The True Meaning of B2B Sales in the Solutions Marketing context

Hi readers,

My understanding of Solutions Sales in a B2B business has been enhanced considerably after my MBA program where I had taken Solutions Marketing as one of my key electives.

Based on my experience in B2B solution sales of 18 years and contemporary coursework in Solutions Marketing taught by Prof. Stephen Hurley, I am sharing what I believe is the essence of B2B sales in a Solutions marketing context.

B2B sales, as I was taught, and which I have practiced  is heavily dependent on an ROI analysis. The numbers used in the ROI analysis are the customer’s numbers, gathered through effective questioning.

(NOTE-2 key skills MUST HAVEs for a successful solutions sales professional- Financial analysis capability AND Interviewing /researching skills)
I taught my B2B sales people to look for ways of contributing to the prosperity of their customers’ business in five key areas: (1) sales, (2) employee or process productivity, (3) profits, (4) competitive advantage, and (5) cost control…If a B2B salesperson is talking about anything other than those five issues they are probably wasting their time and their customer’s time.

(NOTE- Keeping a focus on issues that are top priority for your client is key to success, otherwise there is the real danger to scatter your thoughts and energy all over the place and end up delivering nothing to your client, and certainly losing your incentives!!)

The five elements, mentioned above are interesting because they’re a map of what most companies think are important — and therefore provide hooks for B2B selling. 

I claim that there are only important two (2) goals inside every company: 1) increasing sales revenue and 2) decreasing cost of sales.  

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the five elements mentioned earlier

  1. Sales.  Nobody wants to decrease their sales, so this element is simply a restatement of the goal to increase sales revenue.
  2. Employee/Process Productivity.   Increased productivity decreases the cost of doing business, thereby decreasing the cost of sales.  If you increase productivity somewhere in a company in such a way that it increases the cost of sales, you’re decreasing profitability, which is stupid.
  3. Profits.  Increased revenue and decreased profitability means more profit, by definition.
  4. Competitive Advantage.  Any one can beat a competitor by giving away more value for less money; the trick is to grow at the competitor’s expense and still remain profitable.  Therefore, competitive advantage consists entirely of increasing revenues while either decreasing the cost of sales or keeping them stable.  Even product development (like building a better mousetrap) is actually just a way to increase revenues by making more sales.
  5. Cost Control.  You’d have to be an imbecile to control costs in one part of company in a way that ends up increasing the cost of sales and/or decreasing revenue.  Therefore, the only meaningful cost control consists of decreasing the cost of sales.

To repeat, there are only two (2) things important in a company: 1) increasing sales revenue and 2) decreasing cost of sales.

Therefore, if your B2B offering, through a solutions sales proposal,  focuses on helping your customer do either of those two things, you’ve got something that’s worth buying.

And if your product does both of those things, you’ve got a real winner.

So, in order to help you succeed in your product driven solutions sales efforts, you need to brush up your solutions marketing skills!!

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Sales 101- Top Ten Sales Skills…..

Hi readers,

ready reference for sales pros….quick list of top 10 sales skills for you and your teams

  • Skill #1. Researching prospects and organizations prior to first contact.

Cultivate a genuine love for researching, using both primary as well as secondary sources for researching on your client, your prospect and the organization. Research empowers you to not only be prepared for the questions that you will be asked, but will also ensure client delight, when he confers with you and gets to know that you have taken the pains to know more about the industry and the organization. You are therefore better equipped to close the all important sale!

  • Skill #2. Asking questions and listen more than you talk.

Always a classic- if you dont have listening skills, then invest in this skill!! Enough stress cannot be put on this skill to highlight its critical importance in a sales rep. MUST HAVE SKILL….

  • Skill #3. Focusing on a few top prospects and contacting them frequently.

FOCUS has always been key to success. There are many fish ( prospects) in the sea….knowing your value prop and the offer, and matching that to the best target clientele in the business eco-system takes judgement maturity. Focus on a few prospects that are the best match for your offer and then go all out. Spend a clearly allocated time with each prospect and qualify them according to the response that you generate with first contact and then build on the engagement as it unfolds!! SIMPLE!

  • Skill #4. Cultivating insider “coaches” to understand customer requirements.

YEP….you need to have superior schmoozing skills to cultivate relationships ACROSS the client’s organization. Some times grapevine is very critical to the success of your sales pitch…you never know which gem of information turns out to be of strategic importance and your decision is affected by it…wouldn’t it be better if you had prior information through your “cultivated” internal sources???

  • Skill #5. Solving problems and overcoming objections as a consultant.

Be it product driven enterprises or services focused businesses, today and in the future, the long term value of your offer will only be unlocked IF you are successfully able to SELL A SOLUTION as opposed to a stand alone product or a service!! Face this reality folks…please invest in your solutions marketing and selling skills, solve your customers problems and you will have a client hooked on to engaging with you for as long as he is on the decision makers seat!!! Beats recession any day!!!

  • Skill #6. Creating long-term relationships with prospects and customers.

Relationships management that endure time is an art and a science- this is from my experience. Honesty in your business engagements with your client, bringing more than the product or service to the business offer to the table, transparency in your B2B engagements are all critical attributes that will help you to establish and then maintain long term business relationships., which will hold you in good stead , especially when the going gets tough.

  • Skill #7. Communicating appropriate messages (e.g. value propositions).

Communication skills, having the ability to articulate the same message ( value prop) for different audiences, without diluting the core essence of the value prop, is an art that comes from creativity and hard skills combined. If you are not inherently creative, I encourage you to take classes in creative writing, or go back to school and learn communication, work for some time in advertising, or just paint, cook….on form of creativity translates into other forms of creativity- and here we are talking of communication skills!!

  • Skill #8. Recognizing when the prospect is ready to buy.

JUDGEMENT MATURITY….this cannot be taught, but

  • Skill #9. Knowing how to close the sale when the time is right.\

Refer to skill # 8….

  • Skill #10. Getting referrals and then following up on them.

REFERRALS are crucial to your success today, especially in the B2B space. In Solutions sales, strong  references may mean the difference between success and failure in closing, large ticket deals, AND getting referrals is also an ART!!

So what are you guys waiting for..go get ’em Tiger!!

How Do You Know if Your Customers Value You?

Hi readers,

This question hounded me for weeks when I was leading the solution sales team in India.

One of my rising stars had been on to his clients for well over 12 weeks, without a whiff of any indication about their intention-I guess that got to him and he posed this question to me during out team meeting.

I asked for time and came back to him with my assessment. Let me share that with you.

Research conducted by Harvard and other independent institutions have established that clients clearly differentiate between valuable vendors while treating others like plug n play commodities.

B2B relationships basically fall into 5 levels. In this assessment I am taking the explanation from the lowest ( level 1) to the highest ( level 5) and tried to explain the “what” and “why” of the engagement, with appropriate examples

  1. Approved Vendor: “We are seen by the majority of our customers as a legitimate provider of the products or services we offer, but are not recognized for having any significant competitive edge over other alternative offerings. We therefore often compete on price, via discounting, as a key consideration to helping close a deal.” Example: Gateway is most often viewed as one of a number of vendors from which a company can buy reliable PCs, but rarely seen as unique.

 

  1. Preferred Supplier: “Based on our marketplace reputation/past dealings with our customers, we are normally seen as the preferred vendor for them to do business with. While competitors may offer alternative offerings, all things being considered equal we win the deal in the lion’s share of the deals over the competition.” Example: Salesforce.com has such a good reputation that when firms are looking for on-demand applications, the competition must create a significant advantage in the eyes of the customer to get the deal.

 

  1. Solutions Consultant:Based on a specific set of product-related, value-add knowledge or services we bring to the table, our customers view us as not only a vendor, but a consulting resource on how to best use our products or services, as well. Because of this, during brief periods when our offerings may not be as robust or are more expensive than those of the competition, our customers will continue to buy from us because they consider the premium we bring to the table when making their final choice.” Example: MidMark sells a wide variety of products medical facilities use in their practice, AND offers specific advice on new ways that doctors can leverage those products to maximize revenues.

 

  1. Strategic Contributor: “Above and beyond the products and services we offer, our customers view us as a source of strategic planning assistance for dealing with broader-based business challenges they are currently dealing with. Based on this, we are regularly brought into business discussions that are above and beyond our products, to help the clients develop or implement key business strategies. This strategic focus often allows us to sole-bid deals, even though competitors may offer similar products.” Example: Hewlett Packard’s “Creatology” group which constantly identifies what other assets, besides the products that HP possesses, that the clients could leverage in their businesses – i.e. processes, relationships, intellectual property, etc.

 

  1. Trusted Partner: “At this highest level we are seen as a long-term partner whose contributions; products, insights, processes, etc., are seen as critical to the long-term success of their clients. Based on this, the occurrences of our clients seriously considering a competitive offering are next to nil.” Example: GE aircraft and Boeing, who co-bet their businesses on the mutual success of their long-term, multi-year relationship.

 

5 Simple Steps to B2B Solutions Sales Success

Hi,

This goes out to all solution marketers and the solutions sales professionals. The following is based on my current and contemporary understanding of solutions marketing at the HULT Business School, attending Prof. Stephen Hurley’s classes, and what I have practiced as a solutions sales specialist during my roles in chemicals and print & packaging businesses across India and Africa.

  • STEP #1. Discover where your customer is today. Before you call on a prospect, use the Internet or business contacts find out as much as you can about where the prospect is today, what’s going on with their business, where they’re having problems, how happy they are with the products they’re currently using, how they currently do things which your offerings might help them do better. When you initially meet with your first customer contact, ask open-ended questions to obtain information that fills in the details you couldn’t find out through your research.
  • STEP #2. Discover where your customer wants to be. After you’ve got a solid picture of where the prospect is today, gradually transition the customer conversation to asking questions about your contact’s vision for the future, what would it be like in a perfect world, what’s worked so far, what could work better, how the contact would feel if that problem were solved, etc. You need to understand the customer’s destination before you can help your customer to arrive there.
  • STEP #3. Position your solution as the best vehicle to get from the current situation to the desired one. Based upon what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2, craft a vision of a solution that can help the customer make the transition to a better future situation. Present only those elements of your products and services that are part of that tightly-focused solution. Don’t confuse your customer with all the features and functions of your solution that are irrelevant to his or her needs.
  • STEP #4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 with multiple, increasingly important, contacts. Every customer contact will have a different perspective on the current situation and the desired goal. For each customer contact, discover that perspective and position your solution so that each person involved views the solution as crucial to his or her long-term business success. As the sales process continues, your solution will increasingly and widely perceived as being of great value to the customer’s firm.
  • STEP #5. Close the deal.  If you followed the four steps above, you have already positioned yourself to close the deal.  The main thing here is to have the courage to actually ask for the business, at the right time, and with the right people in the room.

What’s after Solutions Marketing? If a company has mastered the concepts, methods and capabilities of solutions marketing, what should they do to take their company to the next level?

What’s after Solutions Marketing? If a company has mastered the concepts, methods and capabilities of solutions marketing, what should they do to take their company to the next level?.

Solutions marketing in Flexible Packaging Industry

The definition for Solutions Marketing is given as “A combination of products, services, and intellectual property focused on a specific business problem that drives measurable business value. The solutions components can be from either the vendor or one or more partners, and the solutions implementer can be the vendor, the partner, the customer itself, or a combination of the three.”

I was recently introduced to this definition by Mr. Steven Hurley, MD of Solutions Insights Inc., a renowned marketing professional and practitioner of Solutions Marketing, erstwhile director of the ITSMA ( Information Technology Services Marketing Association), former Director at Arthur D’Little management consulting group and my Professor of Solutions Marketing course at the HULT International Business School, Boston.

As the information and knowledge sank in and my understanding of the subject was relatively better, I started to connect the dots between what I am learning in class and what I have practised as a sales functionary in the flexible packaging industry in India and Nigeria.

It was almost an epiphany in class when I substituted the key words in the classic ITSMA definition with those from the flexible packaging industry and started to see a connection. This quick analysis is appended below ;

A combination of products (Flexible packaging laminate, pre-formed pouches), services (Art work development, printing plate development, gravure printing drum development), and intellectual property (Lamination technology, knowledge of multi-layer laminates, Knowledge of materials, chemicals and adhesives) focused on a specific business problem (Client’s specific challenge in developing the right packaging for his product that meets his product performance requirements) that drives measurable business value (Customer saves in economic value terms by using less packaging material, through down gauging, superior barrier with innovative materials).

The substitutions are given in bold type.

The classic definition ends with a concise explanation of how the inter-stakeholders relationships are woven together to provide the framework for a successful solutions marketing initiative- and it goes like this: ”

The solutions components can be from either the vendor and one or more partners, and the solutions implementer can be the vendor, the partner, the customer itself, or a combination of the three.”

With this definition I drew a simplistic version of how the solutions marketing initiative would work in the flexible packaging industry, which is depicted in the insert.

I would request you all to ideate on this and to comment with your thoughts on this.