Slowing Down Solution Selling


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It seems like everyone has been beating up on solution selling recently, so I’d like to join the fun and kick it while it’s down.

That may not sound fair, but I have good reason to dislike the phrase. The idea is a good one—but most salespeople hear the cliché and forget the true meaning behind it.

Those who view it most superficially fall into the trap of thinking don’t realize that calling your product a “solution” does not automatically make you a solution provider. I once saw a sign above the door of a deli in New York which touted its “lunch solutions.” Believe me, it did not make the lunch taste any better. Salespeople aren’t the only ones guilty of this; it also seems to have infected everyone who writes marketing collateral.

Those who sort of get it are a little better. They know they have to ask questions to understand the customer’s problems, probe further to get the customer to understand the implications, and then help the customer arrive at their true needs. The only problem is, they tend to view questions as a means to make a hole to shove their solution in. Once they have reached a sufficient size hole that is close to the right shape, here it comes, ready or not.

Those who truly get the idea of solution selling also probe to understand needs, but they don’t stop at the surface. When the customer describes a problem that appears to be a fit for their solution, they make the effort to go deeper, because they know that in the long run, a band-aid solution that merely covers up symptoms is going to lead to problems down the road, for both the seller and the buyer. Rather than focusing immediately on implications, they drill down into diagnostic questions, to make sure they understand the root causes of the problem.

Sometimes they don’t get the answer they want, and lose the immediate sale by telling the customer that their own solution is not the right one for them. Sometimes, their diligence is rewarded by uncovering a larger and more significant opportunity.

Either way, they gain respect and trust that pays off in the long run. More importantly they maintain their own self-respect as professionals who have the customer’s best interests in mind.

Sales professionals know that the true spirit of solution selling requires them to slow down, worry much less about getting to the solution, and focus more on the problem. They know that if the diagnosis is correct, the prescription follows naturally.

Ironically, slowing down often results in faster sales, because when the buyer sees that they are sincerely focused on understanding the right problem to be solved, their trust and comfort level go way up.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Malcolm
Jack founded Falcon Performance Group in 1996 specifically to combine his complex-sale expertise and his extensive financial background to design and implement complete sales process improvement initiatives at top national and international corporations.


  1. I’ve seen the same thing. Laser-focused salespeople failing to cull out The Whole Picture. Sometimes we just call it ‘going for the jugular.’ That doesn’t make it right, but there is a reason it happens.

    The sales profession–more than most others–suffers from goal conflict. How about these:

    “Close the deal!”
    “Give your customer uncompromising value!”
    “Sell at a profit!”

    Heck, I’ve heard all three at the same sales kickoff meeting, and nobody raised his or her hand to question exactly how these goals can be achieved simultaneously. I guess nobody wanted to be labeled Not a Team Player.

    Despite the rightful protests about certain selling tactics, selling in today’s competitive environment favors salespeople who don’t cast doubt on the efficacy of their products and services, and who don’t initiate discussion of implementation risks. On the surface, this seems obviously wrong, but as the pressure to achieve any specific goal (e.g. Close the deal!), the goal equilibrium is thrown off, if it even existed in the first place.

    Companies can manage this conflict by first acknowledging that for salespeople, conflict exists, and then by adopting a longer-term view of the value that the selling organization must bring to the enterprise (I’m still amazed by how few executives have applied thought to this).

    If the concept of sales value is locked into achieving short-term goals, you will find salespeople using questions simply to close the deal. That’s the same thinking that created “get the customer to say ‘yes’ three times, then ask for the order.” Has ‘solutions selling’ helped us reduce that type of manipulation? Or just repackaged it? I’d love to know your thoughts.

    I agree with your idea that an ethical salesperson might “lose the immediate sale by telling the customer that their own solution is not the right one for them,” but honestly, tell me about a time that a salesperson was invited to share such a story in front of the global sales organization at Achiever’s Club. I can’t think of an instance.

    We live in a lopsided culture.

    (A related blog that I wrote might be of interest to your readers: Great! You’re a Solution Provider. Aren’t You Leaving Something Out?)


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