Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the recent HBR article’s, “The End of Solution Sales,” proclamation, one thing is certain. The authors of If the Customer Is Always Right, You’re in Trouble – Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman – Harvard Business Review, have observed, through five years of in-depth research on B2B selling, “a story that paints an uncomfortable picture of a dramatically changing sales landscape.”
The problem pointed out isn’t the sales methodology. It’s the reality — the actual behaviors of B2B sales professionals supporting the stated sales strategy of their organizations. The sales strategy approach is typically called solution sales or even consultative sales; from the context of understanding the clients’ market and organization, their problem or result impact, “solving” clients’ complex business problems. This rather than simply selling them product. Research has shown a dramatic drop in the efficacy of the solution selling approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B clients conducted by the authors’ ( Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman) company, CEB, they found that “B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out.”
What accounts for this trend has possible nothing to do with the sales methodology. Indeed, clients still reach out to their partners for information. This is, however, only one source of information and often rather late in their decision-making process. Ready access to information from equally qualified competitors for the same solution, the Internet and third-party purchasing consultants place the client in a privileged position. They have a range of options to solved their problems.
Under these changing sales conditions; what do you need to do to provide value to your clients in a way that provides sufficient competitive advantage? How do you get into that position to be the most valued source of information when the problem context is still being framed? How do you collaborate with your client through a relationship built on trust? How do you get into that trusted advisor position in which you can advocate and respectfully challenge your client’s thinking.
The collaborative sales approach required in this highly informed client decision-making process does not necessarily demand a change in method but a change in application of the method – a change in mindset.