We are watching the death of the solution selling era. The era of discovering customer needs has passed; the era of teaching customer needs is upon us. If a customer has assessed their needs, you are too late. That is the fatal flaw with the sales approach that has defined the solution selling era.
Solution sales, as a sales genre, is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solutions to those needs. The theory holds that the best reps show customer how their solution better meets the customer needs than any competitor solutions. Sellers do this by discovering ways to link customer needs to supplier solutions through the use of probing questions, which allow salespeople to clarify how their solution best aligns.
Advances in how customers purchase are completely challenging this method.
In the solution selling era of the 1980s and 1990s, customer would involve suppliers early in a purchase consideration. As needs became clearer to customers, supplier had to be called upon to explain solutions and offer ideas to customers. Those days are gone, and customers no longer need salespeople like they once did.
The amount of information at the users disposal has changed dramatically. Once the customers has the requirements gathered and understood, they are able to quickly assess opinions and suppliers by tapping into social media, the internet, independent consultants, subject matter experts, peers and zero in on a solution. Compared to 10-15 years ago, it’s relatively easy for a customer to arrive at a set of requirements, a short list of suppliers, and an expected price all without supplier involvement.
In the solution selling era we are moving away from a discussion of features and benefits to an era where discovery skills with questions becomes of critical importance. Sales conversations that are intended to discover needs which customers already know will fail a supplier to put it above its competition. The most powerful differentiator are insights delivered through the sale experience that help a customer manage their business better. The engagement occurs when customer understands their needs and not when the customer assesses options.
The ideal sales representative profile moves away from a talking brochure to a “Needs discoverer” where the engagement is at the C-Level and Advocates and much less at the product users level. Top sales people will be able to identify key Advocates by careful profiling them with a set of carefully selected criterias: they ask the difficult questions and push back on new and innovative ideas, they focus and talk more about the organization than themselves, talks about facts and share opinions and stories.
Friendly customer relationships are no longer sufficient to drive growth and the best sales representatives will deliver insights while pushing customers and teaching them better ways to enhance their business. Customers will be giving their business to those that challenge their thinking and are ultimately improving their business.
The best sales people will be the ones that no longer focus on the supplier unique capabilities but rather teach customers new ways to compete, ultimately leading to the supplier’s unique capabilities. The best way to teach a company to think differently is to first teach them to think differently about themselves.
Do you and your organization have what it takes to help your customers in the new sales era?