Is selling solutions a contradiction in terms?

I don't know how many millions B2B companies have invested in "solution selling" programs, but it's an enormous number -- and of course Solutions Insights will happily help your sales team do a better job in this area, too.

But I really wonder if the whole idea of "selling solutions" is a contradiction in terms.

We all know that the hard sell doesn't work when it comes to high value solutions. Instead, sales people steeped in solution selling methodology understand that they need to find out the customer's pain points, demonstrate expertise in those areas, and identify potential "solutions" to the customer's problem. It's much easier said than done, of course, but the theory has held sway for years and enriched a great many sales consultants and training houses along the way.

In today's B2B markets, though, it's increasingly difficult to sell anything at all. I don't mean that business buyers aren't buying. Certainly they're spending less, and looking for reasons not to buy. But they are absolutely still spending lots of money on products, services, and solutions.

What I do mean is that sales people are more and more playing a secondary support role rather than one that is front and center.

Business buyers today have access to endless amounts of information, reviews, analyses, references, peer communities, and free demonstrations for just about any solution they might consider buying -- and often without the sales person even being involved. In this context, sales people can and do play a critical role in facilitating the buying process by providing information, making introductions to subject matter experts, arranging briefings and demos, and so on. But the key words here are "facilitating" and "buying" which are quite different than "selling."

This is more than semantics. For today's sales organization, we're talking about a different role, personality, skill set, and compensation scheme. And we're talking about a role that is increasingly reactive to buyers reaching out for information and conversation when they want it rather than proactive in cold calling prospects to set up meetings and sales presentations.

If I'm right, the implications for sales organizations (and marketing organizations) go beyond simply better targeting, more training, updated compensation schemes, and more useful collateral. We need to be thinking more fundamentally about how we organize marketing and sales, how we define their roles and missions, and how we work with customers and prospects. A world where there is buying but not selling is a new world indeed.

Or maybe I'm going too far. What do you think?

Photo credit: Lorri37

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