Solutions Marketing: Helping Your Customers Become Solutions Companies

The Republicans and the Democrats are looking for a “solution” that will prevent them from driving over the edge of the fiscal cliff.  The National Hockey League is looking for a “solution” to its player lock-out so that hockey fans can once again watch the bone-crushing body slams and slap shots that they expect every winter.  And parents like me are trying to find a “solution” to taking care of their kids, parents, pets and other relevant living organisms, while at the same time earning a living, staying current with the latest technology (have you posted on Pinterest yet today??), and getting in our recommended 2-mile daily walk or jog.

The “solutions” term is becoming more ubiquitous than ever.  In the B2B space, over the past decade we saw IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Xerox and many other technology-based companies that traditionally relied on hefty product margins to shift their business strategy to a more solutions oriented, customer-centric approach. What we’re seeing today, however, is that the drivers that compelled these high tech companies to move away from products to solutions have now impacted a wide swath of other industries. I recently had the privilege of co-presenting at Arizona State University’s Center for Services Leadership (CSL) annual conference in one of their many break-out sessions on the topic of “Leveraging Your Services Business to Deliver Customer-Centric Solutions” with Bret Barczak, Chief Marketing Officer, Global Services at GE Healthcare.   Here’s a partial list of the types of products and services sold by the companies that participated in a solutions discussion in our session:

  • Pet supplies
  • Aeronautical engineering and products
  • Financial services
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Lubricants
  • Health care insurer
  • Computer manufacturer
  • Chemicals

Chemicals?  Pet supplies?  Health care insurer?  Many of these were not the typical IT and networking companies that we have often worked with in the past.  Some of them were strictly B2C companies, and others were strictly product companies that on the surface would not appear to have the potential to sell real solutions.   Regardless of their respective business activities, however, they all came into our break-out session -- or tracked us down afterwards -- looking for insights on how to move from selling only products or services to providing real customer solutions.

Stephen Brown, Founder and Distinguished Faculty member at the CSL and the resident host of the conference for the past 23 years, agreed with this assessment that the need to provide value-based solutions – which are typically an integration of products, services, and unique IP – has become a competitive requirement in a much broader range of industries than ever before.  In a conversation after the conference he remarked that

Companies interested in solutions range from manufacturers to distributors to retailers.  Due to Increasing commoditization and shrinking margins for their offerings, they’ve discovered that solutions enable them to achieve their Key Performance Indicators.

We’ve spent the better part of the last 15-20 years working with technology-based companies that have responded to business and industry pressures by moving to solutions. However, many of the industries represented in our workshop had not been on our radar. In our conversations with them both in the session as well as afterwards, it was apparent that the same dynamics that were impacting the tech giants in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s have now entered into their worlds. Global competition, product/service commoditization, and more knowledgeable and assertive buyers have changed the value proposition for a boatload of different offerings, including dog leashes, IRA’s and other financial investment vehicles, medical diagnostic services, and shipping services. In a B2B world, companies can provide significant value to other companies by selling proven solutions that either allow the buyer to address a business problem or take advantage of a market opportunity.  But is there another opportunity for companies to bring value to their corporate customers?  The conference highlighted the fact that companies across nearly all industries are trying to understand how to make the transition from a pure product focus to a solutions model.

  • Can companies that have already begun or completed this journey be the advisors to their corporate customers?
  • In addition to selling them solutions, can they guide their customers in how to develop, market and sell solutions to their customers’ customers?
  • Can they be a better vendor/partner by sharing your experiences – and possibly resources – to help them?

Are your customers moving from products to solutions?  If the answer is yes, and if your company has already figured out how to make the shift, can you become your customer’s “trusted advisor” in this area?  If you do have this opportunity, how do you think it would affect your prospects and overall business relationships with them?

Let me know what you think.  We’d also be happy to share some “lessons learned” that we’ve experienced, and how you can move ahead of your competition by focusing on your customers’ customers.

Author: Steve Hurley, Managing Director at Solutions Insights

Graphics: topsalesmanagerblog.com, tbirrellcpa.com

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