Ten lessons for managing a solutions council

Let’s face it: Most solutions are complex offerings. To succeed with solutions, you need deep knowledge of your customers, an ability to collaborate and share resources and assets internally, and a dedication and commitment to ensuring your solution actually works in the customer environment. Sometimes I think our clients wish they were selling golf balls or running shoes - products that are easy to explain, easy for customers to understand, and suggest a clear vision of how customers will use them!

While few of our clients have actually abandoned their B2B careers, they have had to work very hard to figure out how to manage a solutions business effectively. One important step that many of them have taken is establishing a solutions council. These councils are designed to ensure coordination and collaboration across business units and other intra-company boundaries so companies can build, market, and sell integrated solutions more effectively.

To look more closely at the critical role that solutions councils can play, we recently interviewed a number of our clients from several industry segments, including information technology, systems integration, and telecommunications. Their solutions offerings typically include a combination of hardware, software, and professional services.

All of these companies have extensive experience in setting up and running solutions councils, so our clients had a great many lessons to share across several dimensions of council management. I outline ten critical lessons below.

Defining Roles and Responsibilities
As a team, council members should represent all of the organizational constituencies that have the knowledge required to make informed decisions about the solutions portfolio; they should also have authority for the assets needed to create and enable the envisioned solutions.
The council needs to be seen as having the clear and strong support of the executives at the very top of the organization.
The council cannot be seen simply as an advisory group; instead, it should hold ultimate responsibility for the overall success of the solutions business.
The council needs the ability to make significant budget decisions, which directly affect all of the major stakeholders on the council.

Sustaining Interest and Effectiveness – Processes and Activities

This is the real starting point for a solutions business, and the council should take ownership of the taxonomy and make this a gating factor before any money is invested in solutions activities.
The council needs easy access to the right information at the right time to make good solutions portfolio decisions.
Given the potential importance of the council, and the level of individuals that should be on it, it will raise a lot of eyebrows around the company. Shed a lot of light on what the council does and who’s involved.

Sustaining Interest and Effective – Running Council Meetings

Interest will flag quickly if the meetings bog down in long discussions or disputes over tactical issues.
Solutions councils will  live or die based upon the council members ability to operate as a cohesive team.
A lesson that nearly all interviewees provided was that the meetings need to be decision-oriented.  Each council members needs to do the preparation necessary to be able to make informed, effective decisions.
Conclusion: Councils Matter!

At Solutions Insights, we feel strongly that a decision-making body for solutions that cuts across all key groups within a company is not a “nice to have”, but a “must have”.  However, simply establishing a solutions council gets you only half way home. As these 10 lessons demonstrate, how you organize and manage the council will ultimately determine its success in driving solutions growth and profit.

What's your experience?
Photo credit: ego technique

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