Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important tasks of a B2B marketer is to communicate to customers the benefit of the firm’s offering (the suite of products from various divisions that provide customers with a solution that addresses their needs economically).  Yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

That sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

    1. Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
    2. Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
    3. Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. Wait, what?! Think of it this way:

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)

2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)

3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for ‘solutions’ and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

Brand Management

In Marketing It’s Important to Tell Your Story (Even B2B)

Vanessa Merit Nornberg’s article in Inc. Magazine (Your Story Is Your Marketing Strategy | Inc.com May 25, 2012) discusses the importance of telling your story to align with your customers. I though it was an interesting article when you think of the applications in the B2B world.

Think of brands that you buy from frequently. Are there examples of companies you buy from mainly because their story aligns with your world view? Think of REI that focuses on the importance of the outdoor lifestyle, Whole Foods that believes in the importance of high quality natural organic goods, or even that local bakery in your town (you know the one where the owner always baked as a hobby but knew it was their ultimate dream to own an artisinal bakery that makes everything from scratch). Interesting thing about most of them — you are willing to pay more to do business with them because you believe in what they stand for.

I, and many others, believe this applies to the B2B world as well; yes even in highly regulated industries like medical devices (we are after all in the business of taking care of people facing some of the most challenging times of their lives). It of course begs the question — what is your company’s story and how do you articulate it to your customers so they connect with your brand on a similar level?