As HBR reported a year ago, solution sales people (those that solicit buyer problems, then serve up standard solutions) are consistent low performers.  High performing sales people search for business roadblocks the prospect may not even be aware of, offering up insight versus canned solutions.

Though it’s one of the best studies on selling I’ve seen in recent years, many sales organizations haven’t adopted its recommendations as evidenced by a more recent study from Accenture that found that only 12% of sales executives believe their prospects and customers perceive them as trusted partners. In fact, the majority of sales executives say their customers view them as vendors or suppliers. Seventy percent of sales executives surveyed in the Accenture study also admit that they have yet to develop strong relationships with their customers.

These responses are clearly coming from old-fashioned, solution sellers.  

Granted, there is still plenty of room for product sales that solve point problems, and if you’re a commodity sales organization, the solution sale can work. Most of you however, say you’re not selling commodities. So what’s next? How do you break out of the solution sale, which is the culprit driving you into a commodity sale?

First, you might have to re-assess the current sales force. Leading marketing and sales executives have told me for years, “the time and effort we spent trying to migrate old fashioned solution sales people to consultative, insight sellers didn’t pay off and we ended up replacing them with those that already get it.”

Second, stop feature selling. Focus on outcomes, experiences and buyer stories that reveal how you supported the customer’s business outcomes, especially those of a strategic nature. Good business cases don’t feature products, they feature business outcomes.

Third, get a consistent thought leadership program in place, fueled by a content marketing factory. The days of the occasional white paper are over. You’ve got to have a steady stream of thought emanating from your marketing programs that focuses on the future. Sure, buyers want to address current issues, but they are more interested in positioning themselves to compete tomorrow.

Last, think hard about how you help your customer compete. In the words of one executive buyer I talk to regularly, “If an investment doesn’t help me compete, why am I making it?”


  1. 25 July 2013 at 5:07 pm
    Eugene Breger says:

    RIchard –
    I much appreciate your emphasis on outcomes and thought leadership suppported by a content marketing factory. The stgeady stream of thought is where thiings are at and always have been the attention grabber.

  2. 25 July 2013 at 10:45 pm
    Richard says:

    Thanks, Eugene. How are things at Symphony Analytics?

  3. 26 January 2015 at 7:58 pm says:

    Great article!

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