End of Solution Selling

The End of Solution Selling: How Two Sales Orgs Shifted

Andrew Dornon
April, 2018

by Andrew Dornon, Analyst

Specialization within sales organizations is increasing, and continues to do so today. At the same time, both the type of sale customers want and the demand for sales skills has changed.

Simple, transactional sales with clearly defined needs are now mostly handled over e-commerce. Customers with well-understood problems do research online and find solutions on their own, only turning to sales reps who do high volume, high velocity transactional sales over email and phone when they are ready to complete the transaction. As a result of this shift, the much maligned high volume, high velocity “Product Seller” has seen success.

The End of Solution Selling

At the same time, “Accelerator Sellers,” or enterprise account executives who spend their time face-to-face with executive buyers, helping them navigate challenges and accomplish their most important goals, are becoming increasingly valuable. Accelerator Sellers provide the knowledge and expertise that executive buyers lack, the key solution-related information that is beyond what is available online.

But the middle infielder of the sales world, the “Solution Seller,” who splits her time between prospecting in the office and closing deals in the field, combining product and services to solve problems, is increasingly out of step with the modern sales world. Solution Sellers are no longer needed as the middle man to help package solutions and solve problems for executives, as Product Sellers and Accelerator Sellers are already providing the services that Solution Sellers used to own.

Many large tech companies have recognized that this is the end of Solution Selling, and are adapting to this new reality. The successful companies are working to change their sales efforts by increasing high volume and velocity sales while also driving Accelerator Selling.

Below are examples from two very different organizations of how they are moving away from Solution Selling, one shifting towards Product Sales and the other toward Accelerator Sales.

Perfecting the Product Sale

A large enterprise technology company needed to begin building an onboarding program for their new sales hubs. Initially, they wanted to train their inside sales reps for enterprise sales, meaning they wanted to train their sellers to be Solution Sellers rather than Product Sellers. However, it quickly became evident that this was not the right direction, and these new reps actually needed to know more about the “blocking and tackling” of sales. This meant understanding how to get past gatekeepers, overcome objections and demo products - more than having a deep knowledge of how to have executive level conversations.

To accomplish this shift, the organization needed to define the critical moments that their inside sales reps (ISRs) faced on the job, and identify how the reps could be “great” in those moments. More than knowing how to articulate value, these reps needed help cold calling, writing cold emails, introducing themselves, and leading a conversation.

To build the essential sales skills, the organization developed nine weeks of onboarding content, which was spread throughout the ISRs’ first year. This would prepare them with the skills that they really needed to be successful back on the job. Near the end of that year, the salespeople were assessed using a capstone simulation that evaluated their ability to be great in their current role, and introduced them to a more complex sale.

From Selling Solutions to Selling Results

On the other end of the spectrum, at one software company, the organization was challenging themselves to move from simply being a technology vendor to being their manufacturing clients’ true strategic partner. To make this change a reality, they needed their enterprise account executives to go from selling features and benefits to selling with vision and provocation. This meant shifting from Solution Selling to Accelerator Selling.

This sales org needed their people to be smart about their customers’ industries and have enough business acumen to be able to understand the results their customers needed and how their platform could help them get there. In order to build this deep understanding of the tensions inside their customers’ businesses, the software company needed an experiential training solution in which reps could run their customers’ businesses, focusing on the different needs and conflicts of the design, manufacturing, and marketing teams. Reps would also need to practice delivering their new value propositions, describing how their platform enables manufacturers to transform the shape of their world. The software organization leveraged a custom business simulation to provide their people with the skills they needed for success. In doing so, the sales reps didn’t just learn how to have customer empathy – they learned how to actually use it.

There are many possible paths to success, but the reality is that Solution Selling is no longer the way to be successful in today’s sales environment. Sales orgs must choose to shift more of their salespeople to be high volume and velocity sales reps or Accelerator Sellers capable of advising executives—often, it’s a combination of both.

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