Solution Selling has always seemed like a great idea. "Rather than focus on our products," we've advised our (and our clients') salespeople, "focus on what the customer needs . . . get a fix on the problem they are dying to solve and then . . . offer just the right solution!"
So, imagine our surprise last Thursday evening when Donald MacDonald and Rich Vancil of IDC, sharing their latest research, displayed for one and all that there's a downside these days to Solution Selling, at least in the IT marketplace. As they explained to a full capacity crowd at the quarterly NETSEA meeting:
- Solution Selling has become ubiquitous . . . apparently everyone else has been telling their salespeople the same things we have. Result = No distinction in this message.
- Solution Selling disempowers the salesperson. Instead of driving the deal, the salesperson becomes a business development person who simply orchestrates the conversation between the potential client and your technology, customer service, engineering and R&D people. As MacDonald put it, in today's sales environment "The salesperson can LOSE the business, but they can't (independently) WIN the business."
- Solution Selling drives up the total cost of sales. When you add up the time expended by all the people contacted by prospects, you realize that each sales effort is costing a TON.
- Solution Selling lengthens the sales cycle. When the traditional (big-ticket B2B)sales cycle is replaced by the solution fulfillment cycle (which includes both the customer's decision-making AND implementation cycle), the time line for closing a sale has grown from 6 - 9 months to 14 - 16 months (according to research).
Does this mean we should move away from solution selling? No, we've trained our customers to expect (demand) solutions, so there's no going back. But we really need to look carefully at our model, and ask ourselves (1) what type of salespeople do we need now, (2) how should we prepare internal resources to respond to potential customers, (3) how do we screen prospects so that we only invest time in the "highly likelys" and (4) what do we do to explain the new cycle to those responsible for forecasting? But for the time being, just accept that it's not going to be pretty.