Solution Selling is Dead.

Last Updated Oct 29, 2007 8:53 AM EDT


Mike Bosworth is probably the smartest guy I ever met in the sales training world. His first book, Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets, was brilliant, and full of great advice. I highly recommend it.

That being said, I observe that very few companies actually follow the system that Mike lays out in that book. Instead, they simply trick out their "products" as "solutions" and pretend that they're doing something different. (Note to top management: if you want the benefit of new ideas in a book, read more than just the title.)

The reason that "solution selling" is honored more in the breach than the observances lies, at least in part, with the word itself: "solution." First of all, the term sets the wrong tone. A "solution" is supposed to solve a customer problem, right? That idea assumes that the business world is full of PROBLEMS waiting to be solved. Problems, problems, problems. What a negative and depressing worldview!

The successful people that I know -- the real decision-makers -- don't tend to think that way. They tend to think of the business world in terms of possibility, opportunity and achievement. To these folk, the idea that business is a collection of "problems" is foreign, so if you're talking "solutions" you're not talking their language.

That's why, half the time, when people talk about "solution selling" they tack the phrase "or achieve a goal" to the phrase "solve a problem." But that always sounds lame. What has a "solution" got to do with achieving a goal? Nothing. Solutions solve problems. They don't achieve goals.

But even if the word "solution" in English meant "something that solves a problem or achieves a goal" the concept of solution selling would still be stillborn because a "solution" is only a THING. The B2B customer doesn't want a THING. The B2B customer wants RESULTS.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, "solution selling" consists of replace the word "product" with the word "solution" in the marketing materials. Sometimes there's also some half-hearted attempt to explain why specific product features relate to some customer problem. Often, what's presented is a tautology like "our networking solution has ultra-fast bandwidth in order to solve the problem of not having enough bandwidth." As generally presented to customers, a "solution" is a THING that has features and functions and benefits. A product wrapped in extra verbiage.

Last week, I wrote about Manager-to-Manager (M2M) selling -- the kind of selling you need to do if you're going to call high and make the big ticket sales. If you want to sell M2M, the first thing you need to scrap is the silly notion that you're selling a "solution." At that level, solutions are just background noise in the sales process. Details.

If you focus too much on your "solutions," you'll either lose the sale or fight an uphill battle. This isn't to say that there aren't plenty of lower-level functionaries who think of business almost solely in terms of problems. But they're not the decision-makers. From the perspective of a real decision-maker, all products (even when relabeled as "solutions") are basically the same.

You may think that customers should care that your "solution" has superior features. They don't. Customers -- decision-makers, that is -- don't have the time, energy or inclination to learn enough about your product category to understand why those features make your solution better.

Decision-makers want results and they want YOU to take responsibility for those results. In today's crazed business world, the only reason that a real decision maker will talk to you about those results is that they want to outsource a function that your firm is hopefully capable of performing. In fact, if your customer contact DOES appear to care about product feature/functions, and wants to get into a long discussion of "problems" and "solutions," you're not talking to a decision-maker; you're talking to a speed-bump.

That's why I say that solution selling is dead. More on this tomorrow.