|Kelly Teal Blog|
Kelly Teal, senior editor of Channel Partners, relies on nearly 10 years of reporting on telecommunications business, regulation and the channels for her perspectives on industry trends.
Solutions-Selling Is Dead
If you read the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), you may have experienced a rush of terror over this headline: "The End of Solution Sales."
I saw one agent's tweet about the article, and he sounded resigned. "So after a few years of being told to become a solution seller, HBR now says solution selling is dead," the agent wrote.
Yeah, that would be a downer. Except, after reading HBR's piece, I realized that HBR is really just saying what we've been saying for years. Here's why: HBR defines the solution sale as "the conventional solution-selling method that has prevailed since the 1980s." In this approach, salespeople "align a solution with an acknowledged customer need and demonstrate why it is better than the competitor's." That's exactly what Channel Partners means when we use the word "transactional," discussing agents and resellers focused on circuits and hardware, respectively. In that case, yes, the solutions sale is dead.
Next, what Channel Partners calls "solutions selling," HBR has dubbed "insight selling." The idea is that a partner helps a company achieve its business objectives by implementing the right technologies. Still, I'm taking a liking to the term "insight selling," and wonder if it shouldn't be the one the channel uses; the phrase encompasses the techniques we have been discussing on the site, in the magazine, at the show (and it has a pleasing ring to it besides). The best way to explain insight selling is through this table HBR created to compare the two methods:
Based on that overview, many partners are doing "insight selling" already, and have for years. Feedback from some readers backed me up.
"Selling 'solutions' is a dying concept," said COLOTRAQ CEO Dany Bouchedid. "In my company, we always pride ourselves on our ability to not only answer a customer's questions and fulfill their needs, but also show them what questions they ought to be asking that they currently are not. According to this article, that is called 'insight selling.' So apparently we have been doing that all along while believing that we were offering our clients a 'solution' to problems they didn't even know they had. ... It is splitting hairs when you define and delineate the terms the way they have in this article. But either way, I think the overuse and abuse of the word 'solutions' in the world of sales is undoubtedly approaching a slow and painful death."
Meanwhile, HBR emphasizes that "insight selling" – or what Channel Partners has been calling "solutions selling" – requires salespeople to rethink who they target. HBR writes that insight-oriented salespeople "seek out a very different set of stakeholders, preferring skeptical change agents over friendly informants." Yep, we've been saying that for a while as well, a point underscored by Channel Partners reader Mark Landiak, CEO of Corporate Dynamics Inc.
"The top consulting firms make it a point to meet with the people who can see the bigger picture and can make a decision to pay more for a better solution and higher ROI," he said.
Bringing it all together, Andrew Pryfogle, senior vice president and general manager for Intelisys' cloud services division, said "insight selling" will be the norm as cloud technology dominates the industry.
"There is more confusion than clarity," he said. "That environment screams for a 'trusted adviser' that can determine how certain technologies can be leveraged to solve customer problems. ... We are a long way off from cloud becoming a fully commoditized offer that someone can simply click-to-buy. While the buying process will certainly become more automated over time, the solution design and vendor selection process will remain a roll-up-the-sleeves job that someone will need to do."
What are your thoughts? Should we all toss the phrase "solutions selling" and use "insight selling" instead? Our upcoming session at the Fall 2012 Channel Partners Conference & Expo would be a good forum for that debate (as is the comments section below). One thing I do know – customers don't really care what you call it, they just want you to help them meet their business needs. And partners who remain in the transactional mode are likely to find themselves in the insurance game.