Understanding the Roles, Responsibilities and Future Opportunities for a Solutions Marketer
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For nearly a decade, we've seen IT and other high-technology companies struggle to make the transition from selling primarily products to creating and selling real customer-centric solutions.
As companies have moved to a more solutions-based business model, there has been a need for a new type of marketing position – Solutions Marketing. This title first surfaced about 5-8 years ago, and is rapidly gaining momentum as a critical position within the Marketing department of many companies.
Solutions Insights, in collaboration with ITSMA and three other industry associations, recently conducted a web-based survey of professionals who have direct solutions marketing experience. We were successful in getting 133 surveys completed, representing over 125 companies – most of them, by the way, had revenues greater than $5 billion.
The Future Prospects of Solutions Marketing
The participants in our study clearly indicated that the Solutions Marketing position is growing rapidly in their respective companies. Over 64% said that there were more Solutions Marketers in their group/company today than two years ago. To re-enforce this, IDC, one the leading research companies serving the technology sector, recently conducted a survey of marketing executives to determine which marketing positions they would be looking to fill in 2012. Of the 20 different marketing positions listed in the survey, more companies stated that they will be hiring Solutions Marketers than any of the other positions!
The data appear to be loud and clear – companies that are looking to move beyond selling only products and focus more on addressing real customer business challenges are actively looking to fill a new marketing role – Solutions Marketing.
The Definition of Solutions Marketing
Let’s step back and make sure that we’re clear about what solutions marketing is:
The process of understanding, creating, communicating and delivering value through the development and support of offerings that dynamically combine core capabilities of the company and its partners to address customers’ key business problems.
Selected Conclusions from our Survey
The survey provided us with a number of surprising insights into the role and the activities of Solutions Marketers. Our findings included:
A more in-depth analysis can be found in the executive summary report that we posted on our website.
Today marketers are still struggling to prove the return on marketing investments and seek for higher budgets. Reading this article and analyzing the data provided, I can see the increased importance of Solutions Marketing in the companies. However, the statement “the role of a solutions marketer is not well understood outside of the marketing department itself” made me wonder whether the ROI issue in marketing prevails in Solutions Marketing.
Why companies are still struggling to make the transition from providing products/services to selling real solutions? Even thought this survey shows that IT and High-tech companies have a considerable interest in becoming solutions providers, it is clear that there is much to be improved. In addition, it can be said that many companies have understood this important point and this is the reason why during 2012 many firms have invested more in Solution Marketing and Social Media than in previous years. However, there are many key factors that will facilitate the transition to become a solution provider and therefore dethrone main competitors: - Hire the right people - Actively listen to customers - Be creative - Promote the right customer centric culture First, solution marketers can be very hard to find as they need to be good listener, excellent communicators, and empathic persons. Not only that but in many cases a solution marketer should need to have years of experience both in products and services. How companies can accelerate this learning process and develop competent and efficient young professional solution professionals? Second, to develop a solution perspective it is fundamental to listen to customers and understand their needs and problems. Solution providers need to put in customers ´shoes and really understand what the unmet need is and how to provide creative and integrated solutions that can add value to customers. Third, to be effective in the transition is not enough to count on the right solution marketing team; it is mandatory to develop a corporate culture that support this customer oriented philosophy. It can be said that the entire organization should adopt a solution perspective and employees should be encouraged to develop collaborative skills that will differentiate the firm in the marketplace.
After looking at the report, the most interesting fact was that the solutions marketers are a very experienced group of professionals, averaging 16 years of experience in marketing. In those years, most of the solutions marketers have sold both products and services, which makes them very knowledgeable about the dynamics and could give them insights on how the two can be combined into a solution. It is only through the years of experience that a successful solutions marketer can truly understand the value proposition of his/her company's offering and relate it to the customer's needs. As the trend shows, companies are looking to hire more solutions marketers than other positions, and I believe companies are hoping that through the experience and knowledge of the solutions marketers the offering to customers could grow. Most respondents have said, solutions is extremely or very important to the future of their business. Given the competitive markets and fast evolving landscapes, it is only with a qualified solutions force that a company can strengthen and deepen current relations with customers and stay ahead of the game.
The solutions marketing position in a company has a big challenge in the process of marketing the offering. The solutions have to be marketed in a different way than products or services. However, the person in charge of this function in a company has a higher challenge if he or she doesn’t have the support of the rest of the departments. As this article mention, this role is not well understood outside the marketing department. It is very important to align the different areas of the company to understand the value of the solutions concept, the changes it will bring and the benefits of this innovation for the company. The Avnet article, written a few months ago in the blog, explains in a clear way how a company can manage the cultural and behavioral change when moving to a solutions organization. The change has to be managed systematically in phases: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. These five phases can help the management of the company to introduce the new solutions department and be accepted by the employees. The acceptance of this concept is essential to achieve the success of the company to become a solutions organization.
"The process of understanding, creating, communicating and delivering value through the development and support of offerings that dynamically combine core capabilities of the company and its partners to address customers’ key business problems." . This definition of solutions marketing emphasizes on addressing customer's business problems. How are solutions different in B2C space ? In my opinion more than business problems which are specific to B2B arena, solutions should definition should have a broader scope when it come to solutions in B2C space, and for a solutions marketer in B2C space he should be able to think across verticals and different domains. In my opinion the different criteria the client/customer would consider while buying a solution apart from the value addition it offers would differ from B2B solutions and B2C solutions.
I believe that the Solutions Marketer is a position that more companies are looking to fill because companies that want to stay competitive in the current market need to evolve from offering not just products or services, but solutions. Selling products or providing a service simply just does not cut it anymore. Companies need to forge long-term relationships with their clients. They want their clients to be dependent on them in some way so that they will only look to them to fulfill some kind of need. And this is why the solutions marketer is so critical. There has to be a continuos and constant pursuit of the satisfied customer. The customer not only has to at the center but also be the driving force in the company. The solutions marketer needs to be the advocate for the customer, and move the whole organization towards this vision.
It is really compelling to know the role of a Solutions Marketer getting so important in organizations nowadays as can be seen from the IDC's survey report in this article. The most eye catching element in the article is that within 5-8 years of the concept being known in the market, it is now so hot a buzzword that companies are planning to hire the most in Solutions Marketing area in the overall Marketing sector, followed very closely only by Social Media that is yet another big game changer in the market. Similar surveys should probably be done in the non-technology sector and the uptake of the Solutions Marketing concept be analyzed there as well. Seemingly, Solutions Marketing has a bigger journey to cover in the non-tech sector. Such surveys may bring out the gaps that will provide further possibilities for Solutions Marketing to make deeper in-roads into. The next interesting question is how long will this trend of Solutions Marketing growth continue? What will be the next big wave beyond Solutions Marketing? What are the market needs looking like beyond Solutions Marketing? Are there any thought processes building up in this direction? The answer to questions may even help a potential Solutions Marketer understand his career growth path in this sector that is booming now and for near future!
From my research I have come to the conclusion that indeed companies are still struggling to move from product and services to providing real solutions. Companies also find it difficult to differentiate a service from a solution and often use the two interchangeably (shocking). It’s almost as if companies know that providing solutions is the right way to go, however they currently don’t have the capability or expertise to develop a solution in real terms. Companies need to understand that moving towards providing solutions is a pretty substantial shift, one for which commitment towards solution based organization needs to come from the top. Once having made that decision it is crucial to invest in the right people. In addition to being knowledgeable about the industry (at least 5-8 years of experience), they need to be the catalyst for change within the organization and therefore must have exceptional skill in terms of influencing and negotiating. They often have to deal with people coming from different departments and backgrounds in order to provide a comprehensive solution and therefore must have the ability to foster relationships and acquire trust in a relatively short time. They also need to be very good at listening and understanding in order to truly understand what the end consumer needs. The combination of all of these attributes is not easy to find however choosing the right individuals is crucial in order for an organization to truly become a solutions company.
Looking at the results of this research, something that is important to highlight is that it takes a lot of experience to be a solutions marketer. Even though the study shows that it is one of the top marketing fields, I don't believe this information is useful to new graduates. Since solutions marketing is such a complex term and includes so much, it is no wonder most people working in this profession have at least 16 years work experience. As solutions marketing gains popularity, this may change. Already it is changing, as we now have the option of taking a graduate level course on it. I believe as this concept of solutions continues to gain popularity, and more people begin to study it and understand, perhaps 16 years of experience in marketing will not be necessary.
The indicated trend that more and more companies are planning to hire new people for the Solutions Marketing underlines the new awareness of leading companies in this new field. But one question here is if companies are hiring more people in this field only because of the overall trend in the industries? Since the role itself, the requirements or even the metrics to measure the performance are still for many companies unclear, it might be a challenge for new Solution Marketers to fulfill their role according to the company´s requirements. In addition, I ask myself if companies can fill this gap with new employees from outside of the company without deep understanding of the internal capabilities. Or is this approach the right way in order to break off existing internal structures to overcome the old mindset? I am curious to see how we are discussing these questions in a few years after also other industries may taped into this new field and share their experiences.
As companies become more competitive in any industry (not just tech and consulting), companies' marketing departments will be required to find ways to differentiate their offerings. Of course, solutions marketing is a good step to take in this direction. The authors of the article "The End to Solutions Selling" in the July/ August issue of the Harvard Business Review, however, makes a semantic distinction between solutions and insights. In short, the authors claim that "insights" are more necessary because they provide an extra level of agility. I'm just curious: from a solutions marketing standpoint, should this be viewed simply as a semantic distinction between the evolution of previous solutions marketing and sales and the agility required for effective marketing, or does Solutions Insights see actual merit in the claims made by the authors?
It is interesting to see the introduction of the concept of solutions marketing within the marketing realm. It will be exciting to see how people transition from not completely being about to grasp the concept of what exactly solutions marketing to having it become as common as something like product marketing. Also, to see this new concept become widely understood across different functions of the business will be quite interesting. It has become quite obvious that a solutions marketer has to have the basic skills of marketing and a more in depth knowledge of the industry, market, and company as a whole in order to be successful in the field.
The traditional role of marketeers was focused on products and services. The marketeer had to understand their own company and to communicate it with the potential customers. It was all about knowledge and communication. For the future role of marketing it remains vital to understand your own company. However, customers are not anymore interested in what you can do, but what value you can bring for them. In the current information era, the customers will look themselves for information. As a marketeer you need to be able to listen to what customers directly and indirectly communicate. Customers need to approach you with their issues. Therefore marketeers don't need to be strong expressers, but more emphatic listeners. However, in commodity products I haven't seen the move yet from traditional to modern marketing. I wonder when they will make the shift.
The result of this report surprised me the first time I saw them, but as my knowledge on solutions marketing has been growing I start to understand a little bit more the result could be different. Is important to take the definition of solutions marketing and highlight "understanding, creating, communicating and delivering value " when choosing the right fit for a Solutions Marketer. Is important to have someone in this position that would be able to transmit his experience in products and services and that could educate the rest of the organization in the importance of using solutions as part of the selling process of both. Though leadership has to be part of this person is important that this person could provide a deep understanding of the subject, has a clear and simple way of communicating the message, and that would demonstrate expertise in the area. The solutions marketing department has to educate the organization in the importance of the application of solutions, but mostly in understanding what is solutions? I believe that is not adequate to have a solutions marketing area if your organization doesn't know why they exist. If this is happening you didn't hire the right people to communicate the message. Solutions are effective if they communicate not only clients but the whole organization. Taking into account that the concept is new and not entirely known the effort of this area is more and has to come up with a simple but effective message to define the solution and its importance and transmitted to the whole organization.
Solutions is a term mostly used in the IT industry, no doubt. But this survey proves that it is not only limited to the IT space but can also be implemented in every possible industry. The challenge will be how to get the traditional marketers to accept this change. It has been around for 5-8 years and growing but Solutions marketing is still a new term for the industry. Can't wait to see what will happen in the years to come.
A couple of comments on the role and activities of Solutions Marketers: 1) The fact that Solutions marketing is more challenging than product or services marketing does not seem surprising to me – Solutions marketing includes aspects of both product and services marketing, and only through understanding the important aspects of both can one become a good Solutions marketer; 2) A solutions marketer plays key role in transforming the organization from products to solutions oriented through aligning the resources of the organization with the needs of the customers and partners. This is a highly challenging task, and requires significant experience; 3) Taking into account that ‘Solutions marketing’ is a relatively new concept, it can be well understood why the role of a Solutions marketer is not well understood outside the Marketing department. To mitigate this, I would suggest facilitating internal communication between Marketing department and other departments about the role and added value that a Solutions marketer provides.
It interesting to see how solution has evolved over the years. The term solution is still relatively new and must admit that I thought solution was mainly for the IT industry but that is no longer the case since more companies has been shifting to the solutions model. I was wondering what would be the ideal career path to becoming a solution marketer?