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Solution Sales Lives!

In our now classic HBR article, “The Ultimately Accountable Job” (July-August, 2006), we explained that the CSO (Chief Sales Officer) must understand the why, where and how of solution selling so that it is appropriately aligned with customers’ requirements for doing business. Because it can be incredibly inefficient and expensive, solution selling (aka consultative selling) is not uniformly right for all B2B sales models. It never occurred to us that the fundamentals of solution selling would ever become obsolete and, thus, when HBR published a subsequent article (“The End of Solution Sales”, July-August, 2012), we became concerned that we had overstated our case to CSOs about its importance.

We believe that a new book by Mike Schultz and John Doerr (Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently, Wiley, 2014) provides important data and insights about how solution selling is evolving and continues to be an important selling style to understand.

Here is a brief run-down of what caught our attention in this book and, thus, the reason why we endorse reading it:

  • First, Insight Selling is largely based on primary research. It includes an analysis and interpretation of more than 700 purchases involving $3.1 billion in value where buyers report their buying experiences with sales reps. This research by itself, in our opinion, is well worth the price of the book. The first Chapter does an excellent job of putting the research into an easy to read/easy to understand perspective.
  • Next, one of the break-through ideas in the book is to look at sales reps in the context of “winners” and “runners-up”. That is, who won the deal; and, who was the second “runner-up”. It’s in this context that we clearly see one of the authors’ key points: solution selling is not dead; rather, it needs to be updated to reflect the new realities of how customers buy today. For example, largely gone at the days where the seller needs to focus on “pain points” and conduct diagnosis for problems to offer solutions. What the sales winners did (that the runner ups did not do) was to educate the buyers with new ideas or perspectives and, to collaborate with the buyers to confirm needs and mutually arrive at optimum solution alternatives.
  • Finally, Schultz and Doerr make a strong case for reorienting solution sellers through a three level RAIN SellingSM program. We are not experts in sales training; we have, however, interacted with sales organizations and their leaders in over 30+ industries during our consulting careers where we have observed a wide variety of sales training practices. The three levels of their model (Level 1 = Connect; Level 2 = Convince; and, Level 3 = Collaborate is an unbelievably simple, yet a powerful framework in which to understand why some sales people win and other come in second. Perhaps equally important, their model and techniques for operationalizing solution selling build on what many companies already know about it, rather than asking the reader or practitioner of solution selling to scrap it and start all over again.

Insight Selling is a relatively quick read and one that you will find yourself saying, “Ah ha, I knew that…” but, now you’ll have some data and expert perspectives to support it. Also, we believe, perhaps like us, you’ll mark a number of pages and charts that you will want to go back to when challenged with the realities of how to increase business results through doing solution selling right!