Solutions Selling: The Four Most Effective Sales Tools

Sales executives at many companies that are making the shift from a pure product focus to a more solutions focus have discovered that the process of getting the sales force to successfully sell solutions is much more challenging than they had imagined. Their first initiative is generally to either replace those who can’t make the transition with more seasoned solutions salespeople, or retrain the portion that do "get it". Their challenges don’t stop after addressing the skills and competency issue, however. The next key success is providing the sales staff with the right tools.

Interviews with Experienced Solutions Marketers

As part of a Solutions Marketing MBA course at the Hult International Business School, we were able to interview senior level marketing professionals from a dozen top solutions companies, including Optum, Intel, Schneider Electric, and Ericson about the most effective tools for a solutions-focused sales force. As a result of our discussions, we were able to identify the top 4 tools that these solutions companies use to enable their sales forces.

The Four Most Important Solutions Sales Tools

In order of effectiveness and use, the four top sales tools listed by the interviewees were:

  1. Sales Playbooks

    We are in the age where we all face data overload. A solutions salesperson has tons of data at hand to describe the offerings that he or she is expected to sell. There is also a mountain of information available about the prospective customer’s business as well as industry trends. Unfortunately, however, providing more and more information in many situations has proven to be less and less effective. The real key to creating a useful playbook is to provide the right information, in the right format for the right device, that can be used at the right time. In this context, sales managers should be concerned about providing their salespeople with the critical information that the sales force will need to understand the selling environment and process, including competitive issues, buyer personas, the slate of individuals involved in the decision-making process, etc. Since solutions are much harder to sell than products, a well-focused playbook was considered by the interviewees to be the #1 tool to help a salesperson create a practical sales plan.

    You may also want to check: How to develop effective solutions sales playbooks.. Read more
  2. Competitive Battle Cards

    Also called "kill sheets", competitive battle cards are a summary of all the key information that a salesperson needs on one page. In a sense, this is the "cliff notes' version of a playbook. Ideally, it would include information about the competitors' strengths and weaknesses, the priority target segments, an elevator pitch, and the key value selling points.

    According to a number of the interviewees, battle cards are most effective when they are developed in such a way that they allow a salesperson to mitigate a competitor’s strengths and highlight its weaknesses.

  3. Testimonials and References

    References play a great role in building trust. Getting references from previous purchasers who had received the value that they had expected goes a long way to instill the confidence that the prospective buyer needs to make the final solutions purchase decision.

    A word of caution, however. The key is finding the right testimonial or reference. It is critical to find a previous customer that had same problem that the prospective customer faces. There needs to be an "apples to apples" comparison of how a particular solution being offered would deliver the same value that it had done to the company providing the reference.

    You may also want to check: Customer references and solutions marketing: Building blocks for business impact.. Read more
  4. ROI Calculators

    Return on investment (ROI) is one of the best indicators to evaluate the investment required for a particular solutions offer. By providing the sales force with an ROI calculator, salespeople would be able to quantitatively measure the benefits derived from the solution into dollars, making it easier to communicate the value of the solution to others who may be involved in the buying decision-making process.

    To be effective, ROI calculators should be available to a prospective customer at any point in the buying cycle. While it is typically applied when the prospect is in the final stage of making a buying decision, it may also be helpful to both parties earlier in the process.

    You may also want to check: Solutions Marketing Campaign Launch – Getting the Sales Force Ready to Sell Successfully.. Read more

Getting Both Sales and Marketing Engaged in Developing Sales Tools

The solutions marketing executives whom we interviewed stated that they provide a long list of sales tools to their respective sales teams. While we were able to identify the top 4 tools, there wasn’t a standard, “one-size-fits-all” set of tools that they all felt would magically allow the sales teams to convert opportunities into sales. Before choosing which tools to develop, many of our interviewees emphasized that it was important to take into consideration the typical buying cycle for each solutions offering, and the information and processes the salespeople would need to follow in order to effectively map against that cycle.

Defining what tools to develop is no simple task. The effort should be shared by both sales and marketing so that both customer needs and salesforce needs are considered. Remember, solutions are all about addressing the challenges that customers face. The sooner that both sales and marketing realize this, the quicker they can work together to engage with customers and solve their business challenges.

Are you ready to enable your solutions sales force by developing the most effective tools?

Authors: Nicolas Kaiser and Ghanshyam Thakkar.

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