Solution Selling Is More Than Sales-Deep

By Heather Baldwin

If your sales team has transformed into a solution-centric organization but something about the shift doesn’t seem to be working, it may be that you left the rest of your organization behind. Leading consulting organizations have been saying for years that the alignment of marketing and sales is the key to revenue growth. Yet after the sales team shifts to positioning solutions, the rest of the organization often continues to talk about positioning products, says Dave Christofaro, technology industry solutions specialist for Sales Performance International (SPI). Christofaro says the following are the four key areas companies need to look at when making the shift from a product-centric to a solution-centric organization.

1. Solution positioning. Organizations as a whole must define themselves by the problems they solve for their customers, not by the products they sell. This starts at the top. When senior executives define their company, it must be in terms of solutions to problems their customers might face. That solution-centric approach then will roll down to all the departments within the company so product development, marketing, sales and other groups view themselves as solving certain problems rather than producing certain products. Christofaro says one of the best examples of a company that has done this successfully is UPS. UPS’s “Brown” campaign never talks about moving a package overnight – a product – but instead talks about solving problems related to the warehousing, logistics and distribution of products to customers.

2. Marketing alignment. Marketing execution must be aligned around a well-defined problem-solution framework, not the feature-function capabilities of a product. If your company is trying to become solution-centric, but the marketing department is still producing brochures about all the cool functions and technical specifications of your new printers, the shift won’t work. Instead, marketing materials must focus on solving specific problems.

3. Solution selling. Solution-selling disciplines should focus on positioning business solutions and value across all sales channels. For starters, salespeople must understand and be able to articulate the business problem they are trying to solve for their prospects. This is different from approaching sales in terms of products reps want to sell. Next, reps must tie value to the solution to each customer’s business problem. “Value positioning must be done from the first meeting,” says Christofaro. “You have to articulate to prospects that you understand their industry and the unique business problems they face. You also have to communicate that you and your company have experience solving these problems. In addition, you have to say that your other customers have saved X amount of money by working with you. This gives executives enough value to want to continue the conversation, versus coming in and saying I want to talk to about my products.”

Finally, solution-selling disciplines must be applied across all sales channels. That means companies must invest in training their channel partners if they want a successful, long-term transformation. Training just your own salespeople is like a diet, says Christofaro – it might work in the short term, but it won’t last. If you truly want to become a solution-centric organization, you must be willing to invest in a wholesale lifestyle change, and that means training across all your sales channels.

4. Reinforcement integration. This last element is about a comprehensive reinforcement of solution-centric disciplines. Marketing must go through refresher training, just as salespeople do. Executives must look at every decision they make in terms of strengthening their solution framework. This means that almost everything needs to change – the way compensation is structured, the ways sales goals are set, the way productivity is evaluated. For example, instead of setting reps’ quotas at $3 million worth of servers next quarter, you might require they close eight deals that solve a certain business problem. Solution-centricity “is something that needs to be continually reinforced throughout the organization,” says Christofaro. “Since becoming a solution-centric company isn’t something you start, work on for three months and then stop, organizations need to continually reinforce the approach.”

For more information, contact SPI at