When developing a plan for operating a sales territory or chasing down a specific opportunity, both the Solution Selling and Consultative Selling frameworks have proven their value. I am far from alone in being a huge fan of the underlying concepts and best practices. These approaches and combinations thereof have supported the transformation of legions of “wannabes” into legitimate sales professionals.
Each of them though, has what seems to me to be a serious flaw. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT suggesting we get rid of either of them – way too much great stuff embedded in both. But flaws they have.
A focus on selling “Solutions” is limiting. There can be no solution unless there is first a well-defined problem. A problem with some portion of a customer’s business process can’t exist until after that process has been implemented and is functioning. If I limit myself to selling solutions therefore, I miss out on all the opportunities to help my customers conceive, implement and exploit the value of any true “blue ocean” strategy.
A focus on being “Consultative” is also limiting. It does enable me to be a part of blue ocean initiatives, but only as an outside expert. A consultant by definition is narrowly focused. The customer wants to achieve a very specific objective and brings in a highly specialized consultant already experienced in that domain. When the objective is achieved, the consultant goes away. (Side note: The most successful consultants I know are intensely focused on working themselves out of a job. The guts of the value they provide is knowledge transfer. When that’s done, they’re done.)
That takes me back to the word “embedded.” I think I want to be an Embedded Sales Rep. One, who like a wartime news reporter, is right there on the ground; where the action is; side-by-side with the deciders and doers; an integral part of the team. I want to be in a position not only to fix problems, but also to be part of new ventures over the long term. I do NOT want to be an outsider. I want them all to want me on the team; to need me on the team; to forget I don’t actually wear the same uniform and insist that I stay on the team.
Solution-focused? Yes. Consultative? Of course. Embedded? Even better!