Solutions Marketing: Musings on a Definition

A lot has been written over the last several years about the drive to solutions and the need for “solutions marketing,” but a good definition for it is still waiting to be written.

I think about this a lot and would like to start a conversation around what Solutions Marketing really means and, by extension, what it means to be a solutions marketer.

Marketing guru Philip Kotler defines marketing’s role as “understanding, creating, communicating and delivering value.” This is a good place to start.

The Differences Between Solutions and Product Marketing

One of the most important differences between solutions marketing and what is thought of as more traditional marketing (of products) is that, to do the job well, solutions marketers must drive and encompass the entire customer-facing process, ultimately involving not only sales, marketing and delivery but also engineering and even accounting.

Here are some ways in which the job of solutions marketers is significantly different from those who only market products or simple services:

The solutions marketing team must use excellent market intelligence and analysis to find the “ideal” customer whose key business imperatives are a good match with the company’s capabilities. Similarly, competitive analysis must be much more sophisticated since there are likely to be a very broad range of companies whose capabilities, though different, could still solve the customer’s business problem.
Unlike product marketers, solutions marketers must create distinctive offerings that combine both products and services in a way that provides a higher level of value to the customer than those same components would represent separately. The process of getting the key personnel and assets together—including partners as well as internal resources—to create these more robust offerings is often both complex and difficult.
The ultimate “outside-in” challenge, positioning and messaging in a solutions world must be completely from a customer’s point of view. Not only must solutions marketers understand their customers’ problems, but they must position their company as the one best qualified to solve those problems. This is particularly challenging if the company operates in multiple vertical markets or has a number of solutions since, unlike traditional target marketing, "one size" messaging and positioning definitely does not fit all.
The reason many companies want to move to solutions is that solutions provide an opportunity for value pricing—pricing that reflects the payback to the customer if a particular business problem can be solved. That very fact, however, is what makes pricing solutions so difficult. The wrong approach is to tally up the prices of individual product or service components then simply add a premium on top to reflect the “value.” Instead, proper pricing starts with fully understanding the nature of the customer’s problem and then pricing according to the value delivered. In a product company, this is a difficult transition, especially for accounting, since it is a far cry from the tidy world of SKUs.
When it comes to creating collateral, sales tools and training, most solutions marketers pine for the day when they could put together a slick piece of collateral with some great customer quotes, create some web-based product training and then leave it to the sales force to take it from there. In a solutions world, it is much more complicated. To prove that their company understands and can solve a customer’s problem better than anyone else, solutions marketers must produce collateral that can be modified dynamically to fit a particular situation as well as a range of tools that can be easily chosen and customized by the sales person to fit a particular customer problem. Sales training must also include significant business knowledge and contain an experiential component that will give the sales person an opportunity to practice his or her skills in consultatively selling the company’s specific solutions.
One of the major problems in connecting with customers in this world is that solutions tend to be highly complex and intangible. Unlike products, it’s hard to visually present a solution, describe its components, and demonstrate exactly how it will work. Given these obstacles, solutions marketers must marshal the company’s resources to create a differentiated point of view that provides real value to customers. This, in turn, creates an environment in which customers infer that the marketers’ company is the best choice to solve their most pressing business

Our Definition

And here we return again to that key word: VALUE. That is the core of any successful solutions business and, indeed, is the primary reason customers buy solutions.

With this in mind, I propose the following definition for “solutions marketing:”

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.

What do you think? Have I hit the nail on the head or missed and battered my thumb?


This blog post was written by Nikki Fisher, a Principal at Solutions Insights.  She can be reached at nfisher@solutionsinsights.com.

Comments (2)

by
Andreas Johansson

It is interesting that you write about the definition. I think that it is important. I have worked in many different industries and functions. Many projects and initiatives fail because different stakeholders fail to collaborate in a productive way. I believe that one of the most challenging task is to create solution, because it requires collaboration between employees from all the functional areas within an organization. The "Solutions Marketer" will be the one who creates the offering, but not necessarily the one who is responsible for creating the offering. In order to succeed with a solutions approach, I believe that the approach has to be driven from the senior executives and not only from the marketing department. When you write about "2. Creating new solutions", you mention that "solutions marketers must create distinctive offerings that combine both products and services in a way that provides a higher level of value to the customer than those same components would represent separately." In addition to this statement, I think that I would be valuable to talk about the responsibility in relation to the solution and offering. Therefore, in a definition, I would like to know more about the responsibility of the solution.

by
Barrett Lee

Just the very definition of the word solution alone can be something very difficult to decide upon. But after defining the term based on what the company can offering, it can provide a foundation which your sales and marketing departments can operate and collaborate upon. The shift from a product centric to a solutions centric marketing, the company needs complete collaboration between all BUs to correctly facilitate the company’s overall direction to a solutions focused one. After the company is aligned, I believe two of the most difficult tasks then fall on the shoulders of the solutions marketer, creating a solution that adds value to the client and thought leadership. The creation of a solution requires extensive knowledge of not only the market, competitors, core competencies of the company, but also a keen understand of the clients’ needs and what can actually bring value to them. Collaboration within the company is needed to ensure that solutions marketers have sufficient resources to complete the task at hand in a timely fashion. The bigger issue is thought leadership. This is one of the more underused and undervalued strategic activities on the agenda for many companies. Information is increasingly easier to obtain, more critical, and ultimately, each client is seeking value from each transaction. Thus, a solutions marketer jobs is to become leaders in innovative thinking, rather than just doing or talking, are the ones burdened with one of the biggest responsibilities of a solutions providing company. Thus, the critical first step is to define the word solution and what it means to the solutions offering company. Then, steps in the right direction in creating actual value and becoming thought leaders can be developed.