Solutions Marketing: Should it be taught at business schools?

I’ve had the good fortune to teach an MBA level Solutions Marketing  course  for the past three years. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only Solutions Marketing course taught to MBA students anywhere in the US.

hultI teach the course at the Hult International Business School. Haven’t heard of it? Not surprising.  It’s relatively small, and highly specialized in international business. The Financial Times, however,just ranked it 6th in the world for international business management. It’s also ranked in the top 100 general MBA programs in the world. It might be one of the the best MBA programs that nobody’s ever heard of!

If you scan the curricula of the leading MBA programs, there is no lack of courses on Product Marketing, Services Marketing, Branding, or a raft of other marketing related topics. The concept of "solutions marketing", however, still isn’t on the academic radar. Trust me , I know. When I agreed to teach the course, I went on the internet looking for case studies on the topic.  Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I checked the mainstream business case study collections at Harvard Business School, INSEAD, and Ivey. I couldn’t find a single case that directly addressed solutions marketing issues.

Given the dearth of public cases and materials, I decided to develop my own. With the help of my business partners, I’ve now developed four case studies on key solutions marketing issues. In fact, we expect that two of them will be made available in the Harvard Business School system before the end of the year. I also borrowed heavily from my own experiences.

The natural question, then, is how have the students reacted to a very different and unknown marketing course. I just finished teaching the course as an elective in June, and here are the results.

Students evaluation rating to the following questions (a 1-5 scale with 1=Strongly Disagree and 5=Strongly Agree):

  1. The skills and concepts covered in the course will be USEFUL to me in my professional career:  4.90
  2. The SCOPE of the course was appropriate to my professional needs: 4.74
  3. My OVERALL EVALUATION of the course is positive:  4.87
  4. I would RECOMMEND this course to others:  4.77

Clearly, the course resonated with the students.  Here are some verbatim comments on the experience of learning about how to market solutions:

  1.  “I’ve learned that by understanding the solutions marketing framework I was able to see that the concepts could be applied to any company, and that it helps in doing an in-depth analysis of the company’s marketing objectives.”
  2. “I strongly believe the knowledge I have gained from the course cuts across all careers and industries and will be invaluable to me as I look for a job.  I came to class expecting to learn about the traditional and conventional tools and methods that most companies use to marketing their offerings, but that wasn’t the case. I loved learning about the concepts  behind the term ‘solutions'."
  3. “The Solutions Marketing course has been very instrumental in taking my knowledge of marketing to a completely different level.”
  4. “I am now aware of the impact that a solutions approach can offer in terms of differentiation, business continuity, and value generation”
  5. "I only selected the course because it was the only marketing course that I could take given my schedule - but having gone through the course, I would select it twice over!"

I think I can safely say…mission accomplished! I have no doubt that there is a place for a Solutions Marketing course in any MBA curriculum, and that the students would line up around the block to sign up for it since it provides a very different perspective on a traditional academic subject.

If you're interested in learning more about the course or curriculum, or have your own experience teaching solutions marketing, please let me know.

Comments (2)

by
Carla Vela

Solutions Marketing seems to be an up going trend, something a lot of companies are nowadays trying to implement (mainly due to an increase of demand and competition). Therefore, there will be a lot of job openings for Solutions Marketers in the next years. Having a Solutions Marketing course in the MBA programs will help students get used to the subject and understand the main reasons leading to this trend. I took the Solutions Marketing course this year and I must say it really help me understand not only the differences between product/service marketing and solutions marketing, but a lot of methods and approaches that we have to take into consideration when it comes to develop a solutions marketing strategy. However, and as mentioned in this blog post, the main constraint that I see when looking at the reasons why other schools might not be willing to teach this course is the lack of material. There are not many business cases that support the subject and moreover, even though there are many companies in different industries implementing solutions, most of the material available belongs to companies in the technological industry. More business cases should be written. Nevertheless, bringing speakers to the class, with a great knowledge on the subject and who can share their insights about solutions, is actually the best way of learning.

by
Leander Moores

I am a Hult MIB student (master of international business) and I must say, Solutions Marketing was indeed a great class. Not only does it feel logical in its approach, where customers are now looking into solutions more than any particular product/service (e.g. I doubt many people would want to buy the latest computer without an OS and a few programs preinstalled). The course also gives us insights on the tools needed to apply solutions anywhere, from the overly common IT industry, to the highly product and commodity orientated chemicals company. Personally, I see this course as a must for most MBA's and for all marketing students. It synthesizes most of the marketing theories into something more complete and compelling. Plus, it gives those students a little extra by being some of the few who understand solutions, unlike most others. I believe that the Solutions Marketing course I have taken will enable me to stand out of the job market, making my search just a little bit easier. One small thing I'd like to add, the course is still relatively new, with a small amount of case studies as covered in this post. This means that we have a relatively small amount of cases that cover solutions, and most of them are IT related. It should be great to see more cases, success stories, failures, etc. from different industries and different countries, especially China. Hult is an international business school and having campuses all over the world means that the students are usually interested in learning about international issues. For example, SolutionsInsights could look into a company called Sherpa, a chinese company in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which offers a delivery service for all the restaurants in those cities. It therefore offers a solutions in terms of mixing products/services, easily transferable services across business units and helps its customers with their "culinary indulgence" issues. They also, in my understanding, have a pull marketing strategy.