Is solution selling still relevant today?

I recently spoke to a group of entrepreneurs on the subject of selling. One person asked me what advice I could give on selling his product. I said ‘Don’t bother Nick, no-one is interested in your product.’ He looked crestfallen, so I told him that although I’m sure his product was very good, he should instead focus on solution selling and forget about selling his product.

What is Solution Selling?

The ability to stand out from the crowd is not just about having a better product to sell. It’s about serving your buyers better than the next guy. And the best way to do that is to focus on solution selling. That’s because people never buy a product for what it is, they buy it for what it does for them.

But this is an alien concept to many people who think that selling is all about displaying their amazing ’product knowledge’. They think the aim is to demonstrate every single feature of their product. I’ve worked in organisations where this is the norm. I’ve seen salespeople spend hours going through every single feature of a product until the buyer literally loses the will to live!

Of course it’s important that you understand what your product does and what advantages it has over the alternatives. But your primary goal must be to understand what the buyer really cares about rather than trotting out a standard product pitch in the hope that some of it sticks

With solution selling you immediately change the dynamics. And this will dramatically increase your chances of making a sale and creating a fan who buys again and tells others how amazing you are!

Didn’t the internet kill it?

Solution selling has been around for decades. I remember being trained on it more than 30 years ago when it was a new, exciting concept. Since then it’s become a bit of a cliché, and some people believe it’s outdated because buyers do their research online before they speak with you. They are well-informed about you and your competitors so they know exactly what they want!

That may be true in some cases, but believe me, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Buyers are looking at it from their perspective. It’s your job to understand their motivation, but also to share insights and ideas they may not be aware of. This gives them additional reasons to do business with you.

That’s why I believe that solution selling is more relevant today, because every market is so super-competitive.

Finding the ‘Why’

The first and most important step in solution selling is to identify what problem a buyer wants to solve, or desire they want to satisfy. These are the reasons they may want to do business with you. The ‘why’ they want to buy.

To really understand the ‘why’ you need information right? And the best way to get that is to do some basic research. You can learn a lot online by searching for the company or person you are selling to. You can also ask questions, and the type you ask and the way you ask them will vary depending on what you sell.

How to ‘do’ solution selling

You’re smart so I assume that you now know that solution selling makes sense. But how do you do it?

The good news is that it’s not as difficult as you may think. In fact, it’s much easier than the dull, attritional product-centric approach you may have been using.

The key component of solution selling is communication. Let’s call it a conversation to discover the ‘why’, because that’s what it should be.

This is dramatically different from product-centric selling, which is usually a monologue of feature after feature.

It’s a conversation to determine whether you can, in fact help the buyer. After all, why would you want to waste time with someone you can’t sell to?

Conversations work best when you share things. I’m sure you’ve been with someone who just talks at you about their wife, kids, wonderful life etc. It’s boring isn’t it? It’s the same as someone telling you how wonderful their product is. Why should they care?

The best conversations are where you ask each other questions. ‘How was your holiday?’ ‘How are the kids?’ ‘What did you think of the game last night?’ and so on. Questions get the conversation started and it develops from there, so the best way to ‘do’ solution selling is to ask questions.

What type of question?

There are two basic types of question – open and closed. And you should mix them up to really get the conversation into full swing.

Open questions can’t be answered with a straight yes or no. They require more explanation, which provides information you can use to expand the conversation.

Closed questions are normally answered with a yes, no or confirmation of some fact. These are useful because they provide a contrast and they take less thought and effort.

When you understand the ‘why’ you can present your product in a way that hits all the buyer’s key points. You may only touch on a small part of what your product does, but this will be enough to convince the buyer to sign on the dotted line. But before they do, there’s one other thing that’s usually on their mind.

Can they trust you?

Trust me, I’m a salesperson!

All other things being equal (e.g. price, quality, delivery) we prefer to do business with people we like and trust. This is really important because we want to feel confident we are making a good decision.

Solution selling, when it’s done right, naturally builds trust. This isbecause you take the time to understand what the buyer really wants to achieve, rather than just pushing your product. They feel that you are listening to what’s important to them rather than trying to promote your own self-interest.

Trust isn’t a gimmick or a marketing slogan though, it should be a core value that runs through your business. It means doing the right thing, delivering exceptionable service to ensure they are not just ‘happy’, but delighted.

When you do this, people will be more likely to buy again and tell others about their positive experience.

And that’s why solution selling is a no-brainer if you’re smart, keen to build your business and eager to serve rather than just try to make money.