Solutions Marketing: Are Solutions Selling and E-Commerce Mutually Exclusive Concepts?

The internet is changing the way people shop. Not just in the more mature markets like US but even in an emerging market like India. Access to a wide range of products from hundreds and thousands of brands mean people can now buy services and products from the comfort of their office or home.

In spite of the convenience, the ability to display a full range of offerings, and often lower prices,  the conversion rate online is significantly lower than with traditional selling models. Why? There are a number of potential reasons, with the most obvious one being a lack of human interaction that can lead to better information and a higher level of credibility and trust.  However, I think there is also another important factor at play here.  Nearly all e-commerce companies are still selling what’s “in the warehouse” and not focusing on what I call “outcome selling”.

Almost all the e-commerce players operate in a similar fashion and follow a 4-step process:

  1. Decide on the product categories they want to focus on
  2. Choose the most appropriate vendors based on a vendor selection matrix
  3. List the products on the website
  4. Try to attract “eyeballs” via financial incentives, and hope and pray that the incentives create enough momentum so that the search engines see what’s going on and help it go viral

What’s Really Wrong with this Model? The fundamental problem with this approach is that none of these four steps focus on identifying and solving the customers’ problems – something that is core to solutions selling.  Some 2.0 e-commerce companies claim to be social and offer what they refer to as “customer selected” product catalogs – but in reality its more about trying to differentiate from other e-commerce companies rather than focusing on customers problems. But is there even merit in thinking on those lines?

Absolutely!

Rather than the “spray and pray” approach to selling via e-commerce, I suggest that companies start from the customer’s point of view.  Here are a few tips of how you actually provide customer solutions via an e-commerce business model:

  • Reduce rather than increase -- Start by reducing product choices instead of increasing them.  Although this may seem counter-intuitive, providing too many product choices only increases complexity in the buying decision process and only adds to a fragmented customer experience. You can only be successful with this approach, however, if you truly understand the needs of your buyers.  Talk to them.  Measure what they’re looking at and buying on your website and focus on those offers.   Get a sense of what your competition is promoting and highlighting.
  • Consider the customer’s value expectations -- Whether you’re selling technology-based solutions, consumer electronics, furniture, social media analytics, or any other type of products/services,  you would need to focus on how you can provide related products and services that lets the customer buy a complete end-to-end solution for their problem.  Many products, especially ones that are aimed at B2B markets, require associated services in order for the buyer to receive the full value that they expect.  For example, Best Buy, which is a large, global consumer electronics company, learned that many of its customers didn’t know how to properly install and operate the PCs, routers, TVs and other high tech products they bought online from them.  By offering services through The Geek Squad, however, their online customer satisfaction ratings have gone up significantly.

With the advancements in technology that allow companies to co-browse with every online customer, it’s time that e-retailers figure out how to transform their selling strategy.  The tools are there to get a deeper understanding of what customers needs are, and what they need that will ensure they get the real value they expect from the product or services purchase.  The formula for an e-commerce company that wants to successfully sell B2B solutions is actually the same as in the face-to-face commercial world -- connect with your customers, listen carefully to them, understand how they perceive value, and measure whether your offer actually delivers the expected value.  Pretty simple, isn’t it?

While not every customer is likely to buy an integrated solution that includes both products and enabling services, a shift to this kind of thinking is likely to unlock tremendous revenues and brand building opportunities for e-commerce companies.   I know because I’m speaking from experience.   I’ve been able to disrupt the competitive playing field for my e-commerce business by applying solutions selling principles. Everything that we do is strategically evaluated through the customers view point. So for instance, Art as a product category is very important to us. But we are going beyond just being another online art gallery. We are providing a customer centric approach to ensuring that there is a greater art appreciation and acquisition movement. And this we are doing through multiple ways – technology enablement that lets customers try the art on their own wall before buying right from the comfort of their home or office, comprehensive information on the artwork itself, art framing wherever possible and access to bespoke art creation in consultation with a décor specialist and artist.  There’s still much more for me to do, but solutions concepts has put my business in the right direction.

Author:  Divyan Gupta is the Founder and CEO of Keshiha Services Pvt. Ltd, a New Delhi (India) based niche e-commerce company that owns and operates India’s first curated e-commerce brands, Art and Decors and Gizmofashion. He was formerly with Solutions Insights as a Senior Consultant. Divyan works closely with entrepreneurs and start-ups to advise them on how to convert ideas into sustainable and profitable business ventures. He can be reached at divyan@keshiha.com

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