Watch CBSN Live

Sales Quiz: Is Solution Selling Effective?

SCENARIO: You're calling on a prospect that's been experiencing a series of problems for several years. They've tried several times to fix those problems but have not been successful. Your sales manager says that you should take a solution selling approach: 1) identify their pain and 2) alleviate that pain with a customized solution.

CLICK for the correct answer »

The correct answer is Probably NOT!
The key issue here is that the customer has already tried to fix the problem and failed. This suggests that they probably do not really understand the problem sufficiently, in which case your solution will probably end up "fixing" the wrong problem.

According to Jeff Thull, author of the the bestseller Mastering the Complex Sale, there's a hidden assumption in the traditional solution selling model: that the customer actually knows the true source of his pain.

But what if the customer is so confused that he can't see the real problem or opportunity? What if the customer is wrongly assuming the source of the pain is something that's actually irrelevant? What the actual source of the pain is completely unknown to the customer, or something that the customers thinks is their competitive advantage? These are very common situations.

Thull uses the analogy of a doctor diagnosing the illness of a patient. If the doctor were following the solution selling model, she would expect the patient to know what was ailing him, and have some idea of what medicine the patient thought was appropriate. The doctor would then "consult" with the patient, and together they would decide upon the diagnosis and the appropriate medicine.

That isn't what happens, of course. Instead, the doctor asks general questions about symptoms, figures out what's wrong and uses her expertise to come up with a customized regime that addresses the problem that lies behind the symptoms.

Thull recommends what he calls the "diagnostic model," where the sales rep doesn't assume that the customer has a complete understanding of the problem and in fact may not recognize the problem. Instead, the role of the sales rep is to ask questions about the customer's business situation, locate the root problems that are causing that business to run less effectively, and then propose ways to work together to address the root problems.

Thull's diagnostic model differs from the solution selling model in that it absolutely requires a sales rep to have a deep understanding of the customer's business, the economics in which that business operates, and the ability of the rep's own offerings to become elements of a solution that will enhance the customer's business.

READERS: I realize that there are many definitions of "solution selling"; the one I used for this post is taken from the Wikipedia entry on "solution selling."