You Can’t Sell A Solution!

You can’t sell a solution??

‘Whoa! You’re thinking. What is it I’ve been doing then?’

Well, consider this. From a Buyer’s perspective (and that’s the way we Sellers should look at it too), a solution is what they buy, rather than what you sell. And in this paper, I’ll explain why that is and how you can help them to buy solutions.

A ‘solution’ is what Buyers believe will be of greatest value in enabling them to achieve an outcome e.g. to increase revenue, reduce costs, increase productivity. Or on a more personal note, reduce work hours stress etc.

It is important to appreciate that a solution isn’t the outcome. It enables the outcome. Similarly, your product/service isn’t the solution. It enables the solution.

If you need to make a hole, a drill isn’t a solution. It needs to be applied correctly e.g. correct drill-bit, drill-speed, angle, pressure etc. Enabling all of that, not just providing a drill, results in the desired outcome— a hole. That then is the solution.

To Buyers, a solution is a source of value, because value is received. It can’t be given or sold[1] (by you for example). Value is whatever Buyers perceive it to be and it is for them to call something a ‘solution’, not Sellers.

Now you might think that’s all semantics. It’s not. It’s a shift in mindset and perspective. Take that on board and your behavior will fundamentally change. To begin with, you’ll do a lot more asking and a lot less telling.

For example, instead of declaring that you have a solution (and trying to convince Buyers that it is), your curiosity will kick in and you’ll engage with Buyers to understand what value looks like to them and then collaborate with them to create a solution (their solution) that enables them to receive that value.

That then becomes what you offer. So, the Buyer essentially buys his/her solution rather than your product/service. Makes sense?

It’s a 180-degree shift from the traditional sales model. Make that shift and the effectiveness of your interaction with Buyers will improve dramatically. And so will your sales results!

Don’t confuse Options with Solutions

I often ask Sellers, ‘how many solutions are there in a typical sale?

They usually respond ‘well, depends on the number of vendors.’

I then say, ‘OK, five vendors.’

and they respond, ‘five solutions.’

I then say, ‘Really? Or is that just five options?’

Ultimately, in any sale there is just one offer that fits the Buyer’s perception of a solution and that is the one they buy.

Everything else was an option, not a solution, otherwise the Buyer would have bought it.

Bottom Line: You don’t want to be AN Option. You want to be THE Solution!

Now, how do you get yourself into that position? Well, just as an angler intent on attracting fish, best think like a fish. To attract Buyers, think like a Buyer and put yourself in their shoes. Ask them for their perceptions of what value means to them and you will then learn what their solution will look like to them.

Here’s an example of a conversation sequence that achieves that:

‘What will be happening when you get the solution you need? What are the outcomes you’ll be receiving?

Buyer describes the results they’ll be achieving.

‘I see. That sounds great. How will that achieve those outcomes for you?

Buyer responds with how they see the solution achieving the results.

‘Ah, I get that. And so, when that happens, what is going be happening for you?

Buyer describes the value they will be receiving.

‘OK, I can understand why that would be valuable. What do you think you’ll need then to be able to achieve that outcome?

The Buyer may respond with a capability or a product/service they believe they need.

At that point, strenuously resist your natural urge to introduce your product/service. Don’t do it!

Instead, continue the same style of questions to understand why they think the way they do. You can even challenge in a non-threatening way by asking:

‘How will that approach achieve that?’ or

‘Can you explain how you see that working?’ Or even,

‘it’s not clear to me how that would achieve the outcome you’re after. Can you explain that to me please?’

Can you see how in this dialog you’re exercising your curiosity? You’re essentially encouraging Buyers to paint a picture of what their solution might look like.

In a Complex Sale, i.e. multiple Buyers, each Buyer’s picture will be different.

There is no ‘telling’ here e.g. what they ought to buy from you. It’s free of any inference that you’re trying to sell something, which of course would come across as self-interest and that undermines trust. Instead, it’s solely about the Buyer and so they naturally become more engaged with you.

Trust and confidence in you grow, as you’re helping them to solve their problem, not selling them your product/service.

Then the magic happens

Can you see how this conversation just naturally engages the Buyer as it’s all about him/her? Nothing engages a person more than having them talk about themselves! I call these ‘Natural Conversations’, as they’re much how you might chat with a friend.

When you interact in that way, Buyers will want you to collaborate with them in creating a solution. I call it the GP effect. It’s a fact that people warm to their doctor based on their impression of the diagnostic process (the asking), not the prescription or treatment (the telling). In fact, you don’t know that the treatment will work, you just trust that it will and swallow the pill!

And so it is with Buyers. As you diagnose i.e. come to understand what they value and why they’re not getting that value, they’ll naturally come to regard you as the natural source of a solution. In their eyes, you (and by extension your product/service) become the enabler of that value.

Then, they naturally buy from you, as it’s their solution not simply a product or service.

So, in summary, think like a Buyer and that a solution is something they’re getting, not something you’re giving (selling) them. You’re essentially enabling them to define, and ultimately get, what they value.

Returning to the example of the drill, the conversations to have with the Buyer then are about how best they might make a hole, not about the features and benefits of the drill you sell.

Having the Conversation(s)

You should of course prepare for every interaction with a Buyer and it’s not simply a matter of listing questions. You can’t wing an effective conversation. Here’s why:

  • We humans operate 98% of the time on autopilot. Unless we’re used to asking questions a certain way, we’ll keep asking the same old, same old questions. Boring!
  • We need to prepare not simply what questions to ask, but how to ask them.
  • Think how Buyers might respond. For many questions, you can reasonably predict likely responses and so you can pre-prepare follow-up questions for each possible response. Note the examples above, they’ll work for many situations.
  • Our objective is to ensure a Buyer receives an outcome from every exchange. Now, that doesn’t mean a solution. That’s unlikely to happen in a single conversation of course. Rather, the value they get is increasing clarity about their problems, challenges, needs and what a solution needs to look like. They are outcomes.That is value. And so, because you’re a consistent source of value they want to keep interacting with you.


In following articles, I’ll be going deeper into Natural Conversations and the types of questions that build relationships with Buyers and that get to what they really value.


Patrick Boucousis

  1. If you’re not convinced about that, you may like to watch my video ‘What is Value?’


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