Selling Solutions Rather Than Products.

By Geoffrey James

If you want to increase sales, you’ll need to talk to customers more about solving problems and achieving goals than about features and functions. That’s easier said than done, though. Most software firms have tech-focused corporate cultures that make it difficult not to absorb that attitude in your day-to-day thinking. The key to focusing on solutions, rather than products, is the way you think about selling. Here’s how to encourage a solutions-focused attitude that will result in higher sales.

Step 1. Think about what you sell as a verb, not a noun. This sounds a bit vague, but it’s a useful mental trick. Suppose your company makes middleware – software that connects different applications. If you think of your job as selling middleware (a noun), you’ll tend to talk product features, interfaces, execution speed and other technical details. By contrast, if you think about what the software does – connect (a verb) – you’ll tend to talk to customers about making programs work more closely together.

Step 2. Think about becoming the customers’ ally in achieving a goal. There’s a tendency in sales to think in adversarial terms. You must convince customers, overcome objections, win the business or conquer the territory. While that way of thinking can be motivating, its focus is on moving product out the door. Rather than thinking that you are in a battle with your customers to convince them to buy, think of yourself as your customers’ ally and visualize how your company (and its software) can help customers achieve specific business goals. A focus on the solution, rather than just the product, emerges naturally from this conversation.

Step 3. Consider a sales call successful when you disqualify a prospect. It’s always a mistake to sell customers something they don’t need. Such behavior might make your monthly numbers look good, but it always backfires. A good way to lose your reputation in the marketplace is to sell customers thousands of dollars of shelfware – software that never gets used. Rather than doggedly trying to sell to prospects, make it clear you’re not going to sell them anything they don’t really need. If it turns out that the prospect really doesn’t need your product or service, leave and consider the call a victory, not a failure.

Step 4. Communicate with questions rather than statements. Don’t confuse telling with selling. Rather than talking to customers about what your software can do (product focused), use questions to lead them to the natural conclusion that they need your software (solution focused). Ask intelligent questions prospects are capable of answering so you discover together whether prospects really need your software to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Use questions to help your customers visualize how things would be better if they had your solution in hand.

The above is based on a conversation with Michael Bosworth and John Holland, co-founders of CustomerCentric Systems and co-authors of Customer Centric Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2003). They can be reached at 858.350.5570 or through their Website: