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Solution Selling Tips

August 2004 Selling 2 Comments

If you have made the choice to conduct a solution selling approach, you have chosen to execute an approach that requires a broader skill set than that of transactional selling. While promotional statements and closing techniques retain their usefulness, the focus in customer interactions moves towards questions and dialogue that examine customer challenges. This requires shifting discussion away from the product and service and moving towards listening.

Shifting Discussions

Although executives may have chosen to initiate solution selling, prospects will often expect a transactional selling approach. In these cases, the sales executive must gently redirect the dialogue towards a discussion of their challenges. Shifting the dialogue away from transaction details and towards uncovering customer challenges is counter to many salespeople’s desire to close, yet doing so enables the creation of greater value. Widgets may be well defined, but solutions require definition through the sales process.

Tell-tale signs that prospects are expecting a transactional selling approach are early requests for a price quote or marketing literature. In solution selling, premature price quotes and marketing material can kill the opportunity to provide value. Because solution sizes adjust according to the challenges faced by prospects, the price of the solution will also adjust accordingly. Likewise, because the challenges faced by prospects vary, the marketing material and sales pitch will need to adjust to fit specific needs.

Shifting discussions away from transactional details and towards customer challenges can gently be accomplished through “Yes, and…” type statements. (“Yes, and….” is an improve technique that salespeople can easily co-opt.) For instance, in response to a price quote, a potential response is “Yes, we can get you a price quote. And in order to do that we need to clarify a few issues to ensure that we provide a response that best suites your needs.” Likewise, in response to a request for marketing literature, a potential response is “Yes, we would be glad to provide you with material on our company and products. And, in order to make sure we forward material that addresses your situation, we would like to clarify a few issues.” Statements like these can be followed questions that broaden the discussion and move towards a deeper interaction.

Listening over Speaking

In customer meetings, the focus of the dialogue should be on listening to customers rather than pitching products and services. Getting customers to talk about their situation will require investigative questions. We offer a number of sample lines of inquiry.

“How is the challenge addressed currently?” These types of questions are always a good opener. They allow the prospect to speak about their situation and the lengths they have taken to address an issue. For the sales intelligence, it creates an understanding of the base line requirements that the solution must address. The response may also indicate the customer’s willingness to readdress the challenge with a new approach if they are currently using a direct competitor.

“What problems are created by addressing your challenge with the current approach?” These types of questions broaden the discussion to include other areas affected by the challenge. For sales intelligence, it develops an understanding of the potential to add value through the product or service. It also enables the salesperson to carve out the area of challenges that can be addressed rather than solving the customer’s laundry list of issues.

“If the challenge could be overcome without causing the ancillary problems, what effect would it have on your operations?” These types of questions bring attention to the value of overcoming the customer’s challenge. By acknowledging the true business costs of the challenges, the issue of the price to overcoming these challenges can be worked into a discussion of the return on investment.

“Who else is affected by this challenge?” These types of questions enable the sales process to expand to include all potential supporters of the purchase while also creates the potential to increase the size of the sale and the value provided. With respect to sales strategy, this question enables the salesperson to reach all the influencers and ensure that competing ideas don’t spoil the sale.

“Whose budget will this effect?” is an excellent question for uncovering the true economic buyer. With this knowledge, the salesperson can then determine the best route to gaining attention and developing a dialogue at the right level.

These questions can be followed up by a request for further discussion to discuss the solution. For instance, a follow-up statement might be “Based upon what you have told me, I would like to share with you how some of the challenges you are facing can be addressed. When can we schedule that conversation?”

In these conversations, salespeople can develop an understanding of the scope of the customer’s challenge, their budget, and timing. Scope, budget, and timing then define the proposal.

Closing

In solution selling, the scope, budget, and timing are defined during the sales process. Closing the sale is no longer about requesting a purchase order but about getting agreement that if the customer challenges can be addressed within their time and budget constraints, then they will go forward with the relationship. When the customer’s needs are properly addressed, the closing becomes administrative procedure that focuses upon clarification.



  • Danny Dayal

    Some useful insight into the process of solution selling.

  • alain Job

    Absolutely brilliant, and to say I am a solution focus community member! I have always struggle to sale without appearing to making a hard sale, now it seem I got the right tool for the job. I only wished the article had considered the fact that most prospects are now used to the usual common transactional quote-budget-closing method and thus my question will be how to get the prospect to understand that it is much more about a real attempt to address his/her challenges by adding real values and creating a real lasting mutual relationship than only shifting product/servive.

About the author

Tim J. Smith, PhD is the Managing Principal of Wiglaf Pricing, and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University of Marketing and Economics. His most recent book is Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures.

Tim J. Smith, PhD
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