Sell the Concept Before Selling the Solution1 Jul, 2005 By: Ian Crockett imageSource
Sell the Concept Before Selling the Solution
Everywhere you turn in the
office technology industry you hear people talking about solutions. There’s
solutions-based selling and consultants willing to teach your sales reps the
fine art. Some dealers have even incorporated solutions into their name to make
sure they distance themselves from the copier dealers. Almost everyone believes
that by offering their customers and prospects a solution it differentiates them
from the competition.
There’s only one problem. Most businesses aren’t buying solutions yet. (With
that statement, I’m sure many of my readers have probably stopped reading and
have started perusing another of this publication’s articles or the ads.)
“What’s this guy mean nobody’s buying solutions? We just landed an 84-printer
deal and, through a cost per print plan, saved our customer two cents per print.
In addition, along with those 84 printers, we got the service and supplies
deal—all because we sold a solution.”
Most dealers have similar stories with a hand full of accounts. But the fact is
most business people don’t yet know they’re supposed to be buying solutions,
especially in the lucrative mid-market. I challenge my readers to ask their
buddies at the country club or the local service club what their needs are when
it comes to office technology products. Most will say they don’t know and that
they have someone else in their organization that makes those decisions (office
manager, purchasing agent, IT personnel).
Tell clients what they need
People need to be told what they need, and that’s where advertising comes into
the picture. Advertising tells you to drink light beer so you can hang out with
all the fit people. Advertising lets you know it’s OK to have a chocolate bar in
the middle of the day because it will give you energy to make it through the
rest of the daily grind. And advertising tells you that your status in life is
determined by the car you drive.
So, if you’re sending salespeople out there who have been trained to sell
solutions and the customer is buying a 35 ppm copier/printer, there’s a
disconnect. Most dealers are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
They’re spending money to train their salespeople without spending money to
ripen the market.
Most dealers haven’t even spent the necessary dollars to equip salespeople with
professional brochures that not only tell the company story, but also set the
stage for a solution sell. They’ve got them binding together elaborate proposals
that take up quality selling and prospecting time. Then seven out of 10
prospects immediately flip to the last page to check the pricing.
Technology is doing two things: it’s becoming better and it’s becoming cheaper.
For consumer products, everyone believes it because the advertising tells us so.
But even though it’s true in office technology, very few manufacturers and
dealers are promoting that message. And isn’t that what the solutions sell is
all about? “With my hardware and software solutions, you can increase
productivity and lower operating expenses.”
Once again, if the prospect isn’t primed to discuss total cost of operation,
they’ll run to a lower acquisition cost now and worry about the other costs
later. Plus, if the buyer’s superiors aren’t informed about a better return on
investment over the long haul, they look like a hero for saving the company
This is why advertising is so important. You can impact the “C” individuals with
your message. The CEO, CFO and CIO understand the difference between cost and
price and are more concerned with long-term decisions. But most of the time,
they don’t believe it’s worth their time to get involved. Many times, the sales
rep is stuck at the purchasing agent or office manager position and a solution
sell or an explanation around total cost of ownership falls on deaf ears. A
little hint, besides trying to target the “big Cs,” keep an eye out for the IT
people because they have control over what gets hooked up to the network.
Create case studies
There are some great solution stories to be told these days due to the
technology. It’s one of the reasons I love testimonials and case studies so
much. They not only relate a story, but it’s believable since it’s a real life
scenario, not a smooth talking sales rep or an announcer saying, “Lower
operating expenses and increase productivity with our products and services.”
“C” individuals see or hear these real world stories and then ask their
subordinates if they’re aware of these solutions. Now they begin to consider if
this is something they should be involved in. Based on my experience in the
office technology industry, the more times you get the opportunity to tell your
story to the key players in an organization, the better chance you have at
landing the deal. They are the keepers of the company’s vision, so they need to
be thinking long term.
The dealers that get out there first to soften the market are the ones that will
have the advantage when it comes to selling a solution because the marketplace
will be ready for their pitch and they will have more credibility in the sales
Mass media advertising and reaching the “C” level is critical. Following that
breakthrough, the sales reps should then be armed with professional materials
that uphold that credibility and build on it. Every sales rep has references,
but they need more than that. They need case studies that tangibly show how
other businesses have benefited by using your products and services.
It’s not wrong to train your salespeople to sell solutions. In fact, it’s a must
in today’s environment. However, remember, there’s another constituency that
needs to be impacted and it’s the person on the other side of the desk that has
the checkbook. You don’t want your reps selling tanks when the customer is
looking to buy a bow and arrow.