Why Solutions AND Relationships Are Still Key to Sales Success

There’s been a lot of disagreement in the sales world about what’s working and what’s not. Fueling the fire has been various articles in the Harvard Business Review such as "The End of Solution Sales" and "Selling is Not About Relationships." The arguments behind these articles were steeped in data. The arguments against these articles seemed more based on experience and belief. Which are true?

We at RAIN Group decided it was time to collect and study fresh data to find out what’s really going on in sales. We sought to answer this question: “What are the winners of actual sales opportunities doing differently than sellers who come in second place?” To find out, we studied over 700 B2B purchases made by buyers with $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power.

What was surprising and fascinating was that winners don’t just sell differently, they sell radically differently, and they exhibit a specific combination of behaviors to achieve better outcomes than second-place finishers. Our research found that sellers who win consistently do three things: they connect, convince, and collaborate.

Here is one thing we found in each category that tells us relationship and solution sales are as relevant as ever:

1. Connect: It is not the end of solution or relationship sales.

Not even close. We found that sales winners did a much better job at uncovering needs and crafting compelling solutions, which are among the fundamental points of solution sales. And selling is most definitely about relationships, as the winners did a much better job of connecting personally with, and listening to, buyers. This is not to say that selling is only about relationships and solutions. The sellers who did only these things lost, too. They needed to do more to win the sale. However, saying relationships and solutions are done for is pretty far from the truth.

2. Convince: Trust Reduces Risk, Adds to Wins

When buyers buy anything big or important, they’re buying a return-on-investment case. They want to know, “If I spend time and money on this, what will I get back?” Sellers who won were much better at crafting compelling solutions, which is very much about making the ROI case, but that wasn’t enough for the win. They also needed to establish trust. Sellers who didn’t establish trust had trouble winning. Sellers establish trust in a number of ways, but one thing is true: those who aren’t good at developing relationships have the deck stacked against them when it comes to building trust. Again, it’s not only the relationship that’s important, but without the relationship, it’s difficult to get buyers to believe you, and to buy in to the business case.

3. Collaborate: Relationships Based on Business Value 

Sellers who won did a much better job at doing two things: collaborating with buyers and educating them on new ideas and perspectives. The buyers described the sellers who collaborated as “working with them to achieve mutual goals.” In fact, many pointed to the fact that sellers brought ideas to the table (they educated them on new ideas), but weren’t dogmatic about things being their way or the highway.

As buyers worked towards paths to action with the sellers, they felt like they were a part of the solution-crafting process themselves. There it is again, that whole solution sales thing. When buyers feel like they’re a part of crafting the solution, they feel a greater sense of ownership over it. This means that the agenda for action shifts from the seller’s to-do list to the buyer’s. And when this happens, sales have a much greater chance of closing, and doing so with the seller who collaborated. 

All in, the sellers who win do three things: they connect, convince, and collaborate. Is this all simply relationship and solution sales? No. But they’re certainly still among the main ingredients. 

Purchase a copy of RAIN Group’s new book “Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently” by May 10th, 2014 to receive some special bonuses. Click here for more information on the promotion.

About the author

Mike SchultzCo-President of RAIN Group, Mike Schultz is world-renowned as a consultant and sales expert. He is co-author of multiple books, including Wall Street Journal bestseller Rainmaking Conversations: How to Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation and Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently, and was named the Top Sales Thought Leader globally in 2011 by Top Sales Awards.


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