What Is Solution Selling and How to Adapt to Changing Consumer Psychology

You may have heard the rumors: Solution selling is dead. 

Fortunately for sales teams, the rumor is just that: a rumor. Solution selling is far from dead; it’s simply evolving based on changes in the sales environment and consumer mindset. 

This article will discuss the changing nature of solution selling and how you can adapt it to modern consumers and the current sales process. We’ll go over what solution selling is, when to use it, and the psychology of today’s buyer. 

What is solution selling?

The classic sales methodology is for sales reps to tout their product or service without any real focus on the consumer or their motivations. All of that changed in the ’80s with the advent of solution selling. 

Unlike traditional sales, solution selling involves:

  • Understanding the prospect’s industry, business and goals.
  • Empathizing with the potential customer’s problem and how the product or service will help them. 
  • Meeting the potential customer’s needs, wherever they are in the buying process. 

The principles of solution selling are based on four key pillars: situational knowledge, capability knowledge, people skills and selling skills.

In his book “Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets,Michael Bosworth describes how these four pillars are the key ingredients of a successful sales strategy: “Solution selling will give you and your business a ‘map’ that will allow you to achieve situational fluency—to integrate knowledge and skill you already have with communication skills that keep you aligned with your buyers.”

In other words, as a rep progresses through the sales cycle with their prospect, they must identify the customer’s pain points and demonstrate that their product offers a solution to their needs. As the prospect sees the value of the product and how it can address problems in their business, they’ll move forward in the sales process. 

When to use solution selling

You can use solution selling in any sales approach, no matter the service, product, industry, seller or buyer. In cases where a company offers multiple packages, solution selling can be used to evaluate each aspect of the customer’s business and goals in order to highlight the most relevant benefits of the product or service.

A majority of B2B sellers, 85%, believe solution selling is a valuable capability they need to develop. So, why do some people claim that solution selling is dead? The answer lies in the topic of our next section: today’s buyer.

Solution sales and today’s buyer

Until recently, the solution selling process involved the use of open-ended questions meant to engage the potential customer. These questions were also used to determine the situational knowledge needed to develop the buyer relationship. 

The questions often looked like this: 

  • What are your quarterly goals?
  • What’s the biggest problem your company faces right now?
  • What does your ideal solution look like?

Today, things are a bit different. Modern buyers tend to know what their problems are. They also do a fair amount of research before reaching out to any suppliers. In short, modern buyers usually already know what they need and what they want. 

When it comes to buyers, 83% want a sales rep focused on helping them achieve their needs, rather than one who walks them through their problems. On top of that, 79% expect sales reps to go beyond the traditional sales role and instead serve as trusted advisers.

This shift in the consumer mindset means solution selling has changed. While it’s still an effective model, you now need to work harder to resonate with prospects. The key is research. Look into their company’s recent news to see if they’ve made any high-profile hirings or significant acquisitions. 

Search for trends in their industries and create a list of similar customer intelligence use cases you can reference when you speak to them about their own situations. You need to really get to know your prospect so you can position your product as a solution that’s uniquely suited to their needs.

Implementing the modern-day solution selling methodology

Now that you have an overview of solution selling and how it’s evolved, here’s how you can implement it yourself:

1. Know your product’s benefits

Your sales reps need to know every inch of your product or service inside and out. It’s all but impossible to make a sale without a thorough understanding of the product or service and how it works. 

Ensure your sales team has access to training materials and an extensive knowledge base that they can reference at all times. Consider setting up quarterly review sessions to keep your sales team up to date on new developments or future features coming down the pipeline. 

It’s important to remember that while your sales reps need to know all they can about the product they’re selling, they also need to know how to present it to your prospects and how to customize the approach for each client.

Consider providing training in presentation skills to give your reps an edge over the competition and help them keep their messaging on point. Your sales team needs to understand exactly how to convey how your product can benefit prospects, and how to personalize their approach to each sales meeting. 

In addition, ask them for feedback on sales training and learning materials. Your reps are in the field dealing with customers, so their feedback will be valuable. Consider what they’re telling you, and make changes accordingly. 

2. Research your prospects

After mastering the ins and outs of the product or service they’re selling, your sales reps need to extensively research the clients to which they’re selling. To provide successful solutions that result in sales, reps need to know as much as they can about prospects.

They need to learn about the size of the company, its recent acquisitions, and itsindustry as whole to successfully identify how your products can solve its problems.

It’s also important to have an idea of the financial constraints the company may have. There is no point offering them your premium range when this is out of their budget. Your sales reps will need to ask the right questions to identify how to pitch your products. They might have to work hard to persuade prospective clients of the long-term value of what they’re selling. This is where research and a thorough understanding of a prospect’s business and industry helps.

3. Identify pain points

After mastering the ins and outs of the product or service they’re selling, and learning as much as possible about their prospect, your sales reps need to understand any pain points it might have.

These usually fall into one of the four categories in the image below: financial, productivity, process and support.

As discussed above, your reps need to address a prospect’s financial pain points by understanding the budget they have. With this information they can pitch your products or services at an appropriate and enticing level that the prospect will be more likely to accept. 

Sales teams should also think about any possible productivity or process pain points. Encourage sales reps to tailor their approach with real-life examples applicable to the buyer’s business to really show how your products solve  specific problems in this area.

Another pain point that could cause friction in the sales process is support. Your buyers need to feel supported from start to finish. Consider adopting an omnichannel approach personalized to their specific needs. By working in this way, buyers will feel you’re providing a comprehensive solution to their problems.     

Reps will have more confidence going into sales meetings by researching and preparing solutions based on prospective client pain points in advance. Businesses in the same industry may share the same pain points, so reps should create profiles of similar businesses and outline the solutions they developed for those prospects. 

3. Prepare questions in advance

As part of the preparation phase, reps should develop questions in advance to glean more information from prospects. Questions should be open-ended but specific to the prospect and based on research. 

Having a list of sample questions can help. They provide an adaptable base for reps to work from and make preparation easier.

Organize training sessions for your sales teams so they can use these questions and roleplay different situations. This will give them more confidence when speaking to prospective clients and help them get the answers they need.    

The goal should be to focus on the prospect and their business. Ask questions that reveal more information about their pain points or future goals. Once your reps have gone through their questions, they should be able to qualify the prospect as a good match for the product. 

4. Focus on the value

As sales reps ask prospects questions and identify the pain points, they need to stress the value that their product or service can provide. When they present solutions, they should highlight that their product or service will relieve the prospect’s pain points better than any other. Interweaving the solution and the product—rather than simply explaining the latest features—will help convince the client of its value and, ideally, secure the sale. 

5. Close the deal

Closing the deal may be a slam dunk, or it may take time. If reps face resistance from decision-makers or prospects who have last-minute doubts, coach them to reiterate your product’s value and the problems it will solve:

  • Create a resource for reps of common sales objections and successful ways to address each one;
  • Review past lost and successful sales from similar prospects to create a list of best practices; and
  • Use scripts based on past closed deals that sales reps can reference in tough closings.

Final thoughts

Solution selling is far from dead, but it is very different from its inception more than 30 years ago. Today’s buyer is looking for a sales team to meet them where they are in their buying journey, so sales professionals must be ready with research and product solutions. 

Once you understand this change in the consumer mindset, you’ll be better equipped to introduce solution selling to your sales reps. The hard work will be worth it when your sales increase and your customers find continued value in your business.

This article is part of the Crunchbase Community Contributor Series. The author is an expert in their field and we are honored to feature and promote their contribution on the Crunchbase blog.

Please note that the author is not employed by Crunchbase and the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect official views or opinions of Crunchbase, Inc.

  • Originally published September 28, 2022, updated April 26, 2023