What Is Solution Selling?

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

1. What Is Solution Selling?

Solution selling was developed in 1975 by a man named Frank Watts, who introduced his methodology to the corporate world in the 1980s. In the years since, solution selling has become a mainstay of sales professionals, offering a customer-centric alternative to the previously standard approach of “box pushing,” which focused on selling product features and specs in, more or less, the same way to all prospects.

What exactly is solution selling? How does it work, and what are its benefits? Let’s look at how this proven sales approach can help you hit — and surpass — sales targets.
Solution selling is a sales approach that focuses on your customers' needs and pain points, and provides products and services that address the underlying business problems.

2. Why is solution selling important?


Rather than focusing on your product’s features and benefits, solution selling is centered 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 start by stepping into the buyer's shoes to go beyond the surface-level handshake and really understand the buyer’s industry, pains, and goals.

There’s a cliche that sales is all about building rapport based on small talk, for example, “How’s Susie doing in school?” 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.
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3. When should you use solution selling?

Solution selling is all about solving a specific challenge. It puts the customer at the heart of your selling. When does it make sense to lead with solution selling? There are two important signs.

1. The customer needs a custom solution.

A custom solution is more than an off-the-shelf product or two. Custom solutions are generally made up of several products and/or services, combined and implemented as a bespoke solution to a specific problem. Think of it as the difference between buying a thermostat and having a whole-building automation system — HVAC, lighting, audio/video, control software, and so on — designed and installed.

2. The customer needs a high level of support.

Buying a productivity app for your phone or laptop? You need an average level of support. Looking to pull all of the business systems together at an enterprise-scale organization, with thousands of employees across different functions? You’re going to need a high level of support that’s designed for your unique situation.

As you can see, solution selling differs from commercial sales, where you are selling off-the-shelf products with no customization or support.


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4. What are the steps to solution selling?

It’s called “solution" selling and not “product" selling for a reason: You’re selling an outcome. To get there, you need to begin with your customers' challenges, and show how you can help. While it obviously isn’t a paint-by-numbers approach, there are certain steps to take when you pursue solution selling.

1. Understand the customer.

Ask questions to learn more details about the challenges your prospect is facing. Low adoption rates of a prospect’s current systems could be the fault of bad products, but it could also be the result of poor implementation. Talk to as many relevant people as possible — from decision makers to end users — to create a detailed view of the challenges your customer is grappling with, and what success might look like in the long run.
Here’s a veteran tip: Successful solution selling often focuses on a customer’s long-term, big-picture goals. Ask yourself, and your prospective customers, what impact your solution could have six months, a year, or even further out down the line? This approach isn’t for quick fixes — it’s for delivering real value that will help shape an organization over time.

2. Understand your products.

Solution selling isn’t about selling features, but you do have to understand product capabilities before you can apply them to customer problems. Once you have an overview of your customer’s basic needs, map your products’ features to potential solutions.

Stumped on how to diagnose the customer’s problem? Here are examples of questions you can ask to begin:

  • What are the root causes of your problems?
  • How would you rank these root causes in order of priority?
  • Are these pain points companywide or specific to a department or team?
  • Are these pain points evergreen or do they come up at specific times (like quarterly or at the beginning of a sales cycle)?
  • How can you quantify the impacts of these pain points (like the number of people affected or the associated costs)?

You may need to talk to people again — or speak with folks you haven’t yet met — in order to get a full picture of how widespread the problem is. A little extra research may help identify company leaders whose buy-in you’ll ultimately need to make a sale. Decision makers could be involved in the day-to-day issues, or be a few degrees removed from the situation, depending on the specifics of the organization.

3. Don’t sell features — sell a solution.

After completing the first two steps, you’ll be ready to sell a solution that’s tailored to your customer’s needs, and not just a generic list of features on a sales sheet.
As an example, let’s say you’re selling a cloud-based business technology solution to a small manufacturing business whose sales reps keep losing deals because they don’t always have real-time inventory information; because of this, fulfillment dates slip. Inventory managers are frustrated because supply chain problems are making forecasting difficult, and executives are losing patience with stalled revenue growth.

Selling features might mean focusing on all of the functionality baked into your mobile app. You highlight how existing features will appeal to each of your user types, but don’t speak to a comprehensive solution to address this business’ specific needs.

Selling a solution starts with talking to people at the manufacturing business to learn about their pain points and underlying business needs. Armed with that information, you then put together a solution that leverages your mobile app, but also includes implementation, training, and ongoing support to address your customer’s core problem of getting critical information out of silos and shared across the company.

The biggest thing to remember about solution selling is that you’re ultimately selling your customer on two things:

  1. Your solution will make their problem go away.
  2. They are investing in a solution that will deliver real, demonstrable value over time.

5. Pros and cons of solution selling

Solving specific pain points for customers makes solution selling a great way to close deals while delivering real value. But as with any methodology, solution selling has its pros and cons. Let’s take a look.


  • Solution selling is all about making your products work for the customer, not convincing them to change how they do things based on a feature list.
  • This approach helps the customer create a long-term vision for their business, instead of just reaching for a short-term fix.
  • A well-designed, well-implemented solution impacts everything from workflows and efficiency to employee happiness, benefiting the customer's company for years to come.
  • Solution selling is great for complex products designed to be customized for individual needs.


  • Solution selling requires more per-customer research and a longer sales cadence than product selling.
  • Prospects must be open to long-term value, and not just looking for a quick fix.
  • Some prospects will maintain they can craft a solution on their own, and only need component products, not a full solution.

Ready to learn more?

In the years since solution selling debuted, the sales mindset has been shifting away from “Always be closing” and toward “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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