August 02, 2011
For example: In radio, the new mantra is to sell "solutions, not spot advertisements." Why? Spot ads are bought on price (cost per thousand), while solutions are paid for based on value-generated (savings, incremental sales). The difference is like Calamari VS Squid - commodity versus premium.
This is more true than ever, given the business cycle. In my experience, during the long-drawn-out recovery phase ("Is the recession over?), the good money flows to companies that are in the solutions business - providing measurable outcomes instead of 'inventory'.
NOTE: This is not a packaging issue - where you start calling your services solutions (eg., it's not a banner ad campaign, it's a launch solution package!). You are not in the features business, and it's not up to your customer to translate the delivery of your services into value - the solutions centric company does this organically, based on good sales discovery processes and judicious use of metrics on the back end to deliver CFO-friendly results.
While working at Yahoo as it's Chief Solutions Officer, I put together a crack team of solutions-centric sales engineers that participated in some of the biggest marketing deals in the company's history at the time. We went beyond the banner ad biz and entered into data driven efficiency, optimization and analystics work for movie studios, CPG companies, tech companies and retail.
Here's the DNA of a true solutions provider, be it a team member or a company culture:
1 - Curiousity: You must truly care about how your customer's business model works, how it comes to market and how the playing field has changed in the last few years. You should be as educated about these things as your customer, relentlessly investigating and probing for more information. Great solutions providers are first and foremost, problem finders (yeah, tweet that via @sanderssays)
2 - Agility: Once you uncover a problem, it's likely your products don't squarely address it off-the-shelf. Throw out the rate card, roll up your sleeves and build a new solution, even if it's not on the product roadmap. At Yahoo, we discovered that some of our customers needed better insight into purchase intention (to shore up their supply chain), so we got into the Search-Analytics business, leveraging our buzz index to help movie studio buy TV ads or gaming companies to optimize store inventory.
3 - Accountability: Measure the business impact of the solution, and not just how much product you shipped or hours you logged in. It's not a solution unless the client's finance leads say so! Compensate the team, in part, based on value-delivered and not just sales.
Yesterday I gave a talk to finance professionals about this concept, and you could hear the gears turning in the collective mind of the audience. There's real money in solutions-ville, but it will require a willingness to do some custom work and then figure out how it can scale. But if you get there, you'll be able to sell on value and not on price. And you'll respect yourself more too.