GE Healthcare’s Research on Solutions Marketing: Learning from the “Best of Breed”

So…what do strong learning organizations do when they identify a gap in their own capabilities?  From what I’ve seen over the years, they reach out and study companies that are considered “best of breed”. GE Healthcare has committed to improve its ability to leverage its broad portfolio of products and services to provide real solutions to its customers.Joe Camaratta, General Manager at GE Healthcare, decided to survey product-driven companies that are well along the way to making the transition to a stronger solutions model. Through a process facilitated by Solutions Insights, Joe interviewed solutions professionals at a range of companies, including Xerox, IBM, Cisco, Emerson Electric, Rockwell Automation, IBM, its own GE Capital group, and others.

What did Joe learn through this research initiative?  I had a chance to talk with him recently about it – here’s what he told me.

(NOTE: Joe shares the same perspective that we have at Solutions Insights regarding the definition of a solution – it’s a combination of products, services, and intellectual property focused on a business problem or opportunity that drives measurable business value and can be significantly standardized. The solutions components can be from either the vendor and/or one or more partners, and the solutions implementer can be the vendor, the partner, the customer itself, or a combination of the three.)

Joe: At GE Healthcare we have pockets of excellence in certain Business Units and Regions within the organization. We’re inconsistent across the company, however. Our management team decided that we need to take our efforts to the next level and see how we can improve our solutions capabilities across all of GE Healthcare. That’s when I decided to do the “best practice” research of other companies that are somewhat similar to us. There were 3 main areas that we needed to learn more about-- how they define solutions, how they organize around solutions, and how they were managing their solutions business from both a global and regional perspective.
Joe: I had great conversations with solutions specialists across a range of companies that, in one or more aspects of their businesses, are doing innovative things around solutions. I walked away with 10 best practices that we’re now using in our solutions design processes.
Joe: One of things that we learned was that each company has a dedicated solutions unit. It usually consists of solutions managers who are responsible for defining solutions requirements and for the future success of the solutions. They typically have dedicated marketers, and some also have dedicated solutions engineers. What was also interesting was that we discovered these solutions units reported into different parts of the organization. The unit reported into the services group in one company, into the commercial group in another, and directly into the executive office in a third.
Joe: Absolutely. Those findings are also part of my “Top 10 Takeaways”. I discovered that there is both outside-in and inside-out thinking around potential new solutions going on simultaneously at these companies. All of them appeared to be looking at providing a solution for their customers’ problems that is more effective and a better value than anyone else can deliver. The inside-out angle is that they look to apply a common set of capabilities and competencies across a defined range of customer problems. This gives them the ability to scale as well as to deliver the solutions profitably. It also prevents them from running after every problem and only going after the ones they can address better than anyone else. The “outside-in” comes into play by the fact that they usually look at the needs and challenges of what they consider their top accounts, or select accounts. These are often the trendsetters or leaders in their industries. They test their prototype solutions with these leading accounts first and then take them to other customers.
Steve:  Did you find out what these solutions leaders are still struggling with?

Joe: I did.  There were two main challenges that were common to many of the companies. First, they seemed to have the least amount of confidence in their commercialization/go to market capabilities.  There are still a lot of questions about the right sales approach -- do you create an overlay structure or not?  Does the sales force focus on both product and solutions at the same time?  Do you change the compensation structure?  There doesn’t appear to be a consistent “best practice” here.

The second major challenge seems to be measuring their solutions activities. Understanding the value of the solutions business to the corporation continues to be very difficult for them to get their hands around.  Some IT companies have been able to “SKU” their highly packaged solutions, but outside of IT everyone seems to be struggling.

Are you interested in improving your ability to develop, market and sell solutions?   I suggest you go back to your marketing fundamentals and do your homework.  Research what others have been doing.  Benchmark your solutions results against others.   It ain’t rocket science, but it is time-consuming, requires a commitment, and will give you the results that you’re looking for.

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about what “best in class” companies are doing, feel free to contact me at shurleysolutionsinsights.com.

Author: Steve Hurley, Managing Director, Solutions Insights

Graphics: scottstraub.com, navarinoservices.com

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