Commentary & Analysis
Solution Selling of Print: Find the Challenges Important to the Customer
The solution sale only works if you’re solving the problems that are most important to the customer. The race to find solutions often results in sales teams wasting tremendous effort solving the wrong customer challenges. When you first agree on the challenges and their importance to the customer – solution selling works.
By Jennifer Matt
Published: November 15, 2017
Print is part of a solution. It is one of many options when it comes to how organizations communicate for various purposes. A product label has a marketing purpose, a compliance purpose, and an informational purpose. A billboard is mostly promotional but sometimes directional, In-n-Burger photo with the exact exit to get off the freeway to get you there. Yum. The customer buying product labels or billboards has a workflow that starts way before the printing and extends way after the print is manufactured. Solution selling works better if you take the time to understand the workflow and where print plays in that workflow.
Print is part of a solution. The idea of solution selling has been around forever. Your customer wants their lives to be better, easier, more profitable, more successful – you need to offer them one or more solutions to close the deal. The sales process has become a race to solutions. I use the word race purposefully; everyone is in a hurry to find a solution.
The solution sale is only effective if you’re solution is solving the right problem. I think the most powerful characteristic in a sales team is one that takes the time to clearly understand what challenges are the most valuable to the customer to solve. You get no credit for solving challenges the customer doesn’t care about.
There are two questions I like to ask when it comes to challenges that involve print software.
What customer problem(s) are we trying to solve?
What jobs do you want the software to do?
I experience a lot of resistance to the first question; often I experience obvious frustration which I can sometimes read as “why is she asking these dumb questions, doesn’t she understand that we should be talking about the details, e.g. how do we exchange the XML files in a certain way at a certain time?” This attitude does not deter me in the least because I’m simply listening to people dive into a solution that might be brilliantly architected yet doesn’t solve the problem that is most important to the customer. I don’t have extra time, I don’t know many people who do have extra time, so my focus is solving the most important challenge to the customer. The number one mistake I see in solution selling is spending a bunch of time solving challenges that aren’t important to the customer.
Because most of us have been in this business for a long time, we feel like we’ve heard it all before and therefore we listen for anything that we can use to put the customer’s challenge into a bucket that we can then solve with our familiar solutions. We make assumptions instead of taking the time to learn the customer’s challenges. We also assume print is a solution. Print is never the whole solution. Selling print is a solution to your sales commission check and if its profitable it delivers to the bottom line of the printer; but print alone is never a solution – it solves a component of an overall workflow. Customers buy workflows.
You know why it takes time to understand the customer’s problem? The customer talks in recommended solutions too. I recently had a long meeting with a major brand about personalization of products they produced at large scale weekly. The conversation went on for a long time about the details of how they wanted online software to control every piece of logic on complex variable data pieces in a self-service manner without having to be technical experts. Re-read that last sentence; that is a tremendously difficult solution – one could spend months talking about how to accomplish it. What problem are they trying to solve with this very specific demand?
Much to the chagrin of the sales people in the room who very much wanted to convince the customer that we could figure out how to deliver on this complex solution; I kept probing about the underlying problem. After many questions; the customer finally said;
“Our last vendor took two full days to make changes to the logic – we need to adjust logic a few times a day leading up to each week’s print run. This delay was unacceptable; therefore, we insisted that we have 100% control of the logic.”
Their last vendor failed to meet required service level agreements (SLAs), so the customer devised a solution to the problem – insist on having all logic under their control. This is a terrible solution for so many reasons that I will not go into here. The customer’s problem is about service levels. A self-service online tool to control all logic by a non-developer might not even be truly possible to build and if you can build it; the costs will be very high to do it right. Because the customer doesn’t understand what it would take to build something like this and the limitations/risks of having an unskilled person controlling important and complex logic - their solution is weak.
This is really important. Not only do you need to focus on understanding the problem; you also need to be able to identify when the customer is focusing on their idea of the solution. In this case if you ignore the customer’s recommended solution and look at the definition of the problem you could solve it in so many other ways like:
- Put a skilled employee of yours on-site at the customer, they would then be available to make all logic changes necessary and would give the customer the perception of “control”.
- Dedicate a resource to the customer and put them on a live chat application like Slack that would give the customer the sense that you have an “active staff” member performing their logic changes on demand.
- Schedule daily check in meetings where logic is discussed. This would give the customer the comfort that they would have access to logic experts daily at the same time. No chasing someone down via email or voicemail.
Your first step is to require your sales team to define and prioritize the challenges that are most important to the customer. The second step is to note what the customer’s ideas are for solutions (you can learn more about the problem by understanding what the customer thinks is the solution). Then, if the solution requires technology (which most solutions do) – you need to answer the question; what jobs do you want the software to do?