In an era of rapidly changing business needs, evolving technology and supply chain shortages, office technology dealers are hearing more than ever that they should sell solutions. But what exactly does that mean? There is a tendency in the office technology industry to simply associate “solutions” with “software” – and while software is frequently a solution, a solution doesn’t necessarily need to be software. Solutions are more of a concept than a concrete item – solution selling has at times been referred to as a “methodology,” a “philosophy” and a “practice.”
Selling product is a technique that has been finely honed over the years. There are many proven sales techniques for selling copiers, MFPs and other office technology products. But all of those products can be part of a solution. It’s all in the way it’s positioned.
In the simplest terms, a solution is a customized combination of hardware or software that solves a business problem or increases productivity in some way. A solution might include one piece of hardware and one piece of software, but even in that case, there could be significant customization required to meet a specific need.
An example of the difference between selling product and selling solutions looks something like this:
Your customer, a company that has been working on its back-to-the-office strategy since July 2020, has finally decided to transition to a hybrid office. They don’t need pieces of hardware, infrastructure and software. They need solutions that help hybrid offices function. This can involve multiple pieces, including different manufacturers and distributors, third-party contractors, and so on.
The key differentiator here between selling a variety of products and selling a solution is customization. When we talk about solutions, we’re talking about how to customize solutions for customers; when we talk about product, we’re talking about the range of available products that can serve as solutions. In practice, there is significant overlap between solutions and available products, but it can be hard for a customer just perusing your website or catalog to tell the difference.
Solutions are a way of structuring your thinking around solving problems for repeating needs or pain points your customers have. Even if you can’t develop solutions from scratch, you’ll become more effective at finding existing solutions and determining which solution would best solve a particular problem. For sales reps struggling with the idea of selling software or services, this is important to keep in mind: the key to successful solutions selling is understanding customer problems, more so than understanding and selling solutions. But how do you know which solutions to recommend? What products are the most effective solutions? How do you measure ROI on a solution?
Because solutions are solutions to specific problems faced by your customers, the solutions selling process is much more a listening and discovery process than a delivery process. Solutions tend to be highly individualized for a particular problem, so it can take time to understand where solutions opportunities exist in the first place.
At the highest level, solutions selling requires four steps: Listen to your customer; ask questions and identify solutions opportunities; create solutions; implement solutions.