Now what does that title mean to you? Recently I spoke at a major software vendor’s partner and client conference and a few weeks later I received an email from one of the attendee’s suggesting I should comment in a future blog on the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2012) paper titled: The End of Solution Sales. I put it in my to read file and as I fly to Hong Kong (16 hours) to lead a clients sales leadership workshop I pulled it out to read and contemplate. At 35,000 feet it woke me up.

As a salesperson and sales manager for many years I clearly understand the concepts and logic behind a solution sale. This article makes one take a deep breath and a step back to reconsider how we as sales leaders not only address the market but also train our sales teams to become more professional. A changing market environment, more access to information and smarter buyers means we must alter our sales approach. While I can’t certainly summarize the entire article I want to address a few key points and if you would like the entire article, simply send me an email and I will email you a scanned version or obviously contact HBR and subscribe to their wonderful publication. [email protected].

  • I will also be including this document/blog in my August newsletter: “Why Sales Managers Succeed!”, if you haven’t subscribed to our free monthly newsletter simply go to my website. to register. Each month I cover 3 topics: Personal, Professional and Organizational Commitment.

While I suspect most everyone reading this blog understands the concept of solution sales, but in summary it essentially is a sales methodology designed to increase the Discovery aspect of selling where in the salesperson seeks to understand the problems of the client and address those issues by recommending one of the salesperson’s products/services to solve the prospects pain.

In the Harvard Business Review article the authors make the point-by performing extensive research with many top performing salespeople- that times have changed. Now prospects know their pain and have researched potential solutions and are simply looking for a solution that is cost effective, thus reducing the professionalism of the salesperson and their potential commission.

Front the front page of the article: “The old playbook no longer works. Star salespeople now seek to upend the customer’s current approach to doing business.

The authors make the point that is similar to any sales training program that entering the account prior to the RFP and understanding the customer’s issues early on is a good way to counteract the “bidding process. Most Account Planning programs will cover this tactic. While this is old it sets the stage for their 3 strategies that must be considered.

Star Performers follow these three strategies:

First, look for the right prospect. Are their agile? Can the customer act quickly and decisively? Does the prospect have an emerging need or is the organization in a state of organizational flux?

In the article they share a great guide to determine whether to pursue an opportunity or to simply move on, but the light bulb will go on as you consider their next gem. After interviewing many top performers they uncovered where the new “INSIGHT SELLING” professionals standout. Rather than uncovering pain, or answering an RFP, the “star rep uses sales calls to reframe the discussion and turn a customer with clearly defined requirements into one with emerging needs or ….revealing to the customer needs they didn’t know they had. These ideas must be provocative in nature, challenging to the prospects and insightful! This will make your organization stand out amongst the crowd of sellers.

The second strategy describes the 7 profiles normally found in any account: Go-Getters, Teachers, Skeptics, Guides, Friends, Climbers and Blockers. While we have always been trained to find a “coach or advocate” the authors make the case that in today’s selling environment star-performers seek out to find only: “Go-Getters, Teachers and Skeptics’, in effect these become the “mobilizers” within an organization. Mobilizers are focused first and foremost on driving productivity change for their company and that is what they want to talk about-their company not the salesperson’s.

The third strategy is simply to assist the buyer in buying! The salesperson must fully know the buying the cycle and NOT probe about “what are the steps to gain approval”. Be an asset and provide valued insight to help your prospect cause change.

The article will give any salesperson and certainly sales manager’s things to consider in re-inventing your sales process, sales training and certainly in your sales strategy. The key is review how your salespeople are selling today: Can you change the game on your competition? Are you including new sales processes/tactics that can make your organization stand out during the sales cycle? Is your sales training program designed to enhance the professionalism of your team?

Have you read any other thought provoking articles lately? Share your thoughts with all of the readers on this blog or other related sales leadership topics.

Thanks Dennis for the great read!