There was a great article in the Harvard Business Review by Matt Dixon in July of 2012. Called "The End Of Solution Sales", the article posits that the traditional process of selling solutions: developing the customer needs, knowing their pain points and uncovering a solution is dead! He makes an interesting connection to buying a car to illustrate his point: when was the last time you needed a car sales rep to really sell you a car? You probably didn't... You went online, looked at the features you wanted and had a budget set in mind - you didn't need a sales rep for this. His point is that customers are fully armed with just about everything they need to make a decision. They are coming to the company to buy, not to be sold. So how does this change solution sales?
In some ways it doesn't. Although I really like the theories that Dixon speaks to, he is forgetting that prospects come with intelligence, which hasn't changed in 2000 years, but that doesn't mean they understand the depth of their problem. At WhenToManage, for example, we position solutions that drive success where there was nothing but lost profits and painful processes. And customers know this. One could argue that general practitioners (family doctors) are the same as solution sales reps: patient walks in after reviewing their symptoms on WebMD, the doctor tells them exactly what they already know, and they are hurried on to a specialist. Or not! My point is that, yes, prospects have more information - which is a good thing - but that doesn't mean that your general practitioner is totally worthless. However, in some ways, it does.
There are those prospects that do have all the information they need and can make a decision after reading a few blog posts. Going back to my WhenToManage example, we do this all day. In fact, we've made great use of YouTube to highlight our solution's value. I'd rather be an order taker, after someone has spent hours reviewing our videos online than spin my wheels in hour-long demos. So, if Dixon is arguing that some solutions can be sold without the rep, I'd say that as a marketer, I've done my job well: supplied information. But is it true that the solution sales rep is a dying animal?
No! I can't help but go back to Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point. He argues that there are Salesmen, Mavins and Connectors that drive the success of a brand. And we all know a great Salesmen when we experience one. One product engineer told me, "They just make you want to buy more..." Perhaps it isn't that Solutions Sales are dead, but that companies need to be more particular with the Solution Sales reps they hire - personable, competitive, unrelenting, passionate, smart as hell, curious, funny, powerful - all those good traits that make people great sellers.
Watch Dixon speak to his theories in this presentation at Dreamforce...
And having thought about it more...
Mass messaging - youtube, infographics, advertising - all great. But, there is something about the personal. What is it? I really liked how Dixon discusses that Solution Sales is best serve "getting ahead of the RFP..." What a line! This made a lot of sense to me... Sales is about connecting, it is about the relationship - human/human trust. Support techs are great here too! It is showing love and passion in your software/solution/idea/pitch - and you pepper it with goods! Again... If we can develop the consideration, that's some good selling.