Solution Selling – as a term –  is used widely and loosely in sales and is largely misunderstood unless you have done it or been part of a company where it is the norm.

First, solution selling is not consultative selling. Consultative selling is more a process and a set of tool, techniques and approaches. It applies to all sales, all selling. There is no other core selling approach. Even a retail salesperson or a high volume inside salesperson is still using consultative selling.

Solution selling only applies in certain instances where there are many moving parts and people and / or complex diagnosis and implementation issues. The “solution” is product + implementation in a multi-parts environment.

Solution Selling – What are the Indicators?

  • The customer is making a disruptive change in terms of practices and tools, and it’s usually a long term commitment.
  • There are many stakeholders within the company from C-level to users and often outside third parties (e.g. consultants) as well as the vendors own team(s).
  • While the “solution” may contain physical product(s), the implementation piece is often more important and holds all the risk for the buyer. Implementation is sometimes more expensive than the core products (e.g. an ERP system for a manufacturing plant). The salesperson’s proposal will be more of a “plan” than a quotation.
  • A proper Solution Seller is always a top-class consultative seller but has in addition, what are essentially project management skills, but they wouldn’t call themselves project managers.
  • The salesperson needs -very- good domain / subject matter knowledge – someone who is a safe pair of hands whom the customers will look up to, lean on, and would call for advice.

Examples of Solution Selling environment:

ClaimVantage: While they sell a cloud product with user licences, they are asking the client to “throw out” 20+ years of old software and technology and do a replacement that is expected to carry the client for the next 10-20 years.  Very often that prospective client will literally visit the ClaimVantage Portland office, more to evaluate the ClaimVantage team than the product. And even though ClaimVantage sells a “standardised Cloud Product”, effectively each client gets a customised solution, even down to the pre and post implementation messages.

Interxion: They are asking mid-large companies to move their IT systems away from in-house, “on-premise” into the “cloud”, where a company’s core applications are run from outside the company. This is significant disruption and risk associated with it, including possibly some job losses or at best, intenal IT peopel having to re-purpose themselves. There can even be political issues in a deal e.g. a legacy partner is going to lose the business and act against the data centre.

A lot of B2B industrial / engineering roles are solution selling roles also.

On the other hand, while the Linked Finance sale requires really strong consultative selling skills, it is not a solution sale. Even Thinscale, which is a complex IT product (software) is not really a solution selling context, because it plugs into other products and is not especially disruptive. It can be sold in 1-3 meetings (even without physically meeting), and can be implemented remotely.

In practice, there is a continuum of solution selling, but when a client specifies “solution” selling and that is what is really needed, we need to look for the right type of candidate, rather than using the words loosely or interchangeably with consultative selling.