The End of Solutions Sales?


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The buying environment within which most sellers operate has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Buyers are much more informed about the products and services being sold to them than ever before. The knowledge gap that drove the value being delivered by the seller in the past has closed dramatically, buyers are no longer dependent on the knowledge that a seller can share with them about what, why and how much.
So, the knowledge gap has closed, buyers are so much more informed than ever before and yet the selling process has remained the same. Why have we not seen the next generation of Solution Selling adapted to the new buying environment?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “The End of Solutions Sales” Matt Dixon of the Corporate Executive Board argues that because buyers complete nearly 60% of a typical B2B purchasing cycle for themselves many sellers are becoming more of an annoyance to the buyer than an asset to the selling company.

What we are seeing is a smaller percentage of sellers are excelling. In a recent survey we found that only 7% of a company’s salesforce were in the excellent performance band and 92% were in the middle performance bands. When we analyze the 7% what we find are sales people that understand that it is no longer enough to simply complete the checklist of solution selling activities. The unique characteristics of the 7% is that they are able to develop relationships with a broad set of people for the specific purpose of building a knowledge base of information about the buyers business. They are then able to logically group this knowledge, making connections that enable them to develop Insights about the buyers business that paints a completely new and interesting picture of what the buyer should be doing vs. what the buyer might be planning to do.

The secret sauce lies in the ability of the seller to obtain the knowledge about the business and then shape the knowledge into Insights. Knowledge therefore becomes the raw material for the production of Insight. Thus, we have a new formula for sales success; Relationships + knowledge + Insight = Success. If you remove any one of the elements the formula no longer works.

There are 3 main implications of this for B2B selling companies:

  • Companies must update the Profile of Excellence for sales roles to ensure that the right profile of people are being hired into sales, people who are really good at building knowledge and shaping knowledge into insights. Training programs for existing sellers must focus on improving the knowledge to insight skills of sellers.
  • Companies must ensure that all customer facing marketing materials are rich in insights about how the seller can impact the business of the buyer.
  • Internal sales management processes must emphasize the importance of sharing knowledge and insights about customers. Win/Loss reviews in which lessons learnt and insights shared must become common practice.

For Microsoft Dynamics Partners the implications are particularly important especially for partners who are choosing to focus on the ‘Territory through Partner’ route to market (See the “Microsoft Routes to Market Strategy”blog). The reason for this is that this route to market depends completely upon the partner’s ability to effectively sell into the corporate segment. Microsoft is adopting a co-selling model whereby opportunities will be identified and qualified by Microsoft and passed through to Dynamics partners who have the skills to effectively manage the opportunities through to close. Partners who invest in developing ‘Insight’ based sales skills are most likely to achieve the highest win rates and therefore are most likely to receive the highest numbers of leads coming through from Microsoft in the future.

Alan Dowzall
Alan Dowzall is the CEO of Cloudtorre,IT Industry watcher, evangelist, business coach and key note speaker with a passion and eye for helping companies capitalize on disruptive shifts in the market. In nearly two decades working with Microsoft, Dowzall studied what drives World Class performance in the fields of Leadership, Sales, Marketing and Services.His work laid the foundations for the Business Consulting practice he now leads focused on helping companies to exploit periods of transformation in the IT market.


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