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The End of the End of Solution Sales

Since articles like "The End of Solution Sales" and "Selling is Not About Relationships" were published in the Harvard Business Review, there's been a lot of disagreement in the sales world about what's working and what's not. The arguments behind these articles were steeped in data. The arguments against these articles seemed more based on experience and belief. Which were true? We didn't care one way or the other, but we certainly wanted to know.

So we decided it was time to collect and analyze fresh data to find out what's really going on in sales.

We undertook research from the buyer's perspective to understand what buyers want from sellers and what sellers can do to tip the scales in their favor. To find out, we studied over 700 B2B purchases made by buyers with $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power.

We found that sales winners don't just sell differently, they sell radically differently, and they exhibit a specific combination of behaviors to achieve better outcomes than second-place finishers.

Guess what? It is most certainly not the end of solution sales. Not even close.

And selling is most definitely about relationships.

This is not to say that selling is only about relationships and solutions. To win the sale you need to do more than these. However, saying relationships and solutions are done for is pretty far from the truth.

Our research found that sellers who win consistently do three things: they connect, convince, and collaborate.

Let's take a look at connect. Sales winners connect with buyers on two levels:

  1. They connect with buyers as people by listening and making personal connections
  2. They connect the dots by understanding buyer needs and crafting compelling solutions to meet them

In other words, they build relationships and satisfy the fundamental premise of solution sales. I understand why people write throw-out-everything-you-know-and-do-something-completely-different articles. Provocative titles make for popular articles. But when these articles suggest throwing out your current belief system, don’t do it if will hurt your sales results.

We’re not the only ones picking up on this trend, either.

In our new book, Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently, Neil Rackham wrote in the foreword:

I ask you to forgive me a moment's bitching if I pick out a particularly unhelpful trend in many of these about-to-become-best-selling business books, especially those in sales that use what I call the Armageddon selling formula. The approach goes something like this: "Everything you’ve ever learned about sales is wrong and, unless you stop doing it instantly, your sales efforts will shortly die in agony. There is, however, one simple cure that I have discovered. It is . . ." and here the author puts in a pitch for the appropriate magic bullet...

He goes on to say, "The Armageddon approach to sales doesn’t help anyone. When, for example, a serious journal like the Harvard Business Review publishes an article titled 'The End of Solution Sales,' it damages the credibility of all involved. The sales field has been growing up nicely in recent years: It can live without this kind of overstatement."

We'd love to say, "throw out everything you ever learned and do something completely different," because it would probably help us sell books and training. But since it's not true, we're not going to say that.

We found that sellers who didn't connect person-to-person, and didn't connect the dots between needs and solutions, lost. Yet if they only did these, they still didn't win. Connecting is necessary to win, but not sufficient. The sellers who win do more than connecting to come out on top. The secret is in adding to, not replacing, these concepts.

In any case, don't throw out everything you know! Armageddon may come someday, but it’s not today.

Additional Reading
A New Way to Collaborate with Buyers

The more sophisticated and advanced sellers become, the more they make selling about conversations and collaboration, not presentations and pitching. Even their presentations become interactive collaborations when done right.

Cognitive Reframing: How to Get Buyers Off Auto-Pilot

The classic selling model has taught sellers to uncover needs and craft compelling solutions. It goes something like this: the buyer needs something and asks for it. You provide it. It's straightforward, but buyers are operating in their comfort zone.

What is Consultative Selling?

Since Mack Hanan coined the term in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and most pursued—sales approach. The approach is characterized as understanding buyer needs and positioning offerings as solutions to problems.

While this has been the go-to approach for many sellers, massive changes in buying technology and the vast amount of information on the internet is significantly changing how buyers buy at an unprecedented pace.

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