When you’re an entrepreneur, sales are part of every task. Whether you’re dealing with customers, building alliances with partners or pitching to investors, having sales skills can go a long way. Solution selling is a sales methodology that can help you get your message across to your audience and convince them to take action.
What Is Solution Selling?
Solution selling is a sales process where the salesperson helps the prospects to understand their needs and provides a solution to help solve their problem. While this methodology became popular in the 1980s, it is still widely used in many businesses today. The salesperson not only helps the prospects to deal with the problems they are facing but also helps them understand the different options they have when it comes to solutions.
Solution selling is best for industries where there are customizable products or services. This way, the sales team can provide the prospects with multiple ways to resolve their pain points. While it’s best to speak with prospects who are decision makers in the buying process, solution sales can also work with other people who do not have decision-making power but can be a champion for the product or service.
For example, a hair salon that offers different types of cuts with hairstylists who have differing levels of expertise can sell the various options to its prospects by explaining the benefits of each offering. A toy store can provide its prospects with a number of different options to entertain young children, even selling to the kids themselves to show parents what their little ones prefer.
How Solution Selling Works
This sales methodology is highly effective because it puts prospects in a position of control. Most consumers don’t like being sold to by a pushy salesperson who is insistent that they purchase the product. The solution sales approach, on the other hand, helps prospects to understand their own customer needs and identify their own pain points. It’s a highly customized approach that is consumer-centric, giving prospects the power to make a decision about how to resolve their own problems.
The sales reps act as informative and encouraging agents, helping prospects to articulate the challenges they are facing. Then, they ask open-ended questions that help the prospects understand the different ways they could solve their problem. Through this process, the salespeople lead the prospects to the conclusion that they need to purchase the product or service the business is offering. However, the approach is not aggressive or assertive.
With solution sales performance, sales reps help the prospects feel heard when it comes to their needs. Plus, the sales reps are able to provide solutions that are tailored to the specific problems that customers are facing, at least in the messaging. This helps the prospects understand why the solution is right for them.
For example, a drugstore owner could sell a hand cream to prospects by talking about how smooth the cream makes their hands feel. If prospects are having difficulty with chapped and dry skin, then this solution directly solves the specific problem they are having. Not only does the salesperson talk about the benefits of the product but talks about them in a way that relates to the real-world challenges the prospects are experiencing.
The Benefits of Solution Selling
Many sales leaders choose the solution selling approach because of how effective it is. It’s a methodology that works for both B2C and B2B sales and can thrive in any industry. The benefits of the solution selling methodology include:
- Customer-friendly buying process: Solution selling is not a hard-sell approach. It enables the salesperson to tell the prospects a story of how the product or service can solve their problem. Then, the prospects are able to come to their own conclusion about how much better their lives can be if they have the solution.
- Focus on relationship building: With solution selling, the salesperson doesn’t just make the sale and move on. This kind of methodology enables businesses to make long-lasting connections with customers because they have a deep understanding of their needs. As a result, businesses can build customer loyalty and connection for the long term.
Value-centric: The solution selling approach is about selling the value of a product or service, not the bells and whistles. For example, if a salesperson is selling a kitchen appliance, the key points on which she will focus are not the warranty or the manufacturing materials. Instead, in this approach, the salesperson will focus on the delicious food the appliance will help the prospects cook. This more effectively
helps the prospects to understand why they need the product or service.
The Drawbacks of Solution Selling
Like all sales strategies, the solution selling process doesn’t work for every salesperson or every business. It does come with some negative aspects that are important to consider. Pay attention to these drawbacks when deciding whether to use solution selling in your business:
- Complex knowledge requirement: In order to truly sell the value proposition of the product or service, the salesperson has to know everything about it, inside and out. Even if the features are not the key selling point, the sales rep needs to know what they are so he can tailor the discussion to the specific needs of the prospects. This can be challenging if the salesperson is selling a new solution or product.
- Risk of alienating the prospect: In this selling process, the sales rep has to ask the right questions and help the prospects come to the desired conclusion. If he doesn't, he can risk making the prospects feel like their problems aren’t truly understood.
- Challenging conversation style: In the solution selling process, there is a specific question/answer format that needs to be followed in order for the methodology to be effective. This can be difficult for some sales professionals to master while sounding natural.
The Solution Selling Process
The solution selling methodology follows a specific process that is designed to provide the business with the best result. While completing this process, the business learns more about its customers’ needs while the customers get the solutions for which they were hoping. The solution selling process includes:
- Prepare: In a traditional solution for sales, the company looks for its target audience. However, in the solution selling process, the business researches the biggest challenges its target audience is facing. Sales reps need to understand the goals their prospects are trying to achieve and what barriers stand in their way.
- Diagnose: The sales rep needs to ask open-ended questions that help the prospects identify their own weaknesses and challenges. This way, the salesperson can determine where the products or services fit in.
- Qualify: At this time, the salesperson needs to figure out whether prospects are decision makers and can make the decision to purchase the product or service on their own. The sales rep also needs to decide whether the prospects are really interested in the product or service.
- Educate: This is where the sales rep showcases the value of the product or service to the prospects. It’s important to relate the value proposition to the problems and challenges that were uncovered in steps one and two.
- Solve: Here, the sales rep presents the customized solution to the prospects. It’s important to talk about how this solution can help them solve their specific challenges.
- Close: The final step of solution selling is about coming to an agreement. This methodology gives the prospects control over what decision they want to make and how they want to solve the issues they identified earlier in the conversation.
Solution Selling Questions
One of the most important aspects of solution selling is asking the right questions at the right time. These selling skills will help you to lead customers to the conclusion that your product or service is the right solution for them.
Solution selling questions include:
- Why isn’t [your current solution] working for you right now?
- What are your goals?
- Why are you having difficulty achieving your goals at this time?
- How has [your specific problem] gotten to this stage?
- Why are you looking for a different solution for this problem?
- What would your ideal solution look like?
- If you don’t solve your problem now, what will happen in the future?
- How would you benefit from a solution that could [your value proposition]?
- What kind of impact would this solution have on your daily life?
- What would life be like if you didn’t have to think of [the specific problem] again?
- Would you like to hear how this solution helped another customer who was facing a similar problem?
Training Employees on Solution Selling
In order for you and your sales organization to succeed with solution selling, it’s critical to have sales training on a regular basis. This ensures that your team is armed with the right information and has the confidence they need to speak with prospects. Sales training for solution selling should include:
- Learning details about each product or service and what problems they can solve
- Knowing the value propositions for each product or service inside and out
- Practicing asking the solution selling questions in a natural manner at the right time in the sales process
- Rehearsing the sales approach with a seasoned sales rep and a potential customer
- Figuring out how to close the sale without being assertive or pushy
In addition to interactive sales training where employees have the opportunity to practice their selling skills, sales organizations should consider reading "Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets," which was written by Michael Bosworth, the creator of the solution selling methodology.
Other Sales Methodologies to Consider
While solution selling is effective, there are several other sales techniques that help consumers make buying decisions. Depending on your sales scenario, you can combine several aspects from different sales techniques to create a custom process that works for you. Other sales methodologies to consider include:
- SPIN selling: The four key components of this methodology are situation, problem, implication and need payoff.
- Value selling: Similar to solution selling, this is about selling the value of what the prospects receive with the product or service.
- Consultative selling: The focus is more on building the salesperson-prospect relationship rather than making the sale.
- Target account selling: Sales reps focus on a few accounts and build deeper relationships with them.
While the goal of each sales methodology is to sell the product and increase revenue, the process differs based on the focus of the technique. Many sales techniques can work in conjunction with each other to help you and your sales team reach your targets. For example, while solution selling, you can also use consultative selling to build a deeper connection with the prospects. You can also use target account selling in this process so that the prospects deal with the same sales rep at each interaction.
- Mailshake Blog: The Top 8 Sales Methodologies to Consider for Your Business
- Sales Star: The Selling Psychology Behind Consultative Sales
- Lucidchart: Why You Should Use the Solution Selling Process
- HubSpot: Solution Selling: The Ultimate Guide
- Pipedrive Blog: Solution Selling: The Comprehensive Guide
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.