Solution Selling Verses Product Selling

6th July 2018

When sales people first started selling they sold products and for a long time product selling was the only way of selling. Product selling is about finding the people that need your product and then persuading them to buy it. In the 70s and 80s solution selling came into vogue. Solution selling is finding companies that have a certain problem or group of problems and then showing them how they can solve their problem using your solution.

Solution selling has many advantages over product selling. Some of the big ones are:

  • The account manager and his or her marketing team can create demand in ways not possible with traditional product selling.
  • Selling the value of the solution allows you to attain higher revenue and margins. Product selling is often a case of comparing product spec with price to make the case for a more expensive product. When you sell a commodity a deal often comes down to price.
  • Solution selling also helps you develop deeper, longer lasting relationships in the account, reducing your dependence on key people leaving (their organization or yours).
  • It is easier to identify and plan your sell on potential. A successful first implementation makes it easier to win subsequent deals, move into new departments, etc.


However, solution selling also has some consequences. One is that the sales cycle takes longer. Suppliers driven by quarterly or six monthly results will have difficulty adopting a solution selling methodology.

Hiring may be more challenging as the pool of people with retail solution selling experience is smaller than the pool of people with general technology selling experience.

Not every situation requires solution selling. For example, when the customer needs a new wireless router for their stores, product selling is the most appropriate way to go. However, when the customer needs to improve their inventory turn to improve their competitive position, then solution selling is definitely the preferred approach.

The training required to educate new recruits in solution selling or to migrate an existing product selling sales force to where you need them to be in terms of industry knowledge and solution selling is significant and will be measured over several years, not months. There will also be a requirement to develop industry specific messaging, appropriate sales tools, ROI models and the like. All of this will take time.

Solution selling requires a variety of skills to be able to diagnose the customer’s problem, visualize the solution, and convince the customer to take ownership of the solution implementation.

Solution selling leads eventually to insight selling. This is an emerging approach which demands an even higher level of industry knowledge to match the increasing capability of some retail buyers and we will feature this in more detail in a future blog post.

This can sound like a daunting task. The good news is that there are companies out there like Martec to help you address these challenges. As well as providing consulting services in this area we also have a full training curriculum to educate individuals and whole teams in what they need to know.

To get some insight into common mistakes that technology sales people make selling to retailers download our white paper.

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