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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Schneider

Solution Selling

Updated: Aug 11, 2021



In sales, many reps are focused on making the sale only.

But for some products it might not be enough to only sell them.

At least not anymore.


Competition is global today, prices can be compared online in a few klicks, and new product features are often copied in just a few months.

Thus there is demand for a new tactic in selling your products.

In this article we will introduce you to an alternative approach to selling.


Actually, solution selling is not really new.

The first books about solution selling were published in the 1970s.

But it has gained more importance for certain industries as businesses are looking for more ways to differentiate each other in times of digital and global comparability.

Unique Selling Propositions are in many markets today often only valid for a short time or have become non-existent at all, unless you own a worldwide patent.



As businesses were looking for a new approach to differentiate themselves in the sales conversation, solution selling became a valid way to go.

It should be noted however, that not all products and not all industries might be suited for it.



What is Solution Selling?

solution selling
Focus on what the product does and not what the product is.

Before solution selling, product selling was the only way to go.

In product selling you focused on the product's features or characteristics and looked for reasons why it is better than the other products on the market.

This approach was fairly simple and straight-forward.



For example:

Our product has mechanical folding steel arms with a 2000W electric drive.

A lot of time was spent with product brochures, or data that highlighted some special benefit about it.


Solution Selling on the other hand focuses not on the product itself, but more on the outcome that the product creates for the customer.

It explains the solution, and not the product.

The center of the conversation is the final result that the customer gets, the product itself and its features are less important.



The above example in terms of solution might sound like:

Our machine will make your loading time faster, cut costs, reduce failure rates and thereby save you a lot of money!


You probably already notice the difference from our examples.

In solution selling, you focus on the final outcome the customer gets by buying from you.



The technical details of the product are not important in this case.

And for many products, the technical details are also not important to the customer.

Consider these thoughts for a moment:



People don’t want to buy a drill - what they want is a hole in the wall.

People don’t want to buy a razor - what they want is a smooth chin

People don’t want to buy a new suit - what they want is an improved appearance.



How the technical solution of that drill is, its wires or engines do not matter at all for the customer.

Many customers also couldn’t care less about such details.

What they are looking for is the hole in the wall.

And they want that solution fast, cheap and predictably without much risks


In other words:

What they want is the solution and not the product you are selling.



The customer’s needs come first

how to sell solutions
People buy a drill - but what they want is a hole in the wall

In order to successfully apply solution selling, you might at first also have to restructure your sales presentation overall.

Because in order to get to that solution at all you first have to find out what it is the person actually wants or could want.



Other than product selling, you cannot go with a general product presentation and a “spaghetti-on-the-wall” approach.

Sure, having large numbers of appointments will increase your chances as always.

But in order to offer the right and appropriate solution to a customer, you first have to understand their situation and their needs.



You should have at least an idea about the customer’s interests, their industry, possible concerns and possible problems that might exist.


As all of these thoughts will only be assumptions before you meet the customer, you can then ask the prospect lots of qualified and direct questions in the sales conversation.

There you can find out what their real concerns are, what keeps them up at night and how what you are selling might benefit them.


Solution selling requires the salesperson to dig deeper than usual.

Making a product sale is more going on on the surface, and can also be based on impulse buying or traditional sales closes.


But to offer a real, valid solution you first have to know what it is the other person could use.

Many people also are not aware that they have a problem at all, or that there could be a solution that might help them.




Getting these points across in the right way will play a vital part to offer the right solution.

It will be important to also educate yourself accordingly, to understand what to say and how to say it.

Solution selling therefore will require you to have very good soft skills and people skills.

You have to know how to build empathy in a conversation and how to create rapport.


Be aware that this approach to selling might take longer and will require more effort in most cases before a sale is made.

The conversation to really uncover what might be important to the customer will be harder to get right than a generic product presentation relying on a buying impulse or mood.



Is solution selling right for my business / industry?


A short rule of thumb:

The more specific your product is and the more customizable it is, the better solution selling will be right for you.


Uncovering the needs and potential problems a customer might have is already a tough job to do in the sales conversation.

But it will all be for nothing, unless you can also then deliver on what you promised and can make an appropriate offer to really help them in their situation.


Typically such industries where solution selling works best are IT services, mechanical engineering or most service-based businesses.

Again: the more flexible and customizable your product is, the better this approach will work.


This selling strategy demands that you really have excellent questions prepared to ask the customer.

There are plenty of resources on how you can build your own sales presentation to focus on the solution, the one I can most recommend is SPIN Selling which offers you exactly what you need to find the desires and wants of the other person.



Asking the right questions

sales solutions
Aks the right questions.

A common tactic is to look at the “why” behind the answers you get.

Don’t just look at the obvious facts but find out the reason and motivation people might have to change their situation.



For example:

When selling a new software to a company, ask them about all the possible areas of impact the product can have. Try to find all the possible scenarios and areas of impact your product could have for them:


Did they really consider all the departments that are involved?

Has every essential employee been heard in the process?

What is the exact reason they have to change their current system?

What are the outcomes they want with this purchase?

Why has the discussion been brought up about this product?



The next step would be to show people what might happen if they did not decide to buy your solution.


This part of the conversation can highlight possible pain to demonstrate that the problem the customer has actually is something serious.

Uncovering a potential problem is one thing - getting the customer to see it as serious enough to act is quite another.

Especially in cases when they were not even aware of a problem before, this step is vital because it demonstrates what might happen if things stay as they are.



Be careful however not to be pushy, and do not tell people they do have, or will have a problem in the future.

Instead the right way is to ask the customer questions about what could happen if they don’t change anything about the situation.

Draw a picture in their mind about possible outcomes.



What would happen if your competitor would upgrade to such a system?

Would you still be competitive if their capacity is raised by 20%?

What impression could such old machinery get when customers are visiting your facility?

Could a bad image lead to fewer sales in the long run?

What impact could the breakdown of old machines have on your business?

Could this increase your overhead expenses and lead to further costs?

Would that create additional worries for your business in the long run?



As you can see, the trick is to not just tell people they have a problem.

But to ask the right questions and let people tell you what the outcomes of their potential problems might be.

This changes your role as a salesperson - you become more of an advisor that leads the customer to the right decision.

And the right way to lead people is always to ask them questions which ultimately get them to act.



Preparing your presentation for solution selling


Such detailed questions that exactly fit the customer’s situation won’t just come up in the sales process.

Instead, you have to plan them in advance.


Here it gets interesting:

Every sales conversation is unique and you never know what people will come up with.

So how do you plan something that actually can't be planned?



The Law of large Numbers again is your friend in sales.

You might not know the customer's specific situation upfront, and how they will answer your questions.


But!


You will or should have a rough idea about their industry, their markets and their products.

Look at the exact position of the prospect and what he or she does in the company to get a first estimate of what challenges this person could face.

This often gives some idea about responsibilities, worries they might have, and how they can succeed in their jobs.


Usually there are common concerns or problems that can be identified upfront.

A good place for reference are past deals of yourself, or your company in general.

Usually there is a lot of information stored about what was beneficial for the customer and what made them buy ultimately.



Develop a list of open-ended questions for your next appointment and try your best to adjust to the customer’s situation as you go along.

The important thing is to prepare these questions in advance of your next appointment.


Make a list of questions you should ask, leading you to the information you seek from the customer.

Make sure you uncover the details that will help you sell your product and to have questions that help the prospect to think about his or her situation.


If you do this a few times, you will soon discover that there emerges a pattern.

Yes, every customer is different.

But for your products, there will again and again come up similar questions, and issues.

So once you have a good idea what they are about, you can use them over and over again in your appointments.



Depending on your products, these are the most common topics to prepare your questions:


  • Do your products save the customer money?

  • Do your products improve performance?

  • Do your products save time?

  • Do your products achieve certain things better than your competition?

  • Do your products make life easier?

  • Does your product bring the customer a ROI?


To provide a real, valid solution you have to ask questions which will highlight the strengths of your product in these areas.

By questioning certain impact areas of your product, you lead the thoughts of your prospect into the direction of answering for themselves why they should buy.

Ideally the customer will sell the product himself or herself if your questions work out the right way.




Again the questioning process for selling solutions summarized:


Find a problem or difficulty the customer is experiencing or might experience in the near future.

Then let them feel the impact of it, by asking what will happen or what could happen if nothing changes.

And only after the customer has told you in his words what the impact will be, you present your solution.


Focusing on benefits instead of product-data

finding the right solution for your sales
This car has 500 horsepowers. But what benefits does that give?

The biggest difference between average sales people and great salespeople is that the great always focus on the final solution for the prospect.

To sell benefits and not products is what can really have a lasting impact on your business or sales career.

This is what selling solutions basically is all about.



In other words, don't just tell them that their situation can be improved, but also provide details for what future benefits he might have or might be missing if the sale is made or not made today.

You can then use the questions you prepared to let them think about possible pain if they will not buy right now.



Most people will buy things because they have a certain expectation of how their life will be different (“I will look fabulous in those new shoes!”).

The important thing to notice here is not to give product details in your presentation but real benefits for the buyer.

These two seem to be very similar at first, but yet have a fundamental difference. Here is an obvious example:



Product detail:

This car has 500 horsepower.


Benefit:

You can feel the acceleration pressing you into your seat as soon as you hit the gas, the roaring sound will make people (or girls) on the streets turn around to look at you.



With the above example it should be obvious by now what kind of difference it makes to give a prospect a description of the product details or a clear benefit for their situation.

People will never buy a product for what it is, but rather for what it can do for them and what they expect it to give them.


Thus the perceived value that you emphasize during a sales presentation is one of the most critical parts during the whole selling process, it will vastly determine the outcome of the appointment.

If you fail to build value in this part of the sales conversation, you will in most cases not be given a second chance.


Most of the time you will have one appointment with a prospect, and if this appointment fails there is seldom a second chance - nobody likes their time wasted, even if you are such a nice guy.

Mess up that first appointment and it will be very hard to create any kind of business afterwards.



To ensure the highest chances of success before an appointment with a prospect, prepare your arguments and questions as well as you can.

But also prepare for things that might come up why the customer might not buy.


There is never a guarantee of how the conversation will end anyway or what the other person might ask, but you can at least increase your chances by upfront preparing for as many verbal obstacles coming from prospects as you can think of.

Look for good, intelligent answers to handle objections by understandably highlighting the benefits your product will provide.



Ultimately, everybody is looking to benefit from anything all day.

We all want to feel special, we all believe that we and our life is unique, and we all want to be treated like the only one.

With clear and beneficial solutions for your prospects, your chances of making deals and sales will greatly increase.


Listen closely to what the other person is revealing in the conversation, and find a way to present your product as just the right thing to do at that moment.

Tell them how life will be easier once they start using your product and do what you can to show evidence that what you are saying is the truth.


Nobody will want to listen to your product data.

But everybody will love to listen to how their life can become easier and better by using your product.


Solution selling process summarized:


  1. Identify the customer’s needs and interests upfront


  1. Prepare a set of questions that will lead the customer in the right direction and uncover thoughts that help you move the sale forward


  1. Focus on the difference your product can make in their business or in their lives, while also highlighting possible consequences that could happen if the do not buy


  1. Explain the benefits clearly and show how their life can be better when they enjoy your product


  1. After the appointment - analyse what worked and what did not. If necessary, change your questions and fine-tune your approach. Do this until you have the right formula for your business.




Ultimately, try solution selling yourself to see how it can work for your products.

Some companies have enjoyed great success with it. Maybe your business will be the next to join.



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