Friday, October 17, 2008

Solution Management

Solution selling is a sales approach in which the sales person probes into the prospect's pain points and puts together a package of offerings to address them. Rather than selling a single offering, the sales person combines several offerings for the specific customer. (For a comprehensive introduction to solution selling, I recommend SPIN Selling.)

Just as sales people should consider solution selling, product managers should consider solution management.

Consider how some companies structure their product marketing. A friend of mine works for a company that sells hardware, software, and services. Each hardware, software, or service offering is a "product" in this company's terminology. The company's product managers manage these individual offerings. They determine the roadmap for each product, communicate the requirements to developers, and govern the marketing of each product.

The company's business clients, however, almost never buy any individual product. A combination of hardware, software, and services is necessary to address their problems. Since the product managers operate at the level of individual pieces of the solutions, they are detached from the customer.

Sales people at the company are confused about how and what to sell. Product managers have prepared collateral and strategy for marketing and selling individual offerings, but have provided little or no guidance on how to package them into a sale that comprehensively addresses customer needs.

Fortunately, business development and sales support folks have helped fill this gap. They have worked to understand the top problems that customers face and to prepare materials that help sales recognize them and sell the appropriate combination of offerings. These business development and sales support folks are playing the solution management role, albeit informally.

Have you thought about what constitutes a "product" at your company? Does your company sell solutions, or parts of solutions? Is it possible to combine these parts into comprehensive solutions? Consider transforming product management into solution management, or at least formalizing some sort of solution management role.

4 comments :

ScoopIrish said...

Huthwaite's SPIN Selling is a good sales questioning model, but it isn't Solution Selling. The real Solution Selling is owned and maintained by Sales Performance International. You can find out more about Solution Selling at http://www.solutionselling.com

Roger L. Cauvin said...

Thanks for the link, scoopirish. In this entry, I was referring to the concept of solution selling rather than the trademarked process.

Bernd Eckenfels said...

For complex products (like Enterprise Software, Middleware, Factories, ...) which need to be explained you are in the solution selling area even if you don't want to be.

This means you need pre-sales engineers who are able to talk to the customer on the same level, beeing able to sketch a custom solution (and map it to the product). It usually also means you have a involved long decision process.

It is possible to offer a solution so the customer sees and understands the advantage he gets. Unfortunately it is also required to do so.

In all cases the product must support customization of product lines with variants.

Steve Johnson said...

Right on, Roger. "Products" doesn't mean software. Or hardware. Or services. A product solve a problem.

So many teams are so myopic about what their customers are buying.

I bought a Kindle. Not the ebook hardware. I also bought the software, and the content, and the document management capabilities. I bought the ebook environment.

Whether you call it product, "whole product," or solution, product managers should be looking at what the customer is buying, not what their engineers are developing.