Many salespeople seem to believe that consultative selling and solution selling are the same thing. They’re right––to a point. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Here’s why.
What is solution selling?
Solution selling is, as its name suggests, focused on finding out what a customer’s needs are, then selling them a solution, in the form of a product or service (or a combination of both), to meet those needs. It came into existence in the 1980s and was fuelled to fame thanks to the success of Xerox, who used this approach. Since then, it has gone through several reincarnations, including SPIN selling, RAIN selling and Customer Centric Selling, but at their core, these strategies all share the same solution selling methodology.
Like many other modern sales strategies, solution selling avoids talking about ‘features and benefits’ in its pitch. Instead, its conversation remains focused on offering a solution to the client’s problem – that is, they sell the client on the outcome, rather than the tool to achieving it. In this sense, it is very much like consultative selling.
How is it different from the consultative approach?
In the consultative selling vs solution selling showdown it is not so much a case of consultative versus solution, but more like solution is part of consulting. At SalesStar, we see solution selling as one step of the consultative process.
“Understand that solution selling is one string to the bow,” says Alex Chain, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global. “There are other strings as well. But when you look at all of these offshoots of selling, you’ll probably find they have their roots in consultative selling.”
So, is there any difference at all? Yes, one, and it’s become more apparent
The kryptonite of solution selling
While solution selling was a huge success in the 80s, it’s now losing it’s effectiveness––thanks to Google. In pre-internet days, customers relied on salespeople to find solutions to their problems.
“Solution selling worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were,” writes the Harvard Business Review.
Now in the age of the internet and data-driven insights, customers can identify and find solutions to their problems on their own.
“What this really shows is the need to use the consultative approach as a strategy even more,” says Alex. “Customers are more sophisticated these days, and many of them know more about a product than the salesperson knows, even in the B2B markets.”
If customers already know about your company and your products, there's little point focusing on products or services. Even when you wrap it up in the form of a solution to their particular problem, chances are, they already know about it.
“Focus on the customer,” advises Alex. “Talk about their problems, and what those problems are costing them. And how we might be able to help them alleviate those problems and thereby enhance their profit.”
This is where a consultative stratefy really comes into its own. Why? Because it goes beyond offering a product-based solution. It also provides a strategy to help the client move forward.
Think of it this way, solution selling is the sidekick to the master consultative strategy. Sidekicks have their moment to shine, but when it comes to crunch time, you’ve got to let the master take the floor.
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