Not all products or services are created equal in terms of the strategy you use to sell them. And, not all customers are created equal, in terms of how sophisticated they are about your product line and how much they may need your product or service.
What's more, selling into different levels of an organization often requires different types of selling techniques, in order to get customers' attention. Below, I've summarized the three most typical selling techniques used today.
1. Product selling
Product selling is exactly what it sounds like: selling the advantages or features of a specific product or service. With product selling, the questions from customers are predictable. Products are used in similar ways by customers. Prices are typically set. Marketing materials are standardized. And salespeople typically require a lot of formal training. Product selling deals are typically conducted with low-to-mid-level employees of the customer’s organization.
2. Solution selling
Solution selling goes beyond simply selling products or services. Here, you are trying to focus on a customer’s pain point, and address how your product or service is the best solution. The bigger the pain point (e.g., this product/service can dramatically reduce costs, improve customer service or open up new revenues streams), the more your solution is needed.
With solution selling, customer questions are unpredictable and typically require research. In addition, the solutions vary from customer to customer. Prices can vary substantially based on the level of services provided. Sales reps customize marketing materials to the specific customer's needs. And the salesperson usually needs to train in order to gain a deep understanding of the situation. Solution selling deals are typically conducted with mid-to-high-level employees within a customer’s organization.
In 1998, Neil Rackham published the popular book SPIN Selling to help create a process for solution selling. "SPIN" stands for the four sequential steps of the process, and the right types of questions to ask in each step: 1. Situation questions where you collect facts (e.g., simply learn where the customer is today); 2. Problem questions to ask in order to identify problems (e.g., what is not working in the current situation); 3. Implication questions to learn the consequences of problems (e.g., quantifying the scope of the problems); and 4. Need-payoff questions to identify the value payoff of a solution (e.g., quantifying the economic lift from the solution to the problem. Possibilities include new revenues, lower expenses and better customer service benefit).
SPIN selling gives your salesperson a playbook to work from in selling your solution.
3. Insight selling
Don't confuse solution selling with insight selling, which has become more broadly used in today’s era of big data and big analytics. With insight selling, the pain point is unknown to the customer. You are helping your customer to identify a problem that he or she did not know even existed, opening a space in which you can easily sell your product or service.
With insight selling, your salesperson is actually playing the role of business coach or strategy consultant to the client, holding their hands through the process of buying and implementing your solution. Insight sales deals are typically made at the high-to-executive levels of a customer’s organization, with the people who care the most about taking their business to the next level of success.
The common mistake startups make
Aas you can see, sales is not a “one size fits all” solution. You need to employ the right tactics and hire the right type of salespeople, to fulfill whichever of the above techniques is most relevant for your business. The biggest mistake most entrepreneurs is to focus too directly on just selling their product. Oten, they forget to think about the solutions and insights their product offers customers (which could make it a much easier sale).
So, do a critical assessment of your needs, and more importantly your customer’s needs, then plan accordingly.
Be sure to read my companion piece, "The 1,024 Types of Salespersons -- Hire the Right Ones," to make sure you recruit the best sales team for your specific needs. As you will learn, not all salespersons are created equal, and hiring the right person can make or break your success.