What Are Solution Sales?

Learn about the process -- and its drawbacks

Couple going over paperwork with financial advisor
••• Sam Edwards / Getty Images

It seems that many sales writers, trainers, and self-proclaimed "sales gurus" suggest that solution sales are the best method to increase your sales, gross profit, and your income. Many suggest that learning how to sell in the "solutions sales" style is cutting edge and replaces any and all other sales styles.

The problem with this thinking is that solution sales is nothing new and is one of the oldest styles of sales ever invented.

Put simply, solution sales is when a professional sells (or tries to sell) a product or service that satisfies a customer's need. On the surface, solution sales are when you sell anything except something purely frivolous.

The Steps Involved in Solution Sales

Since solution sales demand a customer's need, the first step involved in solution sales is to either identify, uncover or create a need for your customer. Identifying a customer need essentially entails determining what exact need your customer has as it relates to your product's ability to solve the need. Often, your customer's need may not be what they believe it to be. Your job is to help the customer identify their true need or needs.

Uncovering a customer's needs involves digging deep, asking questions and doing some research. For the most part, uncovered needs are not recognized as being needs by a customer, either due to them not being aware that the need exists or not recognizing something as being a need.

Another type of need that may need to be uncovered is one that your customer does not want to be revealed. You'll know when you've stumbled upon a need that your customer does not want to be uncovered when you experience resistance, animosity or even anger.

Creating a need takes talent, skill and a high level of confidence. Creating a need is just what it sounds like: Convincing your customer that they need something that, unless for your convincing, would not be seen by the customer as a need at all.

Bringing the Solution to the Sale

Identifying, uncovering or creating needs is useless unless you as a sales professional bring a solution to the customer's needs. Proposing a solution is what "solution sales" is all about. If you were to propose a solution to a customer who did not have the need that your product solves, then your proposed solution would not be a solution at all.

Your proposal must solve the needs of your customer for it to be seen as a solution.

The Problem With Solution Sales

In the days before the Internet, customers relied on sales professionals to inform them of solutions to their needs. In most cases, a business manager or owner didn't have the resources to know of proven ways or processes to solve business concerns. But with the overwhelming majority of businesses having Internet access, managers and owners are just a few mouse clicks away from learning proven or suggested methods to overcome both known and unknown challenges.

A sales professional who focuses solely on finding, uncovering or creating a need that can be solved by a product or service they sell is assuming that their customer is not only fully unaware of the problem but doesn't realize that the problem can be solved and that there are solutions for the problem.

Customers are significantly more informed when it comes to learning about industry-specific best practices and are highly motivated by their competition to improve their business processes. What this means for the solution sales professional is that their customers are already aware of the problem, the solution, and the options. So unless you market a very unique solution, relying on the traditional solution sales approach will create very hard to overcome challenges in your sales career.