Goodbye Solution Sales?

I read an article several months ago that was published by the Harvard Business review. It cited “The End Of Solution Sales” (found here) and since reading it I’ve been wracking my brain about how to properly communicate my thoughts.

For those who haven’t read the article, it suggests that sellers are no longer required to provide solutions to their customers. In fact, a study suggests that 60% of a purchasing decision is made without seller involvement.

Buyers and consumers have access to countless numbers of online resources when they are looking to make a purchase. These groups are more informed, more capable of determining their needs, and more likely to navigate their way through some of the buying cycle without ever interacting with a salesperson.

Instead, as the article suggests, sellers need to move from Solution Sellers to Insight Sellers (click for further description) by focusing on the customer and their business at the beginning (or pre-beginning) of their buying cycle.

I have two main thoughts related to this article:

  1. Solution selling is not dead and will likely never really die. The demand for finding solutions to buyer’s problems (and not just sell “stuff”) will not go away. Despite the vast amount of information available to buyers, sales people will always need to be counted on to provide a solution.
  2. Although I disagree that there is an end to Solution Sales, I do agree that in order for a seller to be more effective, there is a need to move beyond the solution sale. In the case of this article, a seller should look to become an Insight Seller whenever possible.

My viewpoint from my fence-sitting position is simply this: buying habits have changed, both from a business and consumer standpoint, and it is foolish to believe that the same way of selling will continue to yield the same success it has in the past. In order to be successful in today’s market, you need to be proactive and adaptable. If I receive a phone call from a buyer who was referred to me or my company because they are looking to implement “blah”, and they indicate that they are assessing different options, I can’t expect the buyer to back-track in their buying cycle so I can help them identify their needs. I have to do my best to address and deliver based on a given set of requirements. I can make recommendations, but it is challenging.

In an ideal situation, I would have used my market knowledge to address certain target customers, research my target customer and key influences within the organization, establish my credibility and build a relationship within the account, help to identify areas the customer can improve on, and THEN act as an advisor during their assessment. It is more work to be a proactive seller. It takes time to develop relationships. If I proposed to my wife the first time I met her, she would have said “Are you serious? You were so loud and annoying during our Financial Math class, you stink of beer, and you want me to marry YOU?!” (In my defense, I was 20, it was the first day of classes, beer gardens were open and class was at 1:30 pm). We became friends first, spent time getting to know each other (despite my less-than-impressive first impression) and once we had a solid relationship and were planning our future together, I proposed. In essence, only when my wife’s buying cycle and my selling cycle aligned did marriage, a) make sense, and b) become a possibility.

Despite the article’s valid points, I still believe it is premature to call for the end of solution sales. Instead, sellers need to begin focusing on the customer’s buying cycle. I have some more thoughts surrounding the buying and selling cycle I want to share; but I’ll save those for another day.

Thanks for reading!

5 thoughts on “Goodbye Solution Sales?

  1. Chris, good thoughts. Most of my knowledge about sales comes from the buying end and I see a need for sales people who can: 1) act as an expert to clear away the clutter of info overload and help me understand what I want and what will best satisfy that need; and 2) facilitate the purchasing process. As you say, things have changed. I don’t need a salesperson to decide which $80 vacuum cleaner to purchase, but I do value the assistance of a top notch salesperson when buying a house, car, etc. (However, working with a salesperson who can’t help me understand my options or simplify the buying process is generally worse than no salesperson at all.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s