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What Is Solution Selling? A Complete Guide

What Is Solution Selling? A Complete Guide
Solution selling focuses on the customer and the problems they're experiencing. [Studio Science / Adobe Stock]

Solution selling is one of the most effective approaches to selling regardless of business size.

Salespeople who push a particular product or service before they understand the customer give the whole industry a bad reputation. Our State of Sales research shows that 87% of business buyers expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors. That’s why solution selling is such an important technique for you to master. You show your prospects you fully understand the challenges of their business and that you’re here to help solve them.

Let’s look at how this proven sales approach can help you hit — and surpass — sales targets.

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What is solution selling?

Solution selling is a sales technique that focuses on your customers’ needs and pain points and provides recommendations to solve them.

In the years since this method was introduced to the world of sales, solution selling has become a customer-centric alternative to the previously standard approach of “box pushing.” Where box pushing focuses on selling product features and specs in, more or less, the same way to all prospects, solution selling brought a whole new level of customisation and consultation that focuses on each customer’s specific needs.

How does solution selling differ from product selling?

Solution selling focuses on the customer and the problems they’re experiencing. Like box pushing, product selling focuses on the product and selling as many of them as possible — regardless of whether or not the customer needs the product. This shift in perspective means that solution selling is a more consultative and relationship-focused process than product selling.

For example, product selling promotes a specific product or service by emphasising its features and benefits and working through a script that pushes the product. Customers may or may not have a clear problem or need that the product solves; the focus is solely on selling. There’s also very little follow-up or consultation involved in the process.

Solution selling, on the other hand, uses active listening to uncover what a customer’s problems are, then offers recommendations that address those problems. It’s very consultative, and can lead to a long-term relationship and repeat business.

Why is solution selling important?

At its heart, solution selling is all about the ROI that your prospect can get out of your recommendations, not pushing features on them in hopes of making a sale. This builds trust-based relationships and meets the prospect’s need to work with someone who puts their best interest at heart.

Rather than focusing on your product’s features and benefits, solution selling is centred around your prospects’ needs:

  • What are their goals and pain points?
  • What problems and challenges are they facing?
  • What is the outcome that can solve their needs?

Solution selling means being both empathetic and practical. The seller should go beyond the surface-level handshake and really understand the buyer’s industry, challenges, and goals. When you walk in your customer’s shoes and understand their pain points from the inside out, you are much more qualified to tailor the right solution to them.

There’s a cliche that sales is all about building rapport based on small talk. Solution selling goes deeper. Rapport is based on knowing your customer. Maybe they’re about to have a merger, or they’re experiencing challenges with the supply chain. The solution seller’s role is to provide insight that helps customers see a vision of a better future.

When should you use solution selling?

Solution selling can be an effective way to approach any sales scenario. However, it’s most effective when you’re working with prospects who need a solution to a unique or “niche” problem. This often occurs in industries that feature the following characteristics:

  • High-value sales and long sales cycles focused on software systems, industrial or manufacturing equipment, or IT consulting
  • An inventory marked by evolving technology such as telecommunications and healthcare
  • Significant regulatory compliance requirements, such as those in the pharmaceutical and finance industries

What are the steps of solution selling?

It’s called “solution” selling and not “product” selling for a reason: you’re selling a solution, a recommendation, or an outcome. To talk about an outcome, you need to understand the challenges and needs of where your prospect is now.

Here’s a series of steps you can follow when perfecting your own solution sales techniques:

1. Understand your customer

Effective sales conversations only happen when you understand your customers. So, start there!

First, explore your company’s buyer personas to familiarise yourself with the type of organisation, person, and pain points you’ll be dealing with most often. This information is theoretical, and you’ll need to make adjustments when you interact with a real client, but it’s a smart place to start.

Next, read up on the industry and research particular customers you plan to meet. Your customer relationship management product may help you do this using artificial intelligence (AI).

Finally, use your discovery call with a potential client to ask leading questions and learn more about them. Start with the following and see where the conversation takes you:

  • What is your biggest priority this year?
  • What obstacles stand in your way?
  • What solutions have you already tried?
  • What do you stand to lose if you can’t fix this problem?
  • What do you stand to gain if you can?

By allowing your understanding of the customer to develop 1:1, you’ll capture a clear and detailed picture of the customer’s circumstances and needs. You’ll then be able to assess how your solution will fit into the bigger picture.

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2. Understand your products

Solution selling may not be about selling product features, but it’s still important to understand them. After all, your product’s features are the reason you’re able to solve your customer problems. Once you have an overview of your customer’s basic needs, you’ll have the context you need to be able to map your products’ features to those challenges to identify potential solutions.

Here are a few things you can do to quickly build up your understanding of your product’s features:

  • Attend a live or pre-recorded demo of your product. A live or recorded product demo gives you a good sense of how customers are introduced to your product. It will also walk you through the most straightforward use cases of the product for you to learn.
  • Listen to recorded sales calls or customer calls. Many organisations use call recording software to capture real-life customer feedback. Incorporate “listening tours” with customers into your routine so you can stay up-to-date with how they perceive your product.
  • Take notes. Build a habit of taking notes and summarising what you learn from prospects in a notebook or digital app. Reflect on these notes weekly and curate your own body of knowledge about your product’s features.

3. Show clients exactly what they’re missing

After completing the first two steps, you’ll be well on your way to a solution-selling process that’s tailored to your customer’s needs, and not just a generic list of features on a sales sheet. Why? Because you’ll have a deep understanding of the problems they’re experiencing, and you’ll understand the priority of those problems. You can then map each problem to a solution or feature available in your product, and paint a picture of how this problem can be solved holistically.

For example, let’s say you’re selling a cloud-based business technology solution to a small manufacturing business. Their sales reps keep losing deals because of supply chain forecasting issues. The real problem? They don’t have real-time inventory information to react and adjust proactively.

Here’s what your product offers that can serve as a solution: Real-time inventory information for every stakeholder and a single source of truth will ensure they’re always on the same page. With this, they can efficiently identify and get ahead of any challenges related to the supply chain. As you share these details, be sure to show them how they can succeed with your partnership, don’t tell them how your product works.

4. Close the deal and maintain the relationship for the future

The relationship-focused approach of solution selling continues throughout the sales funnel all the way up to closing the deal and beyond. In fact, our State of Sales Report highlights that the ongoing relationship with a customer is a growing area of focus for sales teams: 80% of sales reps say maintaining customer relationships after the close is increasingly important, and 92% say they are at least partially evaluated on post-sale metrics like customer value and customer retention

Pros and cons of solution selling

Every sales strategy has benefits and drawbacks, and solution selling is no exception. If you’re thinking about this approach, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros of solution selling

  • Focuses on the customer’s long-term success. Solution selling focuses on the customer’s long-term vision for their business and emphasises eliminating challenges that are limiting their growth. This approach builds up a partnership based on trust and mutual benefit, rather than a temporary, transactional relationship. By working with you, your customer gains access to more efficiency in their business, and you capture a potentially recurring source of revenue — it’s the definition of a win-win.
  • Customised to each customer. Solution selling grows out of a 1:1 relationship with a customer, resulting in a well-designed, well-implemented recommendation that’s unique and customised to each customer. This should lead to a happier customer who is more likely to return for your input and recommendations again and again.

Cons of solution selling

  • Time commitment. Solution selling works for almost every sales scenario. But because you must prioritise long-term value and ROI over short-term gains, you will need to invest significant time and energy in building recommendations and a long-term relationship with a prospect.
  • High-touch. Solution selling requires the salesperson to be intimately familiar with the customer and engage in in-depth conversations about their business needs, ultimately requiring more per-customer research and time in conversation than other kinds of selling.
  • Longer sales cycles. Partly because of the increased frequency of meetings and partly because of the customisation of the solution itself, solution selling can require a longer sales cycle or cadence than other kinds of selling.

Build trusted relationships with solution selling

In the years since solution selling debuted, the sales mindset has been moving from “Always be closing” to “Always be helpful.” As sales becomes less about the volume play and more about the quality play, the focus has to shift to customers’ needs and delivering real value. Solution selling does exactly that.

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