Another HBR Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings


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I was asked to comment on an article called The End of Solution Selling, which appeared in Harvard Business Review. The article was generally right on, but it also included several things that irritated me enough to question them and the article.

“The End of Traditional Solution Selling” – The ineffective selling model described by the authors is more aligned with transactional selling than solution selling. The real issue is that the authors were describing ineffective salespeople who, because of their ineffectiveness when attempting to use solution selling, have sales cycles that are more transactional, an approach that simply doesn’t work anymore.

“Reps” – It was difficult for me to accept the authors’ use of the word “reps” 81 agonizing times. They were writing about solution selling being dead and how successful reps use “insight selling”. We don’t call salespeople “reps” anymore unless they are independent manufacturers’ reps. They referred to solution selling as a methodology from the 80’s, but the term “rep” probably came into use right after the term salesman – probably back in the 50’s!

Mobilizers – The article discussed the different people inside an organization who used to coach salespeople on how to get the business. The authors wrote that a successful salesperson would now coach these people on how to get the company to buy from them. The authors settled on the term “mobilizers” to refer to a group of skeptics, go-getters and teachers with whom salespeople should align themselves. I wrote an article about this around 4 years ago and believe it’s a much better approach to utilizing people inside the prospect’s organization.

Complex Solutions – This article is based on selling complex technology solutions and you and your company are probably outside the boundaries of that focus.

Major Accounts – As usual, this article is based on research of big company sales forces, selling to other big companies, and has little to do with what most sales forces look like or face. As a matter of fact, our data on 600,000 salespeople and 8,500 sales forces, significantly larger and more comprehensive than the Corporate Executive Board research data, shows that big company salespeople are among the least effective salespeople anywhere. They aren’t underdogs, they have the welcome mat laid out for them, have the resources to heavily discount the deal to buy the business, and don’t face the resistance of smaller, newer or more expensive competition.

Summary – My first take away from this article is that the “superstars” (the best of all big company, ineffective salespeople) are simply selling the way that modern day salespeople are being taught to sell. I didn’t read anything in that article that was different, controversial, eye-opening or even new. Everything about which they wrote was simply well-executed consultative selling strategies and tactics and any sales training company worth its fees will teach their own version of that. Some will do it a lot better than others.

My final take away from this article is to reinforce this warning, which I issued just two months ago. If your salespeople aren’t effectively utilizing a consultative sales model, you must move to the 2nd decade of the 21st Century or you will continue to climb an uphill battle to win your share of new business.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Excellent piece. Agree on all points. To add: Don’t bother trying idea based selling before you truly understand and have practised the consultative approach. Otherwise your idea will probably sound a transaction to your customer.


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