“Solution” is possibly both the most over-used and the most misused word in many salespeople’s vocabulary. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject, and millions of training hours have been delivered on the subject of “solution selling”.
Marketers often lazily describe their offerings as their “solutions”. Private Eye even used to run a column debunking so-called solutions, on one occasion skewering cardboard boxes as “Christmas Ornament Storage Solutions”. Sherlock Holmes was famously addicted to his seven percent solution.
There are (at least) two problems with this focus on our “solutions”. Firstly, the only person or entity that’s entitled to call something a “solution” is the person or entity that had the problem or issue in the first place, and now regards it as solved. Vendors and salespeople who spray the s-word around are simply lazy-labelling their offerings.
Secondly, your prospects aren’t anything like as interested in your so-called solutions as they are in achieving their desired business outcomes. They want to know what results they can expect from implementing your offerings, and they want to be sure that they can trust you when you claim they will achieve them.
From “Solutions” to Outcomes
Focusing on our customer’s business outcomes rather than our solutions has a number of significant benefits:
- It draws attention to our customer’s business issues and their implications, helping to establish the strength of their case for change
- It helps us to establish the “outcome gap” between the customer’s current situation and their desired future outcomes
- It encourages us to understand what specifically our customer is seeking to fix, avoid or achieve (and why), rather than what they think they need to buy
- It enables us to demonstrate our offerings in the context of what our customer is trying to accomplish, and not as a stream of (often mostly irrelevant) functionality
- A discussion around business issues and outcomes rather than functionality and “solutions” is far more likely to resonate with the ultimate decision-makers
- It helps our prospective customer build their own internal business case when they are trying to get their project approved
- It helps to ensure that all parties understand what the customer’s ultimate measures of success will look like before they place their order
- It gives our customer success and post-sales support teams a clear idea of what they must enable their new customer to achieve in business terms, and not just the implementation of functionality
Unfortunately, a focus on outcomes is often outside the natural comfort zone of less effective salespeople. They are much more comfortable and confident when it comes to pitching their company or product deck or conducting a feature-led demo.
This partly down to how they are trained. Organisations find it easier to teach salespeople to talk about their company or their products than they do equipping their salespeople to have business-issue-led conversations or enabling them to respond to the questions these conversations invariably generate.
The outcome-centred sales organisation
Outcome-centred sales organisations, on the other hand, prioritise an understanding of the business issues that they are best-in-class at dealing with. Their marketing focuses on these issues, and they equip their salespeople to anticipate these issues and to explore and verify their implications with the customer.
They encourage and equip their salespeople to “stay with the problem” and to resist the “itch to pitch”. And as well as exploring the issue and its implications, they coach their salespeople to get the customer to talk about what a successful outcome would look like – at the organisational, departmental, and personal levels.
You see, it’s only by understanding (and shaping) our customer’s desired outcomes that we can maximise our customer’s chances of actually achieving their goals. If we or they can’t articulate what success would look like, the chances of them achieving it are remote. As the American sporting philosopher Yogi Berra is often quoted as saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Increasing the probability of winning – and renewing
Of course, this has become increasingly important in an increasingly “solution”-as-a-service world in which the vendor is unlikely to ever achieve profitability unless the customer decides to renew and expand their usage of the offering.
It’s obvious that many of the recent challenges of software-as-a-service vendors in terms of plummeting renewal rates are down to the fact that their customer’s desired outcomes (and therefore success metrics) were never clear in the first place.
This is a hostage to fortune, and this becomes obvious when the time comes to renew, and the customer’s finance department is demanding that all spending commitments are justified in terms of their impact on the business.
Of course, this failure to be able to articulate the desired business outcomes (and why they are so important) also serves to explain why so many apparently promising opportunities never turn into contracts – the “outcome gap” between the customer’s current situation and their desired future outcomes was never significant enough!
An organisation-wide priority
At the end of the day, however, this is not just about coaching our salespeople in the art of outcome-centric selling. Becoming outcome-centric requires that the whole organisation – not just the sales team – is focused on enabling its customers to achieve or exceed their desired outcomes.
This requires that product development focus on features and functions that lead to better customers outcomes. It requires that every department that interacts directly or indirectly with the customer is concerned about understanding and facilitating the customer’s desired outcomes.
So – does your entire organisation have a customer-outcome-centric mindset? And if not, what steps are you taking to establish one?
As a first step, why not download our guide to mastering outcome-centric selling?
This article was first published in the February 2024 edition of TopSales Magazine.