A common issue in the sales industry is that some salespeople fixate on selling their product or service without considering if it will actually help the customer. It’s kind of like a waiter at a diner who brings you the special without even asking what you’re in the mood for—and then still presents you with a full bill.
Solution selling is a decades-old sales methodology that involves a more empathetic approach to sales. Rather than focusing on pushing a sale to benefit the salesperson, it posits that connecting clients with the right solution for their problem is the best way to secure a long-term and loyal customer.
When sales teams master this sales strategy, they can better solve their prospects’ problems, develop enticing sales tactics, and ultimately build stronger relationships with their clients.
In this article, we’ll explore the question, “What is solution selling?” We’ll also lay out the six stages in a solution sales process, as well as some techniques you can use to launch your own approach to solution sales.
What is solution selling?
Solution selling is a sales methodology wherein salespeople consider the needs of their prospects and recommend products or services that can best solve their problems. To do this, they obviously need a good understanding of who their potential customers are and their pain points.
Essentially, solution selling requires sales reps to get an in-depth look at the true needs of their potential buyers, rather than approaching every sale with a specific product in mind. Leading with the product is known as product selling, which differs from solution selling in a few ways.
Solution selling vs. product selling
Product selling is the more traditional sales approach. This sales strategy focuses on convincing prospects that the product or service you offer is better than the ones offered by your competitors. This often results in sales pitches based on product features and pricing options, which are valuable pieces of information to know, of course, but maybe not from the get-go.
Solution selling doesn’t immediately throw all the focus on the product. Instead, it involves a more consultative selling approach that shows what the product or service can do for a prospect to make their lives easier. Rather than discussing specs and features, reps using solution selling will identify problems that their prospects are facing and then point to the solution that best solves those issues.
If you’re looking to adopt the solution-based selling approach for yourself or your sales team, here are the six stages of the solution-selling process.
Solution selling sales stages
Rarely does the wheel need to be reinvented, and solution selling is no different. The ideas behind solution selling start with a sales process similar to traditional methods of selling. But like all derivatives, this methodology has key elements that make it unique.
While different sales teams have their own strategies for the solution selling process, at its core there are six basic solution selling sales stages.
Stage 1: Understand your product or service
It’s hard to make a sale enticing if you don’t fully understand what your company offers. One of the top sales skills is knowing your company’s product or service inside and out so you can sell it with confidence.
Before developing a solution selling strategy, make sure you or your sales reps know exactly what they’re selling. Form a consensus about the key value propositions and unique selling points, and make sure the language your sales team uses aligns. This kind of information is a critical resource in making sure you or your sales team are communicating the same essential message to prospective clients.
A good resource for storing and sharing this vital information is a knowledge base, which is like an easily searchable digital library that holds key assets like spec sheets and product descriptions. You can typically find knowledge base tools included as a feature of customer service platforms and CRM software.
In addition to having the right educational resources, it’s important to educate yourself and your team on how to sell with competitors in mind. If you’re driving home selling points that other companies specialize in, you’ll find it much harder to keep your leads interested in your product or service.
Stage 2: Qualify your leads
Once you’ve got an iron-tight grasp of what you’re selling, the next step is to find the leads who are best suited to make use of it. Not everyone needs your product, so don’t waste your time pitching it to prospects who will never make a purchase. The key to maintaining a healthy customer base is identifying and targeting specific buyers, which is something even small businesses can do with the right CRM.
Identifying the right buyer isn’t only about finding the people who need your product. When it comes to B2B sales, it’s also key to identify the people who have the power to say “yes.” B2B salespeople don’t always speak to decision-makers upon first outreach. Solution selling involves knowing who you’re selling to so you don’t spend resources on someone who wants to say “yes” but lacks the authority.
Stage 3: Identify your potential customer’s needs
Between buyer personas and previous clients, you or your sales reps already have a solid idea about what problems your customers consistently face that drive them to seek out your company as a solution. But many clients have unique needs that aren’t typical to generic customer profiles, and it’s important to find these out before you start sneaking solutions onto their radar.
To identify every need your leads may have, organize a list of questions designed to highlight their pain points. Start with the information from your buyer persona and branch out into more specific topics that your products or services can help with.
This stage is where listening skills play a key role, and having a system for recording and storing customer data is crucial. By gathering information about prospect behavior and preferences, you can build a buyer-seller relationship that doesn’t feel overwhelming or generic.
Stage 4: Show them what they’re missing
This is where solution selling really diverts from the traditional sales process.
Using a challenger sales methodology, you’d tell your leads point-by-point why their issues are holding them back. But with solution sales, you let them connect the dots with questions and careful listening. You can do this yourself by using the spin selling technique, which directs potential buyers to discovering pain points.
To help leads connect the dots between their pain points and possible solutions, formulate questions that do the following:
- Highlight a problem or struggle in their lives or business.
- Show that it’s a fixable issue.
- Determine if they have plans to solve it.
Here are a few examples:
- “We’ve commonly seen clients in the accounting industry struggling with data organization. What steps have you put in place to keep your team’s data in order?”
- “Legal teams need airtight cybersecurity to keep their clients’ information safe. Do you have any software that helps keep this data out of the wrong hands?”
- “Food processing systems like these are nearly impossible to fully clean. What does your cleaning procedure look like for your system?”
Once you’ve identified your ideal buyer and laid out exactly what their pain points are—both the ones they came to you with and the ones you helped them discover—it’s time to frame your product or service as the perfect fit.
Stage 5: Present your value
The main goal of solution selling is to show your potential buyers why your company’s product or service is the exact solution to their issues.
With solution-based value selling strategies, there’s no need to highlight product specs and descriptions right out of the gate. At every stage in the process, you’ll already be painting an image of what the best solution to their problem looks like—you just haven’t slapped your brand on it yet. At last, it’s time to frame your company’s product or service as the hero who knows exactly what needs saving.
To present your value, share case studies and customer stories that illustrate how your solution has helped others in the past. Know what your competitors offer, and be ready to demonstrate how your value exceeds theirs—either because your prices are more affordable or because your higher price tag is worth it in the long run.
Stage 6: Close the sale
The main obstacle in this last stage is to meet any sales objections to your company’s product or service. Before handing over a credit card number or singing a contract, many buyers will want to make sure the investment is everything it promises—which means you need to be prepared.
The best way to meet objections and close a sales deal is to know which objections have been raised in the past—and how they were overcome. Review sales call transcripts and interactions for clues, and don’t be afraid to update your sales presentation with new tactics.
One useful idea is to steer the conversation in the direction of the most common objections and offer your own rebuttal in the same moment. That way you keep control of the conversation while also satisfying one of their questions—before they have a chance to spring it on you when you might not be prepared.
Now that we’ve reviewed the six stages, let’s examine exactly why they can be a good alternative to more traditional selling methods.
Benefits of the solution-based selling approach
Every sales rep has unique skills and techniques. But as a whole, it helps when sales teams are unified in their approach whether they’re leading with the product or the solution.
When it comes to solution-based selling techniques, there are two main benefits that you can’t get with the more traditional product-forward methodologies: value and relationship.
It illustrates value
The main goal of solution selling is to give your prospects an idea of how your company’s product can tangibly improve their lives or businesses. Rather than simply giving them a product catalog and asking them to buy a stock product or service that might not meet their needs, solution selling guides potential customers to name their pain points and identify the negative impacts they’re having. Only when all the pain points and losses have been identified can you truly illustrate just how much they stand to gain by investing in your solution—which makes them much more motivated to buy it.
It’s specific to each lead
As mentioned previously, sales reps using solution selling look at the problem first, and then recommend products or services that can alleviate those issues. This type of relationship selling focuses more on building trust and rapport rather than aggressive selling strategies.
Customers don’t appreciate generic sales tactics, and solution selling can be a good antidote to falling into those sales traps. When you do the work to know exactly what your lead struggles with and how it impacts their lives, you create opportunities to make your product or service more enticing, as well as build trust.
Top solution-based selling techniques
If you think the solution selling methodology is the right approach for your business or sales team, check out these top solution-based selling techniques for boosting your sales and building longer lasting customer relationships.
Create a sales need analysis
A sales need analysis—or assessment—is a tool that enables you to gather information about potential customers and what they’re struggling with. They’re typically done through an online web form, questionnaire, quiz, or discovery call. A well-crafted analysis will be engaging enough to entice prospects to spend the time doing it and will also tell you if that individual fits your ideal buyer persona.
A sales need analysis also provides you and your sales reps with inspiration for future talking points. By comparing the answers from your needs assessment with best practices in your industry, you can make a sales pitch that directly caters to your ideal customer’s pain points.
Form a connection
It’s a hard fact to accept, but on the whole, salespeople aren’t the most trusted group of folks. Only 18 percent of salespeople that buyers meet with are seen as trusted advisers. And if there’s no trust, there’s little chance of a sale. That’s why when it comes to selling solutions, it’s important to form a strong connection with your potential buyer and do everything you can to ensure that they don’t feel like fish in a barrel.
Only 18% of salespeople that buyers meet with are seen as trusted advisers.
Following a personal selling methodology isn’t easy when things like commission and promotions are on the line. To form a trusting connection that enables you to nail your up-selling and cross-selling, it helps to have a stable and repeatable sales process. Lay out a clear step-by-step sequence of identifying the right people, getting the right information, and handing them the right solution. Trust will come naturally.
Create a problem, sell a solution
Clients typically don’t buy solutions to problems they don’t think they have. But not all problems are obvious. Even if they are obvious, sometimes there are other underlying problems that could remain invisible forever. You’re not creating their problem but shining a light in the dark corners where those pain points might be lurking.
Come to every sales call or meeting armed with questions about their day-to-day operations. Rather than jumping to conclusions about what their problems are, get them talking about the problems that may be lying under the surface so you can set up your product or service as the perfect solution.
Solution selling with a strong CRM
When it comes to the solution-based selling approach, your team needs to handle a lot of information. Between company information, pain points, meeting notes, sales performance, and product info, you can’t afford to lose track of a single piece of data.
Zendesk Sell helps you keep all of your customer information organized in one place so you can maintain a large volume of clients without losing a personalized touch. It also enables you to automate repetitive tasks such as data entry and meeting scheduling so you can focus on what really seals the deal: sales skills and savvy strategy.