Make roleplay a regular part of your sales organization’s onboarding and ongoing training. Roleplay forces sales reps to think critically about the problem at hand in real-time. This highlights areas of knowledge or understanding that they lack and need to reinforce.
The key to successfully leveraging solution sales in the context of today’s buyer behaviors and attitudes is to enable reps to develop an advanced understanding of the target prospects’ business and needs.
This not only inspires confidence in the prospect but it allows the sales rep to help analyze and diagnose the buyer’s true needs in order to effectively prescribe the right solution that solves the ‘right’ problems and pains.