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.

More Sales People = More Sales….. Right?

I’ve just finished one of the sorts of conversations that stop you dead in your tracks.

I had been discussing a particular challenge I come across a lot in companies of all sizes today. It usually starts with, “We just need more sales” and usually ends with…”So we’ve hired some more sales people“.

There are some standard variables to this such as “my sales people are rubbish” ….and then the stock answer “So we hired some more sales people“.

“My sales people are chasing too many low value deals”….”So we hired some more sales people”…etc.

The problem with this approach is that in time the new sales people end up in the same position as the old sales people who you will remember are “rubbish” and “chasing too many low value deals”.

Of course when you stand back and look at it, it’s pretty obvious that at least in some instances it may not be a sales problem at all. In fact in my experience it is invariably not wholly a sales problem.

Good sales people are smart, commercially savvy, driven, focused, hard-working, intelligent and successful.

They are not – magicians. No, honest, they’re not (not even if they tell you that they are).

No matter how smart, commercially savvy etc…they are they will need you to have done your thinking first if you want them to succeed. 

You will need to provide them with a compelling, robust, differentiated and competitive proposition and tell them what a good customer looks like and where they can find them. If and when you do that, they will turn on the magic. Until you do, they will be just as “rubbish” and “busy” as the old ones you’re so annoyed with.

So back to my conversation….it went like this….

ME: “So in order to make the step change in top line growth they’re looking for, what did they do?”

Consultant: “They went out and hired a load more sales people”.

ME: “What are these people going to sell and to whom?”.

Consultant: “They’re going to work on that”.

ME: “When?”

Consultant: “Well there’s nothing in the budget for that”

Me:”Right” “So when are they expecting to see a return for their investment in these new sales people?”

Consultant: “Well the pressure’s on from day one really”.

Me:”So the equation goes need more sales = buy more sales people?”

Consultant: “er..Yes. I guess that was it really”.

Me:”That sounds like an expensive and time-consuming way to lose money and market share”.

Consultant: “Yes. I told them that”. “They said they didn’t have any budget for getting their marketing planning in shape this quarter”.

Me: “Don’t tell me, they said they need to sell something first?!”.

Consultant: “Yep”.

Good Grief Charlie Brown.

FYI – If you get your marketing planning in place (your proposition, your target market, your differentiation, etc.) first. Then you can hire sales people and they should stand every chance of being successful. If you skip that pretty vital step…then all your sales people will fail and it will cost you a fortune.










Content Marketing: Silver Bullet or Next Red Herring?

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand or spent your time doing wholly more worthwhile things like actually talking to customers, you won’t have missed the hype and bluster that’s going on the in market  today about Content Marketing.

In essence Content Marketing is an acknowledgement that today pretty much all “direct” and “cold” approaches don’t work or are at least hugely inefficient. The reason they don’t work is that today people do most of their pre-purchase research on line or via social media sites like LinkedIN etc. So in effect, Content Marketing is about helping people find you, your company, product or service based on you providing relevant, interesting and timely content in a manner they can find and read in their own time; as opposed to you breaking their  door down and demanding an in depth conversation about what it is you want to sell.

Thank goodness, about time and of course it’s something we’ve all been saying for well over a decade.

So that’s great then it must be a Silver Bullet?

No. It’s very red and quite herring-shaped. Why?

Simply because if you’re not careful you switch all your efforts and resources from “bashing the phones” or “spamming out emails” to “generating tomes, info graphics and stuff” that people don’t, won’t and CAN’T read.

And you know, just like Direct Mail or Email campaigning, it will feel good for 24 hours or so after you’ve produced something beautiful and then pressed then “go” button on a massive mailing list…but chances are, the outcome will be the same. Very little.

The problem is that getting stuff out the door was never an issue. Making stuff look and sound great was never and issue either.

The real challenge was, is and has always been, getting the right person at the right time to read, understand and act.

Nowadays that person has a bit more than an “in tray” (for people under the age of 30 that’s something you had on your desk where things people put in a post box with your name on, arrived) to distract them; more than one email account to occupy them and significantly more resources, facilities and means of communication through which to do their own research and make their own decisions.

What’s not changed?

They still have (in the main) two eyes and two ears and 24 hours in the day…and they have no choice but to ignore, delete or reject 99.999% of “stuff” that comes their way.

How do you ensure you are the 0001% that actually gets read and acted upon?

So yes, producing intelligent, engaging and informative content is very much a worthwhile pursuit (unlike older mediums), it has a cumulative effect as it is referenced and archived on line (BTW- That can be a bad thing too!).

However, before you get beavering away with your latest missive, white paper or witty info graphic, I suggest you spend some time doing the bit pretty much 100% of your competitors don’t, won’t or can’t. That is, understanding precisely who it is you need to engage, precisely what it is they prioritize as their burning issue  and why, how and what it is you do that can help them achieve their objective better than any one else.

If and when you can truly answer those questions comprehensively, then you can start to plan how to reach them, what they are searching for, what they need to read and how they need to read it and therefore what you need to produce.

Then you have a Content Marketing plan. Until then…you’re destined to go back round the “inevitable cycle of marketing doom and disappointment” only this time you may be accompanied by a strange fishy smell.






Discounting? Product Creep? You’re in trouble…

A sure sign that things are “going south” is when sales people are discounting to get the deal or having to pad the proposition with all manner of “bolt on” add-ons in an attempt to differentiate.

How often is that happening in your organisation?

Marketing’s job is to maintain the margin by differentiation – really, that’s it.

Adding more stuff confuses the customers (and confused customers don’t buy) it also erodes the margin. Discounting is a mug’s game and it’s only a matter of time  before you’re out of the game all together.

If you spot any of these two things happening, you need to act fast.

Good old-fashioned marketing will do the trick…remember that?




Getting Away with it – ness

There’s a lot of it about.

Look around you, in your industry, your competitors and perhaps in your company or even your office or department too.

There will be people who have largely “got away with it” for years. Decades even.

A few years ago no one noticed. That was because they could hide. Usually hiding meant doing the bit you were tasked with doing, only. So it didn’t matter if the marketing campaign didn’t actually make any money…they had “delivered it” and that bit was their job.

It didn’t matter if the customer service issue was actually and properly resolved, they’d passed on the message.

And from sales, it didn’t matter if in reaching their target they’d left a trail of carnage behind them, the cleaning up of which wiped out all margin and good will….because they’d hit their number.

Look out for these people. Point them out in public. It is your duty to do so. They are killing your business and jeopardizing your future.

If you are a sufferer. Wake up. The world can see you now….

Market Less – Sell More

Most people will have heard of the “Sales Funnel”.  This is a simple concept. You put lots of Prospects in the top, move them through the sales process and over a period of time some of the Prospects come out as Customers at the bottom. If you keep doing that and refining the processes as you go, you should be able to make this a reasonably predictable model. I.e I get 100 people interested each month and I convert 60 of them each month to customers. The job then is to improve the conversion rate and reduce the cost of selling etc – but that’s a different blog.

What many will be involved in but probably not aware of is Marketing’s version of this.

It’s the same principle however. I market to lots of people, attract a proportion of them, engage some of them, get a few of them to leave details or download something or maybe even agree to a sales appointment.

In many instances, Marketing’s funnel actually feeds Sales’ funnel, so the ones that drop out Marketing’s funnel go into the top of the one marked “Sales” as a Prospect….see what I mean?

So what?

Well you see the Marketing funnel never really worked in the Business to Business (B2b) World.

Everyone sort of secretly knew it too.

It’s just that “doing lots of marketing” feels good. It makes agencies happy and keeps them in business, it helps keep marketing teams in a job and it allows everyone to point at the list of events they’ve done this year or the number of emails they’ve sent or the number of press cuttings and the amount they’ve spent on telemarketing etc.

It was a bit annoying however when the pesky sales team would tend to moan that none of this actually made much difference to the leads and opportunities they were keen to work on.  That would happen at least once a month.

It also got a bit more difficult each quarter when the Sales Director and Marketing Director would meet round a big table with other important looking people and would “agree to disagree”.

The worst time of all was when it came to the end of the Financial Year and the really annoying people who count the money would question whether having spent so much, there was any return in view.

It was usually OK because someone would shout, “Brand Awareness” and everyone would relax again.

And anyway that only really lasted until the Xmas party and then the budgets or “allocations” were set and we could do the whole thing again.

It’s a bit different now though.

Now there’s less time, less tolerance and a lot less money. There’s also a lot more competition and fewer customers too.

What’s happening now is that savvy marketers are realising what it was that sales were doing which made so much sense.

You see marketing had; agencies (of many and varied types), Marcomms managers, PR Managers, direct mail, CRM, Marketing Automation (ho ho!), Digital etc etc.

Sales people on the other had a car, a phone, 24hrs in a day, a fat carrot in front of them and a pointy stick behind them.

On the whole the sales people per capita and per £ invested, tended to find and deliver considerably more revenue and profit.

So argue, shout, defend and debate all you like….but I’ll let you in on a secret. The people round the big table and the ones with their hands on the bank account..know it’s true too.

So, the savvy marketers are giving up on their own idea of a funnel and are enjoying the simple benefits that thrift can bring. They are going back to their routes of research, proposition development, market testing, sales support and customer engagement.

They are in fact, spending a lot less and achieving a lot more.

Now there’s a thing.

B2B Marketing – Wakey, Wakey….!

Top Tip:

Business to Business Marketeers. People who buy things from your company are people first, job role second, company representative third. Try communicating with them in that order, you may find you get more success.

Here’s the logic:

People may spend 8 hours a day at work but, in the main they do that so that they can spend more time outside work doing the things that make them happy. Beyond being an IT Director or an Admin Assistant, you may well find that the person with whom you want to interact is also a man or a woman. They may also have a long term partner, husband or wife or children. They may be really young or consider themselves middle aged or even old. They may be gay or straight, they might be a risk taker or risk averse. They may even have some aspirations and objectives they want to attain, like getting promoted, working abroad, raising happy healthy children, putting their children through private school, buying a posh car, being seen by their peers as being excellent, or by their boss as being indispensible or by their industry as a thought leader.

That’s a lot of things they might be or want before they consider themselves to be “the IT Director” .

If people buy from people, isn’t it about time we learned to communicate with each other like that?

B2B Marketing needs to wake up and smell the coffee before it becomes and anachronism.