4 Reasons why Solution Sales People Need a Different Type of Playbook
It’s the end of Q1 and people are getting nervous. The solutions development team thinks they’ve created the right solutions, marketing has launch a tailored lead generation campaign, the sales force has been trained on the new offers, and the compensation plan has been adjusted to incent them. But, for some reason, the new solutions aren’t getting much traction with customers.
There’s a reason, of course. Selling solutions is fundamentally different from selling products, and additional training or extra incentives is not likely enough to jolt sales people out of their comfort zone. The shortest route to revenue is usually through product sales, and they have a quota to meet. As one sales person said to me recently: “You can give me 5X revenue credit for that solution but when I have to make my quarterly number, I’m going to sell what I know how to sell.” That pretty much sums it up. From the sales person’s point of view, selling solutions takes longer and may have a lower probability of success. Salespeople don’t have the time or incentive to figure out how to do it out on their own.
Here are the top four reasons why selling solutions is so much harder than selling products:
- Solutions are business-focused. Salespeople have to understand a lot more about their customer’s business, including strategy, competitive positioning and even industry trends. Often, when selling a product, the sales person can get by with general business knowledge. For example, the conversation with a data storage manager usually can quickly segue to a discussion of “speeds, feeds and other specifications.”
- Solutions are more complex. Solutions often involve multiple products, professional services and even partner offerings. The salesperson needs to understand not only each element of the total offering, but also all the ways these elements can be put together to help the customer solve his business problem.
- Solutions require multi-level selling. Product salespeople usually know who to talk to and what to say – and it’s usually the same across their customer base. In selling a solution, however, the number of people who participate in the decision may be much larger and include departments (e.g., marketing or finance) the sales person has never talked to. With so many different players, it’s harder to determine who the decision-maker is versus the influencer, approver or gatekeeper. Missing some players or misjudging their role can result in lengthening the sales cycle or losing the opportunity altogether.
- The salesperson can’t sell solutions alone. Selling solutions is a team sport requiring collaboration with technologists, service providers, and even partners. The hardest part is knowing when to bring in those scarce resources. If salespeople ask for help too early, these resources are wasted and it will be harder to get them next time. If they bring them in too late, it may be…well…you can usually kiss that opportunity good-bye!
So where does a playbook come in? In previous blogs, I’ve discussed what it takes to create a playbook that sales people will use, as well as how to decide which plays (solution offerings) can benefit from a playbook. We highly recommend that, if you are thinking of creating a playbook to help sales sell solutions, that you make sure it specifically addresses the four reasons why selling solutions is so hard. Here’s an example of a playbook that addresses these issues in an easy to read and accessible interactive PDF.
While the number of sections in the playbook varies based upon the industry that our customer is in, as well as their portfolio, we generally recommend the following categories:
- The Executive Summary contains a very brief (200 word) overview of the customer problem, the solution, the unique competitive differentiators (“Why us...”) and the types of customers to target. It also contains links to 3-4 common reference documents such as competitive analysis or customer presentations. If the sales person doesn’t read anything else, this will at least give them a place to start.
- The Play Overview succinctly describes the key products, services, expertise, etc. that comprise the solution as well as a list of the business and technical problems it solves. It also usually contains a graphic that sales can use to better understand and illustrate the extent of the problem (e.g., rising number of support calls) or the benefits of the solution (e.g., decreased customer churn).
- Best Targets describes specifically what kinds of businesses, IT environments, strategies and issues would make a company a ripe target. Where appropriate, it also describes the type of company that would be a waste of time to pursue – something the salesperson may not know. It may also contain relevant industry statistics and testimonials from similar companies.
- Selling Strategy contains specific tips about how to navigate different parts of the organization and even some conversation-starters for C-level buyers. It may also have information about how to engage a partner or an internal resource, and when to bring them into the sale. The information on this page comes from actual salespeople who have successfully sold this solution.
- Buyers and Influencers lists the most likely titles that could be involved, their potential role in the buying process (e.g., decision maker, influencer, etc.), and a brief overview of the key concerns of each of them. It also contains a link to a separate list of questions to ask when engaging in conversations with them. Again, this is based on input from successful sales people and industry experts.
- Competition and Objections summarizes the competitive landscape and provides a link to the most up-to-date competitive analysis. It also presents the most common objections and actual language successful sales people have used to respond to each objection.
- Quoting and Delivering helps the salesperson understand where to go and what to do when they need to actually configure the solution, deliver a quote, or describe the details of implementation. This page often contains descriptions of pre-configured “bundles” that the salesperson can use to give the customer a ballpark price. It also contains links to more detailed documents or ordering systems.
- The final page, Success Tips and Resources, provides direct links to the most valuable reference documents along with brief descriptions of the content of each. It also contains final tips to win the business and a link to provide feedback or ask questions.
In our experience, when a playbook like this is properly launched and supported by front-line managers, we’ve seen it increase the confidence of sales people, shorten the sales cycle and help them focus on the most profitable and strategic solutions.
What have you found? Do you have the problem of sales people reverting to their comfort zone? If so, what have you done that helps them make the difficult move to selling solutions?
Author: Nikki Fisher, Principal Consultant, Solutions Insights