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Product or solution: a breed apart

Just had an interesting chat with a couple of guys who provide sales development and account planning services to IT firms.

The gist of their business is turning product sellers into solution sellers, a core stomping ground of mine and one which intrigues me as it's more relevant now than ever.

I guess it’s like the old nuggets of banks without branches, a cashless society and the fact that IT and business don’t talk the same language; product versus solutions always comes up, time after time.

I’ll put it in a context that rings true for me, and it applies equally to IT as to banks.

Product people are myopic.  They are short on everything.   Short-sighted, short term, short on time and short on developing relationships.

Product people are roll-up, roll-up, get three for the price of two, buy it now sort of folks.

In technology, they’ll talk about bits, bytes, RAM and clock speeds.

In software, they’ll talk about features, functions, capabilities and specifications.

In banking, they’ll talk about interest rates, basis points, terms, conditions and length of contract.

None of these folks will talk about what you need, why you need it and how  it is relevant to you and you alone.

They believe you will be attracted to buy what they have on the on the basis that they have it, and you can see why you want it.

None of these folks want to deal with you for the long-term.

They just want to make a quick deal to get a commission in the fastest time possible, at the most attractive rate to win your business today.

It’s what got us into this crisis.

Solutions sellers are different, as by their very nature they want to know your problems first.

You can’t develop and deliver a solution if you don’t know the problem.

They’ll want to get under the customer’s skin and really get to know their needs.

They’ll develop a highly tailored approach to those needs, and will make clear how it addresses the issues the customer faces.

Solutions sellers want your business today and for the long-term.

They want to be your trusted advisor and will sell based upon the relationship of trust they create with you.

In technology, they’ll talk about how this delivers against your strategic objectives for the business.

In software, they’ll focus upon how this supports the critical success factors and key performance indicators you have set for the business.

And in banking, they’ll talk about how your working capital and supply chain can be improved through the liquidity support their services deliver.

Sure, there are still rates and clock speeds that sit behind these services, but solution sellers want to be with you for today and tomorrow.

There’s no quick buck.

Just developing longer and longer trust.

The issue firms’ face is that the product guys can often break the solution seller’s trust by delivering something built for the short term sale at the expense of the long-term relationship.

I’ve seen this in technology and in banking.

That’s why training in relationship development is a critical point in both technology and banking today.

Technology firms and banks want long-term business, not just a quick buck.

That’s why they are training their product people in how to access C-level decision makers and what to say to them when they get there.

But it’s sad as, a little like hunters and farmers, product and solutions people are two different breeds.

To train a product pusher in relationships selling is a bit like trying to convert a speed freak into a Buddhist.

It can be done, but it’s unusual and few achieve it.

Far better is to turn the product promoter into a support person in the solution seller’s team.

Stop telling the product junkie to sell and you’ll suddenly find they become far more responsive.

That’s the only way I can see firm’s turning their product pile ‘em and high and sell ‘em cheap into some form of trusted solution delivery.

Meantime, I’m going for a short yoga session.

Ommmmmmmmmm …



About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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  • Jeremy Kidd

    Nice post, Chris. I couldn’t agree more. As a technologist, this has always been my most fundamental goal: understand your customer. It’s essential.
    One of my favorite illustrations of this came from a Business Week article from several years ago. I use it on a regular basis, and it’s amazing how simple it is on the surface but how few people really understand it and can tell the difference in real life situations:
    “One fundamental concept is the difference between needs and solutions. The basic concept is simple enough. Let’s say you’re looking for ways to improve store efficiency, and you observe that the clerk is having trouble getting boxes from a high shelf. You conclude that the clerk needs a ladder. A ladder certainly works, but what if you frame it this way, asking, What does the clerk need to get boxes from a high shelf? A ladder is but one of several possible solutions. Lowering the shelves and rearranging the boxes is another. You may find many more. Reaching a box is a need. Getting a ladder is a solution.”
    from http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/aug2005/id20050825_021384.htm
    You cannot identify solutions for anyone unless you truly understand their needs. That’s where it all begins.