Adding Software to Your Sale and Calling it a “Solution”? You’re Doing it Wrong

Improve your solution-selling techniques by asking the right questions

When I was growing up, one of my dad’s favorite things to tell me when he was trying to teach me wrong from right was: “It’s not the what son, it’s the how.” It used to drive me nuts because I had no idea what he meant by it until I was older. What he meant was that sometimes how you deliver things, not the things you are delivering, can make the difference between awesome and terrible.

For those of us who are in sales (and no matter your role/job/thing that’s everybody reading this by the way, but that’s another blog altogether…), we need to understand this valuable lesson. Let’s start with an example of what I mean by what vs. how. Does anybody remember Marilyn Monroe? Remember that tiny black mole on her cheek? Of course you do! I’m going to use her as an example of what vs. how. You can cringe, roll your eyes, but bear with me here.

Two sales people walk into Marilyn’s office. One looks at her and says: “That mole, I have a solution to get rid of that.” The other sales rep says: “Hold on, before we get rid of anything here, can you tell me more about that interesting spot on your face.” Her response: “This spot is a beauty spot and it’s helped me make millions.” The second sales rep continues: “Awesome! Listen, I think I might some ideas around how we can help you make even more millions with that incredible feature. Let’s talk about it in more detail, find out what you’d like to do to make it even more valuable.”

Now let’s bring an example closer to real life. I’m going to use copier/MFP sales as an example, but you can apply it to whatever “things” you might be selling. And for the record, software is just as much a “thing” as anything else. Software is not a solution. It could be the element of a solution, but it’s not the solution.

Two sales reps walk into a customer’s office and one says: “Look at all these printers! You’re spending way too much money. I have a copier and document management solution that will drive down your costs and increase productivity.” The second sales rep says: “Hold on. Before we make any judgment calls on the printers here, can you tell me more about what you’re doing with them, how you use document production to meet your objectives? Do you have some pain points specifically that you think are slowing down how your people get work done?”

Beauty spots or the number of printers people have, it’s all the same — coming in with a solution before you ask the right questions is just selling things. If you really want to up your solution-selling game, you need to improve the “how”. And here’s how you can do that:

  1. Ask more questions: Solutions require questions, because no two solutions are the same as no two problems are ever the same. They may contain some of the same elements, the “what” such as printers, software, etc., but the “how” is the mix of these things depending on customer needs and desires to fix their problems.
  2. Let your customer tell you what hurts: The mole, the printers — these are things, not pain points. The pain points are going to be with workflow-related issues, the things getting in the way of people getting more work done. Dig deep and help your customer to do the same until the root of the problem(s) is/are agreed upon.
  3. Use your “things” to build a solution that fixes the pain points your customer tells you they have”: A friend of mine once gave me a good analogy for this. He said to imagine you have a bunker full of every weapon known to man. Knives, guns, rockets, mines, tanks, drones, you name it! When you discover the problem is cutting through a canvas barrier, you likely would only pull out the knife, no matter what you have in store. Same with all the goodies you may be able to sell them. Be judicious, use things that solve their problems, don’t go crazy. You’ll earn trust and future business this way.

If you truly want to sell solutions, the tips above are really just the tip of the iceberg. Research solution selling, speak with industry veterans who are known for doing or teaching solution selling. Don’t for a second think that adding software to your hardware sale is a solution sale. Your sales and win ratios will be evidence enough that you’re on the right track.

If you’re doing solution sales we’d love to get your feedback! What kinds of lessons can you share with us that will help us all to improve our solution selling acumen? What advice can you offer to help us all make more money and earn more customer loyalty by selling bonified solutions? Leave your comments below and thanks for joining the dialogue!

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