Solution Selling: What is it, and when should you use it?

Solution selling is an approach that’s been working for salespeople since the 1980s. It’s not revolutionary, unless you look at how you currently sell and realise you need to make improvements to get better results.

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When it comes to sales, there is a sliding scale of success. Salespeople who consistently hit or exceed targets, know how to add value for clients and employees, are highly sought after and worth their weight in gold.

One of the main reasons some salespeople are more successful than others is their ability to identify problems prospects are having, and come up with a solution. In other words, the most successful salespeople are actively practicing, whether they know it or not, something known as solution selling.

What is solution selling?

It’s a sales methodology that became popular in the 1980s. It was originally developed by Frank Watts in 1975, and put into practice at Wang Laboratories, once one of the largest computer manufacturers in the world.

Watts later presented his methodology as a consultant at Xerox Corporation in 1982, and in 1983 Mike Bosworth, another sales consultant, founded a sales training agency under the name Solution Selling, following his experience at Xerox. The original methodology was enhanced further during the Huthwaite International SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff) selling pilot project.

Introducing solution selling made a huge impact on Xerox, IBM and other technology companies during that time. Eventually, Mike Bosworth would sell the intellectual property (IP) rights to one of his sales consultant affiliates, Keith M. Eades.

Since the 1980s, solution selling has spread far and wide, partly thanks to sales training and consultancy companies, such as Huthwaite International, and numerous competitors in the multi-billion dollar sales training space.

Solution selling is:

Diagnosing the needs of a prospect and then recommending the right products or services to solve the challenges they are having.

Either a prospect knows they have these challenges, and is actively looking for a service provider to solve them. Or as a salesperson, you can guide them to a solution for a problem they don’t realise they’ve got. It can work both ways.

Generally speaking, if you are providing solutions for problems your prospects want to solve, then these are usually inbound sales. Or account management. However, if sales leads don’t fully understand the problems they’ve got, and you are offering a solution, then this usually falls into the category of outbound sales.

Another way to look at this is you are presenting opportunities to prospects. For example, you sell software that saves companies up to $100,000 a year in resources. How will they know about this massive opportunity unless you tell them about it? Outbound sales teams can also be presenting potential customers with opportunities, as well as solving problems.

As you can see from the above, a key part of this is: identifying problems that prospects are having.

Next, we look at when solution selling should be used.

When should you use solution selling?

Solution selling can be used in a wide variety of ways.

It doesn’t work when you’ve got a product that’s simply bought off-the-shelf. Whether a physical or digital product, anything that sells itself doesn’t need salespeople or solution selling methodology.

However, solution selling is crucial when selling anything that needs to be customised. Whether it’s a product or service, identifying pain points then presenting a solution is the core of how this approach works.

One of the ways too many salespeople fall down is to focus on features and benefits. That isn’t what prospects want to know about, not at first. You can’t sell the benefits of one feature or another if you don’t know exactly what a prospect actually needs.

When practicing solution selling, you need to focus on the “Why” over the “What.”

What you are selling isn’t as important as why this prospect, hopefully a potential client, actually needs it. Let’s say you are selling cybersecurity solutions. A prospect doesn’t need to know all about the technology that should keep their business safe. They need to know what are the risks if they don’t use security technology, how it benefits them, or to solve a problem they’re actually having, such as dealing with a cyber breach.

What a prospect needs is to know is how a product or service is going to benefit them. One of the most effective ways to demonstrate that is talking about how you serve similar clients with the sort of solution that should work for them too. If a prospect can see how you’ve helped others like them, they are more inclined to work with you.

Here’s an example of how to get this right, if you are selling cybersecurity to small retailers:

“Given everything that’s happened this year, we know retailers are more vulnerable to phishing, cyber attacks and social engineering attacks. We work with our customers, including numerous shops such as yourself with physical stores and eCommerce websites, to identify security weaknesses then design solutions that will make them more secure, now and in the future, with ongoing support.”

Key Takeaways

  • Solution selling is: Diagnosing the needs of a prospect and then recommending the right products or services to solve the challenges they are having.
  • You can also take the approach of identifying opportunities for prospects and pitching them that way, while using the solution selling methodology.
  • A key part of solution selling is identifying problems that prospects are having.
  • Use this method in any B2B sales process whereby you’ve got prospects/sales leads and clients that need a tailored solution - whether a product or service - rather than something off-the-shelf that doesn’t require a sales strategy and process to sell it.

Next, in this series of articles, you can find out how to:

2. Assess what prospects need;

3. Create amazing presentations that get results;

4. Overcome objections, sell strategically and follow-up effectively (coming soon).

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