Table of Contents
What is Solution Selling?
Solution selling is a customer-centric sales methodology where, instead of the traditional product-based approach to sales, the seller learns their customers’ needs. Then, they find a way to meet those needs with the product they’re selling. Solution sellers craft custom solutions that help their customers grow and succeed long-term.
First introduced in 1975 by Wang Laboratories employee Frank Watts, solution selling permeated the corporate world throughout the early and mid-1980s. It replaces the standard ‘box pushing’ approach to sales, which mainly prioritizes selling the same product features to all prospects the same way, regardless of their individual circumstances.
- Solutions-based selling
- Needs-focused sales
- Consultative selling
- Needs analysis
Importance of Solution Selling
The common cliché in sales is it’s all about building ‘rapport’ — that is, making small talk to trick a prospect into trusting you. But customers easily see through the “How are things going with the family?” conversations. And cutting straight to the sales pitch without understanding the customer’s needs leads to lower customer satisfaction in the long run.
In solution selling, sales reps take the opposite approach. Through sales conversations, they answer questions like:
- What are the prospect’s business goals?
- Why can’t they seem to meet them?
- What are their upcoming milestones (e.g., merger, product launch)?
- What do they need to do better to solve their pain points
- What outcome would solve these problems or help them solve them for themselves?
Solution sellers build real rapport with their customers by being practical and knowledgeable. They build relationships with prospects because they are committed to giving them the best product or service that fits their needs, not just what will give them a one-time commission.
When to Use Solution Selling
Ideally, sellers should use a customer-centric sales approach with every potential customer. But solution selling is just one type of customer-centric approach. And it requires heavy time investment.
There are two main times to use solution selling:
- When the customer needs a custom or highly complex solution
- When the customer needs a significant amount of support
Solution selling is common in service-based fields like digital marketing, professional services (accounting, financial advising, consulting), and labor services (HVAC, contracting, construction). It’s also common when businesses sell highly configurable products, such as with B2B manufacturing and enterprise software.
Sometimes, even simple solutions could require a high level of support. When a B2B buyer is shopping for a new accounting system, they’ll want to know all the features, workflows, and integrations it offers before deciding. And they’ll want the seller to help them understand how it fits into their current processes.
Solution Selling Advantages
Perhaps the biggest advantage of solution selling is that it’s customer-oriented. 71% of customers expect personalized interactions, and that starts the moment they enter the sales funnel.
Although this happens long before they talk to sales, solution selling ensures their experience with a company sales rep is a continuation of the personalized buying experience.
More than three-quarters of B2B buyers say their last purchase was either “difficult” or “very difficult.” A significant portion of this because they don’t feel like their seller is selling the right product or solution.
Buyers have lives, too. When the sales process isn’t centered around value, they lose interest, trust, or both. And they’ll certainly be less keen on taking large risks with their money.
Solution selling ensures the value is always at the center of the conversation. By understanding a buyer’s needs and crafting a custom solution, sellers increase trust and create more valuable relationships that lead to better conversions.
Differentiation from Competitors
A lot of companies don’t realize that product differentiation is only one piece of the puzzle. Most customers care just as much or more about the level of personalization and support they get from their suppliers.
It doesn’t matter how ‘differentiated’ the product is if the seller doesn’t do a good job of setting the customer up with it. The buyer has to convert first. Then, they can realize the value of a unique product.
Solution sellers customize their solutions and offer better customer service than their counterparts. This creates a level of trust that traditional sales methodologies can’t replicate. In reality, the results play out in a company’s conversion rate — four out of five customers say they’re likelier to buy from a brand that offers personalized experiences.
Increased Sales Effectiveness
A solution seller is both more efficient at finding out what a prospect is looking for and more effective at offering a custom solution that fits their needs. Solid research helps sales reps craft a tailored offer and give the customer exactly what they need.
Solution sellers also require a certain level of technical aptitude from sales reps — they need to be able to understand and explain complex topics in layman’s terms. The ability to break down complex products sets the prospect up nicely for onboarding and eventual user adoption. When they understand a product’s features and specs upfront, they’ll be more familiar once they do convert.
That extra knowledge and efficiency lead to better conversion rates, larger transactions, and higher customer retention.
Shorter Sales Cycle
The typical B2B sales cycle can take anywhere from a few weeks to a several months to close. It’s entirely common for enterprise sales reps to be working the same deal more than a year later.
Although solution selling requires additional time on the seller’s side, it shortens complex sales cycles by eliminating a lot of the guesswork and back-and-forth. Since solution sellers take the time to understand their prospects’ needs, they can tailor a custom solution right away. And because they’re focused on value, they can move deals through the pipeline with fewer meetings and presentations.
Solution Selling Disadvantages
Although solution selling is a fantastic approach for building relationships and getting the most out of each sales interaction, it isn’t a cure-all for low sales conversions. Companies with less complex products or shorter sales cycles will find it bogs down productivity and adds unnecessary value to their process.
Time is one of the biggest issues with solution selling. For high-value accounts, solution selling helps them understand everything they need from a package. Most customers have simpler needs.
Take a SaaS company offering multiple price tiers as an example. Their enterprise sales reps are probably spending hours with each prospect. They’re taking them out to lunches, setting up demos, and talking through their product’s features with board members and company execs.
But those enterprise customers need custom software, API access, and dedicated support. Most of their prospects can subscribe to the middle tier, integrate it, and get on with their day.
That’s why situational awareness and multiple sales approaches are so important. Every sales strategy these days entails some level of solution selling. But sales teams need to know when to standardize their approach.
Salespeople are expensive (well, their time is). So is a deal that takes forever to close. Every additional sales meeting means another hour of a sales rep’s time is being spent.
Sales reps already spend less than 30% of their day selling. If they aren’t spending a significant portion of that building their pipeline and growing the business, there’s not much value.
Solution selling isn’t just time-consuming. It requires additional resources in the form of research, buyer enablement content, and software to create a personalized buying experience. It’s up to companies to decide if those extra resources will yield a higher ROI than standardizing their approach.
Solution selling can add complexity to the sales process. It requires a lot of research, technical knowledge, and buyer enablement content that creates an extra step in the customer journey.
On top of that, it relies heavily on a seller’s ability to actually consult. If they aren’t well-versed in their company’s product (or they flat out aren’t good at breaking down complex topics), it could lead to a lower close rate.
Solution sales can come with a higher cost than other sales approaches. Companies have to invest in additional resources, training, and technology in order to get the most out of them.
Ramp time is another consideration. Getting new hires up to speed with company sales procedures requires larger time investment when there’s more to learn. Even if solution selling is reserved for larger accounts, external hires that join the enterprise team will face this problem.
Plenty of companies grow sustainably without offering customizable solutions. Sometimes, it’s better to meet multiple customers’ basic needs at once than to customize solutions for individual buyers.
It’s also worth noting that the complexity of customizing a solution is tied directly to the product or service in question. Some companies have far more flexibility when creating custom solutions, while others are limited by their existing product portfolio.
Hiring additional sales talent at a higher cost is really the only way to scale with solution selling. Since a hands-on approach and personalized service characterize it, passing the baton from one rep to another is difficult.
The fact that it’s difficult to implement also means companies using solution selling will have a harder time once they choose to expand. Selling to a different buyer persona, expanding internationally, and launching new products take a lot of time already. The growing pains from a solution-oriented sales force are much greater.
Sales Team Resistance
If a sales team is already having success without solution selling, they probably won’t want to sacrifice sales efficiency for a different approach. It requires additional training, more time on each sale, and greater investment in technology.
For that reason, it’s only a good idea to implement solution selling if there’s a clear need for it (such as the introduction of a new customizable product). Otherwise, companies can get stuck halfway through a lengthy conversion process with no clear next step.
The Solution Selling Process
Solution selling, like all sales methodologies, works on a case-by-case basis. Every organization will put their own spin on it. It’s part of a differentiated strategy.
Research Customer’s Pain Points
Before anything, a seller needs to understand why they’re talking to the buyer in the first place.
Examples of pain points include:
- Poor customer experience
- Inefficient processes
- High cost of services
- Low conversion rates
- Error-prone systems
Customer pain points are the North Star for the solution seller, who is always looking for an opportunity to help the customer with a tailored solution.
Note: The ‘pain points’ stage is no place for sales pitches. Sales reps should make note of these challenges, briefly comment on them, and begin to craft a solution in their head while they learn the rest of the customer’s circumstances.
A roadblock is anything that could potentially prevent a customer from continuing the buying process.
- Buy-in from upper management
- Nearing budget reevaluation
- Skepticism from other team members
- Difficulty implementing a new solution or making a change
Identifying roadblocks is as simple as asking the potential customer what they are. Every seller needs to ask their prospects what would hold them back from a decision if the product were to be a good fit. They also need to identify everyone involved in the sale (B2B sales typically have as many as 10 decision-makers).
Qualify the Customer
Until a prospect is a sales qualified lead (SQL), they aren’t worth the extra time and effort solution selling entails.
A few criteria to qualify a customer include:
- Budget (and flexibility) — If a customer can’t pay what the product costs, they’ll never convert. Not even if it’s the perfect fit.
- Authority — Is the prospect actually able to make a decision, or will they need sign-off from someone else? Before jumping into a heavily solution-oriented sale, make sure a decision-maker is on the other end.
- Business use case — Could the customer really get the most out of using your product? If they would only use a few features, they’ll probably churn sooner than the ideal customer.
- Decision timeline — Companies that aren’t ready to make a decision just yet might benefit from a quick demo and lead nurturing, but they aren’t the best candidates for a hands-on approach.
Qualification is all about protecting the seller’s and buyer’s time. Leading with value means only delivering value when it’s a fair trade-off — time for money.
Education on the Solution
Once a lead is qualified and the rep has decision-makers on the line, they can break everything down. They can finally tell them about the product and how it would solve their pain points better than any other solution.
The first step in this stage is usually a sales demo. With all the information they have from previous conversations, they can prepare a presentation in advance that specifically highlights the features that match the customer’s needs.
The next step is to help the customer understand why a particular solution works for them and how it will tie into their existing processes, systems, or services. This requires sellers to have both product expertise and an understanding of the customer’s business strategy.
Objections are the customer’s way of telling the seller they still have doubts, even after being impressed by the sales demo. They’re completely natural — every potential buyer will have them.
Common objections include:
- “It’s too expensive”
- “We don’t need that many features”
- “Our current system works fine”
- “We’re not ready to make a decision right now”
- “We don’t really see the benefit here”
Sometimes, they aren’t even real objections. They’re just masking the customer’s fear of making a decision.
A seller needs to listen carefully and then try to re-frame their solution in terms of the customer’s pain points, goals, or budget constraints. Open-ended questions help a lot here.
For example, a prospect who “doesn’t need that many features” isn’t necessarily uninterested. The seller may have just misunderstood their needs and represented them poorly in the demo as a result.
By returning with something as simple as, “What do you need?” or “What were you expecting to see more of during this presentation?” the sales rep can get on the same page with their customer.
Drive Home the Solution
To the solution seller, objections are really just opportunities to meet customer needs more accurately. Assuming they handled them well (and the product is a good fit), they’ll have the chance to drive home the solution.
This includes the following activities:
- Setting expectations for the customer, including timelines and delivery models
- Comparing the solution to competing ones
- Making a case for why the product is worth its price (ROI)
- Bringing in additional resources for customers to explore before making a decision
- Working out any financing agreements and payment plans that make it easier for customers to commit
- Reminding the customer of pain points they faced before and how the product solves them
Close the Sale
Implementation and Onboarding
Closing the sale doesn’t necessarily mean the sales process is over. Customers still need to pay, get up to speed, and deploy the product across their organization.
The level of implementation and customer onboarding support a company offers will vary based on the intricacy of the solution. Usually, it involves a mix of digital onboarding programs, hands-on training, and user adoption milestones. In some cases, an organization will send in its own developers to build IT infrastructure.
Post-sale support is one of the most crucial elements of any sales process. It’s how the business retains its customers.
Ongoing support is an opportunity to build lasting relationships, upsell, and cross-sell. And fast response times and effective solutions to customer problems mean businesses can protect themselves from customer churn.
Best Practices for Successful Solution Selling
Solution selling is complicated to implement, especially if the sales team doesn’t have prior experience with it.
Briefly, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Use a lead scoring system to focus solution selling on high-value prospects.
- Talk with (not at) your customers.
- Ask simple, open-ended questions that get your prospect talking.
- Bring real insight to the table during and after conversations by sending content to prospects.
- Ditch the pitch. Get the buyer to call themselves to action by highlighting what they need from your product.
- Don’t be too rigid in your sales demo. Let their questions drive it.
Tools for Efficient Solution Selling
Solution selling is largely software-enabled. It’s virtually impossible for sellers to manage all their customer information and conversation notes. Software stores it all on the cloud and automates key procedures throughout the sales cycle.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM software is the center of this ecosystem. It’s the tool that stores customer data and sales pipeline information in one place. It also helps sellers organize their tasks, set reminders, track previous sales conversations, segment customers, visually move them through the sales pipeline, and report on performance metrics.
Collaboration tools make it easy for sales reps to share information internally, like documents or presentation slides. They can also assign tasks to team members and keep track of their progress.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Larger organizations often use ERP solutions to streamline their internal processes, like inventory management or accounting.
Integrating ERP with CRM and collaboration tools creates a seamless workflow for sellers. They can access all their company’s product data without constantly switching between different applications.
Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ)
CPQ software makes it easy for sellers to build custom solutions for their buyers right before their eyes. Instead of assembling a product configuration and quoting a prospect for it by hand, CPQ knows all the pricing rules and product parameters automatically.
CPQ’s visual drag-and-drop interface makes it easy for sales reps to craft tailored solutions in seconds (sometimes while the prospect is on the call).
People Also Ask
What is the difference between solution selling and product selling?
The key difference between solution selling and product selling is the emphasis on understanding customer pain points. In solution selling, sellers look for ways to solve customer problems with products or services, as opposed to pushing pre-made solutions onto them.
What is an example of solution selling?
Suppose a sales rep at an HR tech company speaks to a customer who has a problem managing employee attendance. Instead of offering them an off-the-shelf HR software and going through all its features, the rep can delve deeper in the problem. Then, they can demo a specific solution that factors in the customer’s company headcount and existing tech stack.
How does solution selling work?
At its core, solution selling is a customer-centered approach. To start, the sales rep discovers the customer’s needs and pain points. Using these challenges as their North Star, they curate a solution (with their company’s products or services) that addresses those issues specifically.