Solution Selling: 3 Killer Secrets to Success

Here’s some really good news.

First off, if you’re selling a solution or service of any kind, the chances are your competitors are doing a pretty terrible job. 

How do I know that for sure? 

Simply because the people they’re selling to tell me that 9 out 10 sales meetings, presentations, sales discussions or sales pitches they get are dreadful.

The main complaint is that for the customer it’s very rarely a useful, insightful and productive conversation. More often than not, it’s a death by PowerPoint boast about turnover, number of employees and a meaningless page of “big name logos” followed by a series of banal and self-serving “discovery questions” which all too rapidly are followed by a clumsy “feature blast” and product pitch that almost inevitably will end with a trail close of some sort or other.

The customer is left feeling they’ve just wasted the last hour of their life, they’ve answered the same questions they always get asked and they’ve actually learnt or achieved nothing of tangible value that will help them in their role or with any of the things that challenge them day-to-day.

So how can you make sure you’re not the next “terrible” “solution” selling product pusher who walks through the door?

How can you stand out as being someone they are keen to open up to, are happy to meet again and someone they would choose to do business with over and above everyone else that’s knocking at their door?

Well here are 3 Killer Secrets to Success that come directly from the very people you’re trying sell to…pay attention… they WANT you to know this stuff:

1. You are NOT providing them with a SOLUTION 

Whether you like it or not your beautifully packaged “solution” is simply a component as far as your customer is concerned. What you happily present as a complete package of products or services in reality has to fit into and alongside all manner of other such “packages” and myriad other internal and incumbent systems or processes that the person you’re selling to  has to consider, deal with and integrate, in order to get ANY value at all out of what you’re offering.

Interestingly, not only do I KNOW this from having been told it by senior level decision makers over the years, but it is also backed up in extensive research by the Corporate Executive Board in their seminal book The Challenger Sale, which evidences that in buying a “solution”, it is in fact the CUSTOMER that has to do all the work to customize your “solution” to integrate it into all the other elements they need to consider, BEFORE they can derive any value from it at all.

So what do you need to know?

  • Understand that the customer’s “problem” is bigger than your “solution”
  • Prepare your proposition by considering this up front. How will you help the customer to buy and what do you need to incorporate in your offer to make what you’re presenting, easy to for them to implement?
  • In the sales meeting or presentation make your INTEREST and UNDERSTANDING of your customer’s need to integrate your solution clear. Ask probing and empathetic questions that EVIDENCE you “get it”.

2. DON’T Ask them “What Keeps you awake at night?”

I know most sales people consider this to be a great way to get the customer to “open up” about where their pain points are. I can assure you that the same sales people haven’t got a clue that it not only drives your customer nuts, but it is actually damaging your chances of making any real progress.


  • Because it’s the same uninspired “out of the text-book” question that every other “clockwork” sales dummy they see that day will ask.
  • It evidences that you haven’t got a clue about the person you’re speaking to. That you haven’t bothered to research them or their company or their industry enough to be able to ask anything even a little bit more tailored.
  • It shows that to you, they are simply part of the “numbers game”. One more “pitch on the list” one more “no” on route to a “yes”. Do you think that makes you look like someone who could add value to the customer or someone they can’t wait to leave?
  • Most Importantly though…it will get you the same answer the customer has given to every one of your competitors who’s been dumb enough to ask it! You won’t get any real insight, you won’t get any deep understanding of how you can position your offering to add real value, create real differentiation and to be able to sell at the highest price. You’ll just join the list of competitors selling something that can now be boiled down simply to price.

So what should you do or ask?

I suggest you aim for a conversation rather than a presentation. I suggest you do your homework when you develop your proposition (that’s the marketing bit) so that you can offer real insight and I suggest you make sure you’ve done your research on the people you’re meeting before you meet them. Design and discuss an idea or insight with them that both evidences your understanding of the wider issues and challenges THEY face, and enables them to think and talk expansively about how they might use it, change it, incorporate it into their business. You and THEY will get a good deal more from a meeting when you do this than if you turn up with a “solution” you need to “punt” at the first sign of any “need” you can match it to.

Again, The Challenger Sale is great at helping you explore this. I also use the Business Model Canvas and of course SureFire Excellence for preparing propositions that make this work brilliantly and open up much bigger opportunities more quickly.

3. Who’s really BUYING?

It probably goes without saying (I hope) that in most instances and where you’re selling a complex or big-ticket service or solution, there will be more than one person or department involved in the decision to buy.

A well constructed value proposition will provide the sales person with the tools they need to engage and talk confidently to each and every member of the  Decision Making Unit. It should also enable the sales person to make the proposition relevant, valuable and a priority decision for each party too.

The real key here though is to understand how the decision process really works. And be aware…it’s changed since you last looked at it. Again (and I’m not on commission here!) but the Challenger Sales research evidences that post recession, just about all big-ticket decisions are now made by consensus. Be clear, that’s important. A few years ago when you were selling to one “department head” or VP you could be sure if you closed them, the deal was done.

Not any longer. Now even the most senior of decision makers will reach out to their peers across the business as well as down into their team to gain consensus before going ahead. Buyers (as individuals) are now highly risk averse. So be prepared.

Here are a few pointers:

  • ASK and understand how the decision is to be made up front.
  • Determine (and you should do this when you develop your proposition) how you will HELP your customer to take and sell YOUR Proposition UP and across into the business.
  • Make sure you know and understand what the CFO/FD’s top priorities are this year. Unless what you’re selling addresses one of those, you will be in for an uphill battle.
  • Find out what the CFO/FD (The business) sets as their “hurdle rates” – this is important. These are the terms or criteria set by the CFO/FD for any business case or proposition that comes across their desk for approval. If your proposition doesn’t get over the hurdles, it doesn’t even get to first base.

Those are the top three things I think you need to know and consider when selling solutions.

What do you think?

PS: I can help you think differently about your sales and marketing approaches. If you’d like more insight, ideas and support get in touch.


5 brilliant sales and marketing tools you need to know about

I’ve probably got one of the best jobs in the word. Honestly, I love it!

I have a business that allows me to spend my days working with companies to help them find smarter, quicker, more sustainable ways of growing their business. Sure we may use different terms of reference, we may call it new business generation or key account selling or proposition development or any and all of those things. And the company I work with could be an SME or a start-up, but it can just as easily be a household name enterprise. Guess what…they all have broadly the same problems and face roughly the same sorts of challenges.
That’s all great and it keeps me very busy indeed, but so what?

Well it also means that I work with and come across no end of absolutely brilliant companies, great new tools and fantastic content and ideas that I think you, my prized and highly valued reader (stumble across(er)/stalker/passing interest(er)/competitor) really ought to know about.

So I thought I’d take a few moments to share a few of them with you now. I hope you find them useful.Oh and for the cynical among you, you will notice no affiliate links here…no money changes hands…this is all just honest goodness!

1. Pipeliner Sales

This is a fantastic new Pipeline monitoring and management solution that (for once) was designed with the sales person in mind. Really easy to use for both the sales teams and those that manage them, this simple system uses drag and drop inputs to provide easily understandable and configurable dashboards and reports. I use this with a growing number of my clients. If you want to know more, get hold of Richard Young, he’s the UK MD and a thoroughly decent chap too…

 2. Digi-Products.Com

An easy way to build, personalize, send, track and monitor digital content of pretty much any kind.

Digi is deceptively brilliant. I’ve been using it and recommending it for years. Over that time the wonderful founder and CEO, David Boyland (officially the nicest bloke you’ll ever meet) has developed it into one of the cleverest tools on the market today. Don’t make the mistake many marketing people do of thinking you can already do this stuff…you’re missing the point. Digi is great for lead generation and supporting the sales dialogue, for managing internal communications and even for tracking proposals and invoices. For the marketing team, it’s brilliant for giving everyone access to standard collateral that they can personalize to suit each requirement without messing with the brand guidelines! Oh….it may save you a fortune on creative costs too!

 3. Salesformics

Be quick to get in on the beta deal for this one. I have to say I predict a riot with this product. It should turn the CRM and Marketing Automation world upside down. Guess what…it was designed to be easy to use by people like you and me. It does everything you would want it to do….but it’s really easy to use. Better than that, it’s not some old-time, clunky CRM tool that’s had a few knobs and whistles added to bring it up to date. This is a product built and designed specifically for the market we all work in today. Stewart Rogers is the Head of Product, he too is a top chap and he’d be happy to give you a demo! Ask him to show you the segment marketing and workflow processes…it’s so easy even I am interested enough to do it…and I really hate using these things.

  4. NearDesk

NearDesk is as genius as the man who founded it, Tom Ball. A really simple card, internet site and soon to come app, that provides you or your sales team with access to a desk and office facilities by the hour pretty much where ever you are in the UK. What’s better still is that it strips out all that wasted time and resource invested in processing expense claims for desks, space, WiFi and coffee! Each person simply swipes in and out and all the invoices are consolidated and itemized and sent to your office once a month for processing. It’s growing like Topsy and so it should, it’s brilliant. I’ve got a NearDesk card, have you?

  5. CopyBlogger

Without doubt the most informative and well constructed resource for anyone interested in content and digital marketing. It’s (mainly) free so I suggest you check it out. And if you blog for a living or if you want to improve the effectiveness of the content you produce, I’d recommend you look at their Scribe solution too.

I hope you find the time to check them out…and I hope you find them useful. Let me know.

Next time I’m feeling philanthropic I’ll pick some more to tell you about.

Meantime, you can check out one of mine.

Buzz Building

 Along with a very talent friend of mine Rick O’Neil of Look Touch Feel, I have created a completely free 12 week course in digital marketing. So far it’s going really well. We’ve even got a well-known TV celebrity as one of our first thousand subscribers..I don’t suppose he needs much help, but it’s fun to have him along for the ride!

So if you want some really practical tips and advice on how to get your digital and content marketing going then you’ll find it here. Of course some people prefer a one to one workshop on site…we do that too and for those that aren’t quite sure what they need we’ve put in an easy and honest self-assessment. Finally, there is of course, the option for those who are just far too busy to do it themselves…so we do it for them.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sales & Marketing – Still a dark art for many SME’s

It doesn’t matter how great your product or service is…if people don’t buy it you’re in trouble.

And for a great many small and medium-sized companies, that’s the real elephant in the room.

You could be a fantastic company of accountants or have the best software development team for miles around and no doubt you’re excellent at what you do, what ever it is you’re producing or delivering.

That’s why it’s so frustrating for companies who are simply struggling with bringing in new business in a consistent and predictable manner.

Of course it’s easy to buy “marketing services” or “lead/appointment generation” services, you only need to throw a stick out of your window and you’re bound to hit a marketing agency or a digital guru of some description. They will of course be only too happy to sell you what it is they do.

That’s actually where your problems usually start. 

I’m not for one moment suggesting the agency or service provider is not good at what they do, or that they are anything other than well intention-ed. I am suggesting however that many SME organisations aren’t actually sure what it is they really need and therefore what they really ought to buy and from whom.

For many, marketing (and in some instances sales) is a real afterthought or seen as a necessary evil and certainly an overhead.

That means that they almost always leave doing anything about it until it’s too late…

Too Little Too Late

And then it’s a case of too little budget and far too little time to do anything about it.

Of course, what ever service provider you bring in at that stage will “fail”.

Marketing is “the long game”, it’s a discipline that requires skill and investment and time. If you give it that, then it won’t cost you a fortune and it will work. If you confuse it with magic…and expect it to pull a rabbit out of the hat in no time at all and for no money invested, then you will be very disappointed indeed.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on marketing or to panic and push out vast campaigns at enormous cost while you cross your fingers and hope for the orders to come in.

You need to plan to invest in an intelligent, progressive and iterative dialogue with your audience. If you do that well enough and consistently enough you will be amazed how little you will need to spend on turning that audience from educated and interested into a sale and maybe even an advocate.