Product sale versus solution sale. What is the distinction, why is it important and how does it apply to strategy? I would argue that understanding the difference is one of the key strengths of a strategist, and leveraging that fact will make you more successful.
So what is the difference between a product sale and a solution sale? Simply put, if you have a defined platform, technology, media, box of tricks, and are focused on selling just that, it is a product sale. If instead you spend the time understanding the client problem and their objectives and show a multi-disciplinary approach to achieving that objective, regardless of the tools you bring to the table, then it is a solution sale. A solution sale can, and typically does, include a variety of products, platforms and solutions. A product sale rarely strays outside the boundaries of the elements that the salesperson has in their portfolio.
Here’s a great example; when was the last time a client said the words ‘our Google rep had some really excellent ideas and recommendations of platforms and media that were beyond “spend more money on Google”‘? That’s not to say that Google reps can’t be strategic, after all, their recommendations are usually made to achieve a client objective. However, what stops them from being solutions sales people is the fact that every solution ends up being a product or platform they offer. This is the reason why smart clients invariably roll their eyes at ‘strategic’ recommendations from media vendors.
A product sale begins with a firm understanding of the product you represent, its relative positioning agains the competition, and then working to align it against client needs, showing clearly through highlighting features and benefits and illustrating how they meet client requirements. The relatively limited set of scenarios and options makes the product sale more straightforward and easy to scale through the use of scripted answers, case studies and feature sheets. The difficulty in the product sale comes in the form of its commoditized nature. Simply put, the fact that it is a commodity makes it harder for you to make the case for your product. The invariable tension then becomes how you resist the need to discount heavily on price. The only alternative is to focus on continuously differentiating, something that becomes increasingly difficult over time.
A solution sale is different. It begins with listening closely to the client to really understand their particular business challenges. In doing so, you need to continuously dig deeper to not only understand the top line challenge, but also the reasons behind it. This means interviewing stakeholders and conducting independent research on both the audience and the competitive landscape. In other words, it means taking a strategic approach, as we had previously defined when we explored how to build a digital strategy. Out of this comes a solution, which invariably is not focused on a single platform, medium, channel or technology, but rather that incorporates all these elements together. In other words, selling a strategy is not about selling a product, but rather selling an outcome. It is a solution sale. This makes it more difficult, more complex, more customized, less clearly defined from a features and benefits perspective, and harder to scale. But in my opinion, this difficulty makes it more valuable, and places the digital strategist at the heart of the conversation that sits at the centre of the business, namely how to make the business work.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.