Solutions Marketing Success Story: Leveraging Your Clients to Learn how to Develop and Sell Solutions

Is your company facing the following problem?

You’re struggling to get your sales force to identify the real challenges and business problems that your clients are facing, which usually results in a conversation around the products and services in the portfolio that your salespeople are most comfortable selling….which, of course, is usually not what the client is looking for.

And is this how you typically try to correct the problem?

You arrange a 1-2 day workshop where you bring in professional sales trainers to present a solutions selling model.   This usually results in 10-20% who “get it” and improve how they deal with prospects, 30-40% who try it once or twice and then go back to their old ways of product selling, and 40-50% who immediately do what they’ve always done – try and sell what they’re most familiar with in the portfolio, regardless of the prospect’s critical business issues.

I'm being a little extreme here with this scenario, but I think you get the point.

Let me suggest another approach to changing the behaviors and mindset of your sales force – have your most trusted clients come in and train them.  In fact, include your delivery team and maybe even your marketers in the training process.  After all, who is in a better position to get the attention of your sales and delivery teams and shake them out of their “that’s how I’ve always done it” syndrome than the people who are most responsible for the future success of your company – your clients?

The Problem Facing Ness Technologies:

Ness Technologies, a global IT professional services company with over 7,000 employees that focuses on software product engineering, software distribution, and enterprise applications and business services, needed to make a rapid transition from selling pre-packaged services to developing and selling real client-based solutions.   The process of carefully identifying the unique challenges of its key clients, providing a vision of how Ness can effectively address the challenges, and then understanding how to develop the best possible solution from the company's worldwide assets needed reinvention.

How Ness Used Clients to do Solutions Development and Sales Training

Instead of taking the traditional training route to deal with the problem, Holly Ripley-Boyd, who was the EVP and Chief Strategy Officer, decided to take a more radical, impactful approach.  She felt that the best way to get everyone’s attention around the problem was to have their top clients involved in the process.  But instead of having the clients simply tell them what their issues were and what they expected from Ness, Ripley-Boyd decided to have the Ness staff experience it directly with the clients.

At the company’s global annual sales conference in November of 2011, Ripley-Boyd brought in several of their best clients.  She then developed a process by which the Ness staff was broken into diverse cross-functional teams, assigned to a client, and required to:

  1. Develop a consultative approach to learning about the clients’ real challenges
  2. Interview the client to gain a better understanding of their Business Imperatives and Business Initiatives
  3. Translate the Imperatives into a potential solution, or set of solutions, that would likely require multiple Ness products, services and partner contributions
  4. Present the vision of the potential solution back to the client, including the expected business benefits, back to the client for validation and collaboratively begin working on a roadmap to build and implement the solution

Through a series of exercises that included intensive client involvement, everyone at the event not only learned what some of the better approaches to solutions design and sales were, but they also had a chance to experience it with the clients directly.   The icing on the cake was the direct feedback on the performance of the Ness teams by the clients at the end of the day.

The Results

This was clearly not the typical approach that most B2B companies take to change the behavior, skills and competencies of their sales and delivery staff.  Everyone understood that there was some risk involved in bringing some of Ness’ top clients “behind the curtain” so they could see and experience how the Ness sales and delivery teams really behaved, how they thought about client issues, and  how they worked together.


Ness discovered that the reward of implementing this approach, however, greatly outweighed the risks.  Not only did Ness achieve significant forward momentum, but all of the invited clients felt honored to be a part of the initiative and left with a stronger bond to the company and a deeper understanding of their capabilities.  Bringing clients into the internal dialogues paid off when the teams realized the risks involved and stepped up to the challenge -- the clients were pleasantly surprised at how well the teams zeroed in on the most appropriate and attractive solutions and presented them with a compelling vision to address the challenges.  The icing on the cake was that a high percentage of the Ness staff stated it was the best event they had ever attended since they had joined the company.

Lessons Learned:

In looking back at the client-based training model applied by Ness, several lessons can be drawn from it:

  1. Make sure you invite your most trusted clients and set the proper expectations with them
  2. Create the exercises so that they feel as “real” and unvarnished as possible
  3. Involve delivery teams and marketing in the event since they are equally responsible for ensuring the clients receive high-value solutions
  4. Don’t assume that your job is done after the training event.  Use this as a springboard for embedding the new skills and processes into the sales and delivery teams through intensive coaching and mentoring by sales management.

Go Ahead…Buck Tradition and Take a Risk!

Solutions Insights has been involved in a wide range of solutions development and selling training programs.   It doesn’t matter what the delivery mode is – webinars, self-instruction, classroom  -- nothing can compare to getting real clients involved who give candid, thoughtful advice and feedback.  We’ve never seen this model fail, and the benefits are usually immediate and long-lasting.  So…rethink your next solutions training event and give it a try!

To find out more about how we can help you ensure that your solutions are sold by a motivated and effective sales team, click here >>

Comments (7)

Amalia Palacios

The creation of a partnership between sales and marketing is essential for the success of any product offering. In the process of building this partnership, alignment of ideas is essential. This type of training when the clients tell the sales force and the marketers what they want is the best way to align the two parties to the same objective. Marketers have the main function of strengthening this relationship as well, and to benefit from it. Another article in Solutions Insights says that some of the main responsibilities of solutions marketers is to train and to enable the sale force to have a clear understanding of the solution, “Becoming a successful solutions marketer takes years of experience, knowledge and the ability to foster relationships across the organization”. Finally, in order to create a strong relationship with sales, the other important point that marketers should keep in mind is to give them the proper tools for understanding the offering. That is the case of the Playbook which becomes critical at the moment to train the sale force. Furthermore, this is another important moment when working side by side with sales is essential and marketing has to build a relationship of trust. In conclusion, many are the moments when sales and marketing have to work together, nevertheless, the most important part is to be aligned in one common objective and understand the importance of each other.

Jnanesh Matyavala Hally

The topic of leveraging clients to develop and sell solutions by Ness technologies is very interesting. However I it would be really useful to know what kind of insights the Ness teams were able to collect from clients and how they used the insights. Considering the categorization of solutions as vertical, horizontal and customer-centric solutions following are some of the questions that intrigue me 1. If the teams interacted with a particular client and the client gave feedback about his project, how did the team use the feedback to develop solutions for another client who might have a completely different problem? 2. Did the clients give a generic feedback or was the feedback focused towards only their project?

Shi Yin

According to the post, Ness really knows the importance to build strong relationships between its clients and employees. By inviting the clients to do Solutions and Development and Sale Training, Ness makes its employees clear what the clients are really looking for and the clients, at the same time, know Ness is doing real client-based solutions. I’d like to show another success story which happened in Huawei. Huawei is the largest China-based networking and telecommunications equipment supplier. The company now provides a lot of solutions such as Value Growth Solution, IP Microwave and Service Delivery Platform. Huawei not only, like Ness, has their clients involved in the process of solutions development and sales training but also builds its own solutions marketing training departments all around China. Besides to teach employees how to deliver solutions well, another one of the biggest advantages is to build strong relationships with local companies. It is a very effective way to provide solutions that clients really need and make them stay loyal to Huawei.

Sienara Arsyad

Companies create offerings for the customers. That seems obvious. They do so based on identifying customers' needs through market research. If a company researches well, it should be obvious, then for it to provide the most desirable solution to customers' needs. Sales should be a match made in heaven. However, in today's reality, companies are often too focused on shoving their offering to customers based on their specific concerns without seeing the big picture. What I mean by seeing the big picture is really understanding the overall context of the customer’s situation. In isolation of the overall context, a company’s offering may answer a client’s fragmented, lower level, departmental/functional concerns that often do not solve their strategic business concerns—something that keeps them up at night. Pressures for sales growth usually exacerbate the “push” sales tendency. Conventional “push” selling strategies are not only weak, but may be damaging to the business when it is seen in this light. This post gives a very good answer to the sales problem. Customer collaboration is the key. Although at first it seems that doing so makes the company zero in too much on one client (or however many that is directly involved in the project), and miss out on developing solutions for other targets, it is the contrary. One of the key value of the project, I think, is that it gives the salespeople a very effective training program that sharpens their ability to develop solutions for the next clients.

Nikhil Srivastava

This blog clearly brings out the transitional issues faced by a company in terms of selling a 'Solution' and how different it is from standardized services. It is a brave and a fruitful step to involve important clients in a Solutions sales training program. This would empower the sale force and provide the key understanding of how to approach a Solutions sale. However, I strongly believe that before such training, each and every person in the sales force must understand the difference between a service and a solution. Unless the whole ideology between the two terms and their 'business meaning' is absolutely clear, such direction could possibly result in an incomplete process. For e.g. If a sale personnel does not see a major difference between a service and a solution, such training would definitely help him/her to think and attack the problem from 'out of the box' perspective, but this perspective would be directed on the services path. In such a case the same personnel might try an amalgamate different services in the portfolio. Though this would provide the necessary solution at the beginning, it would block expansion of the portfolio, because the innovation intent would be limited to merely connection of the dots.

Cecilia Huang

It’s a great idea for Ness Technologies to try its solutions strategy with its top clients as a conference activity. That way, the company can assess and evaluate the process and reaction from its own staff as well as with its clients. Usually, when some companies try to implement solutions marketing/strategy into their business model, there are challenges and risks involved. One of the main challenges is the support from senior management and some functional departments; that is, functional departments will only send available resources they have and not the person with the most expertise in their department. Another issue will be the conflict of interest between each department, especially from sales and marketing. In order to make a product/service company into a solutions company, the functional departments, especially sales and marketing should collaborate and share its resources to achieve the goals of the client without consuming that much time. Also, hearing and understanding the problems and challenges of the client is another key importance for the success of developing solutions, as well as implementing those solutions, which will enforce your relationship with the client in the long-term.

Allan Fernandes

Companies need to take ino consideration the following which will be beneficial to a company. Increased responsiveness Improved turnaround times A culture of continuous innovation Enhanced ability to engage, measure and optimize interactions with customers by delivering connected digital brand experiences