Solutions Marketing Trends: 5 Insights Gained from Executive Interviews

best matchWhat are the top challenges of solutions marketers today? Are they able to leverage the latest social medial tools and methods to develop and market solutions? And what’s the “secret sauce” that a solutions marketer needs to be effective?

As part of my MBA Solutions Marketing elective at the Hult International Business School, I was a member of a student team that had the opportunity to interview 15 leading solutions marketers with companies such as GE Healthcare, IBM, EMC, Philips Healthcare, Schneider Electric, Orange Business Services, and CapGemini. Some of the insights that our class gained from our discussions surprised us. We think they may also be slightly surprising to you.

We decided to focus our discussions with the company executives on 3 main questions:

  1. How do you apply social media tools and methods to promote and sell your solutions? Which one(s) are most effective?
  2. What is your biggest challenge in growing your solutions business?
  3. What, in your view, are the main differences between a product or services marketer and a solutions marketer?
Let’s get to the results. What did we learn from our study?

Insight #1: Contrary to public perception, social media is not a tool widely used to sell solutions; however, it has an important role in promoting solutions by creating awareness. Interestingly, we discovered that 70% of the interviewees did not consider social media to be a primary tool to sell solutions. One person thought that its use in general was ‘overrated’, and only 3 people felt that social media was relevant and useful in the selling process.

Insight #2: Social media can play an important role in creating awareness and gathering feedback from customers. Since it’s generally understood that developing customer relationships is critical for a successful solutions launch and acceptance, nearly every interviewee saw the value of using an array of social media tools to engage with customers. Linkedin appeared to be the most popular due to its ability to be highly focused. In addition, it allowed for the formation of customer communities. Twitter and Facebook were also seen as important to creating awareness, and YouTube allowed prospects to connect with experts and receive critical information about the offerings.

Blogs were also considered important in promoting solutions --some companies had a person dedicated to this task. One company had established a network, or panel, of experts that blogged about their core solutions offerings and invited potential clients to discuss and engage in a dialogue with them.

Another company demonstrated what we considered a “best practice” bylaunching a social media university. This program offered the participants a degree in both Foundational and Advanced Social Media.

Insight #3: Solutions marketers need to be more competent at understanding business and customer issues than technical issues. Well over 60% of the interviewees felt that this was required since their companies were expected to “solve the whole problem” for their customers. In fact, one executive thought that a solutions marketer needed an entrepreneurial mindset to be able to come up with innovative solutions ideas and designs. They needed to be able to translate the customer benefits in terms of value.

Insight #4: Solutions marketers are a lot different from product marketers – end of story! The interviewees pointed out several key differences; in general, solutions marketers:
  • Need to work harder than product marketers in creating a long term relationship with the customer
  • Use more horizontal thinking, and spent more time in developing collaborative relationships between internal BU’s and with channel partners
  • Are better at listening to customers
  • Create different KPI’s, including the ability to measure the ‘BHAG’ (big hairy audacious goals) to be tracked every six months
  • Create “epiphanies” by helping customers understand their business problems and opportunities, and how a particular solution can make a difference
  • Have significant consultative sales experience.
Insight #5: The cultural and behavioural changes required to make the move to solutions are still the biggest challenges. Even where companies had acquired or developed the relevant capability to support the transformation to solutions, the change in attitudes and behaviour can take several years. To accelerate the shift internally, one company introduced a variation of a “voice of customer” initiative to make the organisation more open and transparent. The transparency on how the business was actually run forced people to understand other parts of the business and look outside their silos.

Our Conclusions

The good news was that the interviews validated what we studied in our Solutions Marketing course – in addition, they also shed light on some special issues and challenges. Based upon our learnings, here are 3 takeaways that may have an impact on your solutions business:
  1. Love and embrace social media, but understand its limitations. For awareness generation, it’s fabulous. For helping to close deals, however, use other tools.
  2. Give product marketers the tools and skills that they need to tackle complex solutions. The process and methods needed to be effective are different – very different.
  3. The shift to solutions is still dependent on the soft stuff –“change management” is the killer app of solutions transformation!
best match Author: Susan Gafsen, MBA student 2015, Hult International Business School

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