For most sales organizations, there is a need for improved performance from sales reps. In fact, according to CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group, the percentage of salespeople making quota declined by 10 percent over the period from 2012 to 2016, falling from 63 percent to 53 percent. Moreover, the decline in quota attainment was continuous, with the percentage falling in every one of those five years.
One of the ways in which salespeople can be coached towards better sales performance is by aligning their goals to focus on solution selling. In this post, we take a closer look at the idea of selling solutions to problems and explore the various ways that salespeople can add value to the sales process.
The Basics of Solution Selling
The idea behind solution selling is fairly simple: generally speaking, customers do not really pay for products, they pay for solutions to their problems. This is true for almost every product or service on the market. Drinks are a solution for thirst. Food is a solution to hunger. Mobile phones are a solution for communication needs. Sales coaching products are a solution to the need for better sales performance.
Clearly, there is also room for products to appeal to taste. This may mean the product goes above and beyond its primary function or looks nicer than similar products on the market. Nevertheless, the motivation for buying the product, in almost all cases, will still be to solve a problem first and foremost. However, solution selling has also evolved and selling solutions alone is not enough; you need to also add value to the sales process itself.
“At Miller Heiman Group, we believe you add value by providing perspective during the sales process,” the company states in a 2016 white paper. “The only way to add value during this crucial time is by learning everything you can about your customers and their situations, connecting to their concepts and being an expert at what you do.”
Reducing Unnecessary Discounting
From a business perspective, a key reason why you need to align sales reps’ goals to focus on solution selling is that it allows them to avoid unnecessary discounting. Unfortunately, this is an area that most sales organizations need to look to improve through their sales coaching efforts because many sales reps’ instinctive reaction to resistance from a sales lead is to try to negotiate based on the price of the product or service.
Indeed, over the course of the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report, just 24 percent of the businesses surveyed reported that selling value to avoid unnecessary discounting was a strength of their business. However, among world-class performers, this figure increased to 75 percent of those surveyed, suggesting there is a direct correlation between companies selling value and strong overall sales performance.
The problem with the tendency for many salespeople to go towards discounts at the first sign of hesitation is that organizations tend to put a lot of time and effort into their pricing model. While there often is room to maneuver and while discounts do sometimes have a role to play in getting a sale over the line, handing out discounts too often can completely destroy this pricing model when all the customer really needs is some added value.
“Yes, train on negotiations, but also train on value-based selling methodologies that emphasize questioning skills (to uncover sources of value),” says Seleste Lunsford, writing for the CSO Insights blog. “You should never start negotiating until you have tried to resolve pricing concerns with selling skills.”
Forming Meaningful Relationships
Finally, aligning sales reps’ goals towards focusing on selling solutions can help the salespeople and your organization as a whole to build more meaningful relationships with clients or customers. When salespeople are coached to try to add value and solve problems, they will ask more questions, get to know more about clients’ individual circumstances, and help to establish the sort of trust that leads to genuine customer loyalty.
One of the reasons why salespeople are often tempted to sell based on the product or based on price is because of the widely-held belief that knowledgeable customers are more likely to shop around and turn to competitors. In actual fact, a study published in the Journal of Service Research shows the opposite to be true. Improving the service knowledge of clients enhances trust and customer education initiatives can help to build better relationships.
In addition, selling solutions, rather than selling products, requires salespeople to put themselves in the shoes of those they are selling to. Success then requires them to find out about a client’s pain points, consider them carefully, and assist them accordingly. Taking an active interest in their challenges and objectives displays a level of empathy that can make the relationship between buyer and seller more mutually beneficial.