Making the Shift Successfully from a Product-Focused to a Solution-Based Sales Process: What You Need to Know

Many organisations that shifted to a solution-based sales approach see great results. Read up on which steps to take to shift your sales team to solution-based sales.

Imagine the following scenario. You’ve been struggling to meet your targets while your competitors appear to be thriving. You’ve been racking your brains trying to figure out what makes their product so much different to yours, and you’re coming up blank. 

Sound familiar?

Rest assured you’re not alone. The truth of the matter is that there may not be any major differences between your product and their product. There could, however, be big differences in how your competitors are presenting their products to their buyers. 

Introducing Solution-Based Sales

Renowned management consultant Peter Drucker is famously quoted as saying, “what the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always utility, that is, what a product or service does for him”. Understanding the difference between a product and a solution is key to developing a strong sales strategy that really delivers. 

  • Product-focused selling is rooted in the product itself; its features, its design, its functionality and so on. This sales method involves promoting these aspects to the buyer in a bid to convince the customer that this is the product they need. 
  • Solution-based selling works backwards, beginning with the customer’s need and finishing with the product; a complete reversal of product-focused selling. The foundations lie in the benefits of the product, and how it can impact the buyer. 

The first approach is clearly sales-based, while the second approach is more customer-centered. So which works best? According to Geoff Webb of the Forbes Technology Council, a sales-focused approach is no longer relevant. He believes that sales representatives ‘have some habits that are honestly not healthy - like trying to sell stuff to people’. Instead, Webb states that promoting solutions is much more effective. 

Why Shift from Product Selling?

The buyer journey has changed. The transition to digital means that today’s buyers have access to much of the information they need to make a decision. In fact, a DemandGen report estimates that 70% of the buyer journey takes place before sales teams are actually even involved. By the time buyers enter into the home stretch, they already know about products and features, so product-focused selling really doesn’t do anything to drive the buyer through the final 30% of the funnel. What buyers usually can’t figure out from online resources is how the product can act as a solution to their current problem.

Successfully Implementing Solutions-Based Selling

It is clear that solutions-based selling aligns more closely with today’s buyer journey. And yet, insights firm McKinsey reports that, for many sales teams, ‘solutions selling has not yet delivered on its promise’. That’s because it’s not always easy to adapt the sales process and shift from a well established approach to a new sales model. There are a number of factors that sales leaders must take into account, including the migration to remote selling if they are to make the change successfully:

1. Good Management Practices

According to the report by McKinsey, there are three enablers of solutions-based selling: talent management, performance management, and tools management. The first step in making a successful shift is prioritising the needs of your team, and leading them effectively through the period of disruption. Remember that, for older sales reps especially who have become accustomed to product-focused selling, it can be difficult to get them onboard with new approaches initially. Although you may be reluctant to digitise, new tools and information systems can be just what’s needed. 

2. Company-Wide Preparation

While you may once have categorised all of your buyers into a single group, you’ll find that, as you start to make the shift to solutions-based selling, everyone all of a sudden appears different to one another. This is normal, but it does mean that you need to be prepared to meet the needs of all these different audience groups. This can be difficult to achieve without support from other departments. By creating harmony between sales, development, marketing, and accounts, all departments can prepare for change and create a strategy which allows sales teams to focus on the right activities. 

3. Willingness to Listen

Product-focused selling has always meant ‘listening’ to the product. However, taking a customer-centric approach to sales means developing a new curiosity and listening to the customer. Most of the time, what you’ll find is that customers have requests that aren’t always standard. Previously, you may have been searching for a one-size-fits-all solution to developing your sales team and driving success, but it’s becoming more and more clear that this solution simply doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s time to really hone in on your buyers, and tailor your approach to meet their unique needs. 

4. Ability to Connect the Dots

Ultimately, a solutions-based selling approach won’t work unless you’re able to fully align the needs of your customers with the products you’re offering. You need to be able to connect the dots, and this means you need to be able to see the dots. The best way to do this is to try to resonate with your audience, which can be challenging if you find it difficult to connect with different people, of different ages, with different values. But the truth is that you’re in this leadership role because you’ve proven that you know how to be a sales leader. Draw upon your experience to put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. 

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