Chapter 2.Solution Selling and Driving Due Diligence - Customer Success with Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step (2014)

Customer Success with Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step

Chapter 2. Solution Selling and Driving Due Diligence

In the previous chapter, we discussed the importance of having a methodology for the selection and delivery of business solutions. We discussed the benefits of having a methodology for both the service provider and the customer. Not only does a methodology provide a consistent and repeatable approach via workflows and processes, but it also provides a connection to the various disciplines, and the orchestration of multiple roles that are involved in solution delivery execution.

For business solutions, and specifically for ERP/CRM solutions, we also introduced the notion of full life cycle methodologies. A customer life cycle methodology encompasses the solution discovery phase, solution delivery phases, and continues through the operation and any future upgrades of the solution. Beginning with the discovery phase, a full life cycle methodology provides a structured process for solution evaluation as well as proper dissemination of the knowledge that is captured during the diagnostic phase through to the solution delivery phases, thereby ensuring that the final solution design aligns with the original solution vision.

The diagnostic/discovery phase sets the stage for success, and it is important that customers and partners do not take shortcuts in this stage. There are many research publications and analyst papers that beseech companies to carry out a thorough vetting process in selecting the right solution to meet their organizational needs. We will focus on the solution selection and due diligence aspect in the discovery/diagnostic phase in this chapter.

In this chapter, we will discuss the following:

· How the diagnostic process drives value for both the customer and the solution provider

· What an organization needs to do in order to be solution centric

· What solution selling means to the service provider's sales cycles and to the customer's due-diligence process

· Microsoft's method to support the solution-selling process

Driving value for the customer and solution provider

A business solution should be about driving values in the customer's organization. Period! As we discussed in Chapter 1, Background and Concepts, ERP and CRM solutions are mission critical because of the core functions that they support, including quote-to-order entry, order fulfillment, receipts and payments, HR and payroll, inventory management, demand forecasting and sales pipeline, and customer relationship management. Based on the number of organizational functions that interface with these solutions and the extent to which they depend on these systems, it is easy to see the impact of the system on that organization. A good sales team will articulate this value during the sales cycle, and position the solution in terms of metrics that the customer can relate to.

It is easier to drive executive support for a project in a customer's organization when there is a value associated with the solution. Executive support is absolutely critical for a project of such magnitude, both in the solution selection stage as well as during solution delivery. During the implementation of the solution, the solution delivery team is bound to go through peaks and valleys. When there are clearly defined value projections, these will be the drivers and motivation factors for the team to keep forging ahead through its struggles.

The most important aspect of driving value for the customer is ensuring that the right solution is being positioned to meet the organizational requirements. A good sales team always keeps its customer's needs at the forefront. Always strive to do what's best for the customers and their organization, even if it means walking away from an opportunity if you determine that it is not the right fit for your solution. This is where ethics come in, but when sales teams follow this thought process, they will have appreciative and loyal customers. And over the long run, they will end up on the winning side, and be able to feel good about their accomplishments.

Stephen R. Covey published a gem titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the 1990s. This book received world acclaim for its easy-to-follow approach to ethical and moral issues in our day-to-day lives. One of the habits that Covey espouses is Think Win/Win, which is applicable to our current discussion. Highly effective sales personnel will strive for win-win deals because both parties will be better off and will profit in the end. The ones with a short-term outlook may get successful in some engagements by shortchanging the customer, but that will catch up in the long run.

A business solution sale should not be about filling the sales period's quota, but about helping the customer organization. There is, of course, no denying the influence of quotas and bonuses on sales behavior. However, by aligning the right solution for the customer, the sales personnel can get their individual goals accomplished while also helping organizations achieve their potential. This should give them a sense of gratification that extends well beyond the period-end bonuses. Long-term values can be achieved through a due-diligence process that engages and informs the customer through the sales process. Solution providers that establish such a culture and inculcate these values in their organizations are in turn successful in the long run.

Value realization and measurement

During the customer's due diligence process, the service provider strives to gain an understanding of where the customer organization is currently located, and their vision for the future. The proposed solution will bridge the customer's gap between their as-is state and their to-be state—an effective value-realization process begins early in this cycle, and is executed in sync with the solution visioning and delivery processes.

As the service provider develops the blueprint for the proposed solution, they should start defining the value that the solution will provide. While this will include, in part, the determination of the conditions of satisfaction for the customer, the critical component for determining the value will be to understand the business drivers for the organization's change to the proposed solution.

Microsoft, in its training curriculum, defines a business driver as:

"A brief statement that defines clearly and specifically the desired business outcomes of the organization along with the necessary activities to reach them."

Business drivers help communicate the vision and strategy of an organization. They clearly articulate the goals and objectives for moving the organization from its current (as-is) state to its desired future (to-be) state.

Business drivers can also help in the alignment of the business priorities to the organization strategy. In turn, they can explicitly align each initiative to the organization's strategic objectives while also helping with the measurement of the desired outcomes.

Simply put, a business driver is something that should result in quantifiable savings for the organization. As such, the business drivers should have SMART attributes:

· Specific

· Measurable

· Aggressive but attainable

· Results-oriented

· Time-bound

Microsoft provides a straightforward technique to define or write a business driver. Start with a verb, and add the element to measure and the focus or area of emphasis to that.

Business Driver = Verb + Element to Measure + Focus or Area of Emphasis

Using the preceding definition, the following are some of the examples of business drivers:

· Increase the sales for product ABC

· Reduce the average inventory in Plant XYZ

· Improve Days of Sales Outstanding (DSO) in the area office

· Accelerate the time to market for new product introductions

Once the business drivers have been defined, it is important to capture the metrics that will enable the measurement of the value. This is where the preceding definition also helps as the element to measure translates into the metric or Key Performance Indicator(KPI).

Microsoft defines a KPI as:

"An instrument to monitor, predict and manage performance needed to achieve a specific target."

The value measurement statement then includes the KPI and a "threshold value".

Value Measurement = Key Performance Indicator (KPI) + Threshold Value

The following are examples of value measurement statements that include the metrics or KPIs for the business drivers:

· Sales of product ABC to increase by $ 5 million

· Average inventory in plant XYZ to be reduced by 15 percent

· DSO in the Area Office to be improved by 5 days

· Time to market for new product introductions accelerated by 30 days

With the business drivers and KPIs defined, the next step is to measure and capture the baseline metrics—the values of the KPIs in the current (as-is) state. This is important because without establishing the baseline metrics, you will not be able to quantify the effect of the new solution on the drivers, thereby determining the actual savings produced by the solution.

Related to the determination of the KPIs, it is also important to define the timing and frequency of when the measurements will be taken. The actual execution of measuring the results will typically happen only when the solution is actually in operation for a given period, but the teams should decide up front when the measurements will occur. They should also decide the frequency of the measurements for the corresponding KPIs.

With the business drivers, KPIs, baseline metrics, and measurement frequency determined, the solution delivery process can then be set up to ensure that value realization is accelerated and maximized. After the solution has been deployed and has gone through a period of stabilization, the actual outcome or metrics can be measured.

The following diagram summarizes the value-realization and measurement processes in the context of business solutions:

Value realization and measurement

In the following sections, we will discuss how this concept of identifying measurable pain and value realization is enabled by a solution-centric approach. We will also discuss how solution selling helps the customer identify the right solution, and sets the stage for the solution implementation so as to realize the projected value from that solution.

What it means to be solution centric

Let's begin this discussion by expounding on the definition of a "solution". Quite simply, the word "solution" means an answer to a problem. But the English Thesaurus offers us other terms such as key, clarification, elucidation, explanation, resolution, and result. All of these definitions fit quite nicely into the constructs of business-solution selling, and therein lies the crux of the issue—"solution" can mean different things to different people. Because a solution can be applied to multiple contexts, it is a commonly used and sometimes abused word in organizations; hence, there is the need to clearly define the usage of the term.

In his book, The New Solution Selling, Keith Eades, who founded the Sales Performance International (SPI) organization, discusses the definition of solution. He describes a solution as "a mutually agreed-upon answer to a recognized problem, with a specific emphasis on the need for the problem to be acknowledged by both parties, the buyers (customers) and the sellers (solution provider)". The second aspect of a solution that is highlighted in the book is that it should "provide some measurable improvement". With that, Eades submits the following definition of a solution:

A mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.

For some organizations, it has become very fashionable to say that they have "solutions" and that they are "solutions-focused" as this apparently takes away the negative connotation associated with the term "products". A product is viewed as an offering that the selling company is forcing on the marketplace, while a solution is viewed as something that the marketplace is actively seeking, with the solution being the answer that the sellers can offer to the buyers. So, is the product the antithesis of a solution? Far from it! In many cases, and especially in the context of business solutions, the product is the primary driver of the solution. But it is the usage or delivery of that product that can truly define the success or failure of the solution for the customer. And the up-front positioning of the solution is the key to a successful delivery, which is where the solution-centric approach comes in.

For an organization to be truly solution focused, Eades explains that they need "more than superficial packaging manipulations or bundling services with products". Solution-centric should not be treated as buzz word to be thrown around by the organization. In the book titled The Solution-Centric Organization, Eades states that "solution–centric organizations define themselves by the problems they solve for customers versus by the products or services they make, sell or deliver". Solution-centric should be a philosophy that permeates throughout the organization so that teams including sales, marketing, product development, and services are all aligned around a common approach and model.

The need to be truly solution-centric is even more important in mature marketplaces such as ERP/CRM solutions. In this market, many of the top solution providers offer products that have been around for a while and used by many organizations. Each of these products includes a set of base features and functionality that may be hard to differentiate from the competition. Schedule Performance Index (SPI) terms this as differentiation blur that is a result of the product being perceived as commoditized, or the product becoming too complex and feature-rich for the industry to be able to differentiate it from others. To combat this issue, companies start bundling their products with services, and deem these as solutions. But what they have really achieved is creating what SPI labels as "pseudo solutions".

Such approaches neither help the customers looking for a solution nor do they help the solution provider develop a consistent approach to selling. This is further corroborated by a market research by industry analysts, who found only a 10 percent effectiveness rate of value positioning by these solution providers. The research also points to other findings that are endemic in a pseudo-solution company. In such companies, a high percentage (70 to 80 percent) of the marketing materials remain unused, highlighting the disconnect between the sales and marketing teams. The research also finds that these companies then revert to sales training as a means to solve the problem, but they often find the shelf life of unreinforced sales training to be about six to eight weeks.

So, how then does a company become truly solution-centric? As SPI puts it, for a true solution-centric approach, organizations need to embrace a sustained business model to market, sell, and deliver customer transformation. They need to identify the problems they solve rather than the products they offer, align all of the aspects of their marketing with the solution framework, and systemically adopt and reinforce the solution selling and solution-centric disciplines across the entire organization. Companies doing this will find themselves being able to consistently position the value of their solutions to their customers to clearly differentiate the value vis-à-vis their competition, and create a business model for sustainable growth.

Solution selling concepts

In the previous section, we discussed what a company needs to do within its overall organization to become solution-centric. We now shift our focus towards solution selling. We will see how solution selling not only helps the sales teams of these companies, but also how this approach ensures that the solution providers are helping their customers realize and maximize the value from their solutions.

Solution selling and driving due diligence are mutually dependent courses of action. While the former is a better process for the service providers' sales personnel, the latter is a better mechanism for the customers in their product-selection process. So, a good solution selling process aids the solution provider while innately assisting the customer and ensuring a thorough due diligence process, which in turn sets the stage for a good solution delivery process. Granted that there will always be the likelihood of the process being skewed towards the product that the solution provider is representing, however, if the process is conducted properly, the customer should be able to clearly determine the extent of the fit between their requirements and the solution, as well as what their future solution will look like.

Let's begin by looking at solution selling from the perspective of the solution provider or the seller of the solution. In his book, The New Solution Selling, Eades talks about the areas where solution selling helps the seller—as a philosophy, map, methodology, and management system.

Solution selling is a philosophy that can permeate the culture of the organization because it places the customer and the customer's pain as the focal points. Solving the customer's business problems and achieving positive results are the key elements of this philosophy.

Solution selling provides a map with the steps for achieving the end goal of the selling organization. This includes the ability to identify and qualify opportunities, diagnose the customer's problems and pain, analyze the needs, develop the solution vision, and manage the process to a successful closure.

Solution selling can be seen as a methodology that provides a collection of tools, job aids, techniques, and procedures. When utilized correctly, the approach will result in higher customer satisfaction and increased sales productivity.

Solution selling also creates a sales management system that provides coaching skills for sales and executive management by instituting a high-performance sales culture in the selling organization. As such, it also provides an effective measurement tool for the overall sales performance.

Solution selling – the buyer's perspective

In the last section, we looked at solution selling from the seller's viewpoint. Let's now look at solution selling from the perspective of the buyer. Three of the four areas noted previously directly impact the customer as well.

As we previously noted, a good solution selling philosophy places the customer at the forefront. Any seller who is using this technique then automatically has the customer's interests in mind. This approach creates a trusted relationship between the buyer and the seller, and a more cohesive approach towards delivering the results expected of the solution.

The steps in the solution selling map include diagnosing problems or pain points, analyzing the needs of the customer, and developing the solution vision that matches the business value to the pain points. These steps intrinsically help the customer with their due diligence in selecting the right solution to meet their needs.

Solution selling provides a methodology to deliver higher customer satisfaction. Using a consistent, time-tested process helps the sales teams use their prior experience in similar situations, which the customers can leverage for their own benefit.

In the next sections, we will discuss two key aspects of solution selling: building the trust between the buyer and the seller and building the vision of the solution.

Building trust

In general, a buying process is optimal when the buyer believes that the product or service that they are acquiring is the best solution to their problem, and they are getting it at the best possible price. As the magnitude of the purchase increases, so does the buyer's inclination to research on the marketplace to seek out the right solution at the right price for their needs. Essentially, the length of the due diligence process for the buyer increases exponentially with the importance of their requirement. However, there is one more factor that can affect the buyer's due diligence process, and that is trust—trust that the solution will meet their needs, trust in the sellers that they are providing the best price, trust that the sellers will deliver the promised solution, and trust that the sellers have the wherewithal to support the solution, should any problems arise after the delivery.

Trust is especially essential for business solutions. As we noted earlier, business solutions are mission critical, so intrinsically, there is high risk associated with any kind of wrong steps or failure in the realization of the solution. It is then easy to understand the importance of having a trusting buyer-seller relationship.

More often than not, trust is something that needs to be earned. In the business solutions arena, an organization that has a methodical process in place will succeed more consistently. By showing the buyer that you have a well thought-out, repeatable process, you give them the comfort factor that you have experienced success with other customers, thereby building that trust.

The solution selling process is one such process that allows you to inculcate the trust factor in your customer by moving the dial away from "transactional selling" to "relationship selling".

Trust can have economic implications as well. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey talks about developing trust, and also illustrates how trust can be an economic driver. His formula is based on the observation that trust always affects two outcomes—speed and cost.

When trust goes down, the decision-making speed goes down. This makes the costs go up:

↓Trust = ↓Speed ↑Cost

When trust goes up, the speed of decision making increases, and correspondingly, the costs go down:

↑Trust = ↑Speed ↓Cost

Covey goes on to talk about the impact of trust in the form of a tax or dividend. He incorporates trust into the traditional business formula, expanding it as follows:

(Strategy x Execution) Trust = Results

It should be abundantly clear that trust implications be an important consideration for sales personnel. Beyond the ethical reasons, trust also has an economic impact on the cost of sales for an organization. Covey sums up the impact of trust in the following words:

"The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors, and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the global economy."

We can see the impact of trust in our customer transactions as well. When a new seller approaches a customer with a solution, the buyer seeks proof that their solution has been successful, without which the buyer would turn towards a more established provider. Why is that? This is because the customers do not have the same level of trust in the new provider as they would in an established one. This is an all the more important reason for the selling organizations to adopt solution selling as a philosophy. Solution selling is one of the best techniques available for the sellers to establish credibility and trust with their buyers, which, as we have seen, can positively impact their success ratio.

Building a vision

A key aspect of solution selling, and one of its most pervasive and permeating themes is the notion of the seller building a shared vision of the solution with the buyer. When the solution is truly articulated from the buyer's perspective, the perceived risk in the solution is much lower for the customer, thereby making it a lot easier for them to buy off on the solution.

Michael Bosworth is one of the original pioneers of solution selling. He authored the book titled Solution Selling, and he was also the original founder of the organization that is currently run by Keith Eades. Bosworth discusses the notion of creating a vision at length in his book, and he ascribes high importance to the vision-creation process. In Bosworth's view, people buy from people who can create visions for them and a solution is equivalent to the buyer's vision.

The notion that people buy from people is commonplace for big ticket items such as business solutions. These are not transactions that you would expect somebody to make over the Internet or by some other "sight unseen" method. Customers will want to establish that the solution is credible, the team delivering the solution is trustworthy, and the organization supporting the solution will be around for the long haul. But let's assume that all things are equal or close enough that the differentiation is not obvious—for example, the competition also has a mature solution as well as trustworthy and personable sales personnel. The key point in Bosworth's notion is that when the sellers can make the buyers feel that the solution is theirs and matches their vision, the buyers feel that they are in control of the process, and they are empowered.

Bosworth's teaching ties the buyer's needs to the solution-visioning process. As the customers move through their buying cycle, their concerns change over time. It is then important that the seller stays aligned with the customers, and advance the vision in lockstep with the buyer. When the buyer is able to clearly visualize and articulate the future outcomes of the seller's solution, the sale becomes less complicated, resulting in shorter sales cycles and higher close ratios.

In 1943, Albert Maslow wrote a classic paper on our hierarchy of needs, titled A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow's hierarchy progressed from the lowest need level to the highest, as noted here:

· Physiological needs: This is the first level and includes the basic human needs such as air, water, and food.

· Safety needs: Personal and financial security, health, and well-being are the characteristics of the second level.

· Love and belonging needs: The third level involves social and emotional needs such as friendship, family, and intimacy.

· Esteem needs: The fourth level is about the need to be respected, including self-esteem (respect of others) and self-respect (inner strength).

· Self-actualization needs: This level pertains to an individual realizing their potential to the fullest.

One of the key points of this hierarchy is the progression of needs from the first level to the second, and so on. According to Maslow, if a human is unable to meet his/her basic needs such as food and shelter, they will be less inclined to pursue higher needs such as prestige and status. Some have criticized the hierarchy, but it has also become the basis of many subjects, and the hierarchy has been applied to many areas. For example, marketing has many teachings on understanding consumer buying behavior on the basis of Maslow's needs hierarchy. Correlation is visible in business and sales management as well, including through fields such as transpersonal business studies.

Bosworth also used Maslow's hierarchy as the basis to develop the buyer needs cycle in the perspective of solution selling. The next diagram depicts the progression of this needs cycle from latent need to solution vision:

Building a vision

· At Level 0, the buyer has no need for the product or solution, and the seller recognizes that—for example, you would not look to sell a heat lamp in the Sahara region. This level is obviously outside the solution selling realm.

· At Level 1, the seller sees a need in the marketplace, but the buyer does not as yet recognize the need. So, the latent need for the solution is in the mind of the seller, not the buyer. Or in other words, it is a latent pain for the buyer. Sellers functioning at this level do so by projecting their vision of the need for the solution on the buyer.

· At Level 2, the buyer is cognizant of their need or pain, but they do not know of a solution for the problem. At this stage, as the need or pain is recognized but unsatisfied, there is potential for a solution sale between the buyer and the right seller. If the buyer believes that there is a potential solution, they will actively seek a solution, and the need becomes an active need. However, if the buyer does not think that there is a solution to their problem, the need can become suppressed and go back to Level 1 as a latent need.

· At Level 3, the buyer sees the vision of the solution. The buyer's needs have progressed from latent to active, to a point where they can foresee the solution that solves their issues. At this stage, the buyer is looking at buying the solution and has a well-developed vision that includes four components —who will be taking what action, when will it be taken, via which capability of a seller's product or service.

A key point in this progression of the buyer's needs is that at Level 2, the buyer understands the potential for a solution, but those needs have not yet been acted upon by a seller, and so they are "undeveloped needs". If, at this stage, the seller thrusts their vision on the buyer, a suboptimal situation arises with the buyer having to trust the seller to solve their problem. It is therefore very important for the seller to get the buyer to admit their pain at this stage. This is proof to the seller that the buyer views them as trustworthy and has the ability to provide the right solution.

Another key point is that for the opportunity to be considered as qualified, the buyer must agree to participate actively together to develop the solution vision. The buyer must either be able to articulate the requirements of the solution or agree to participate in the needs' assessment process.

If sellers find themselves in a situation where the vision has already been created, and they are merely comparing their offering to that of the competition, they are in danger of becoming another check mark in the buyer's decision-making process. It is very likely that the buyer is already aligned with a competitor who helped them develop their requirements, and is just looking for additional proof points or pricing leverage before completing the purchase with them.

When the buyer is able to see the specific solution capabilities to address their needs, they will be able to articulate the solution vision and act on their problem.

Determining the right time to demo the solution

Another habit that Stephen R. Covey discusses in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is "seek first to understand, then to be understood". This habit is one of the core notions of solution selling: to patiently cultivate interest in the solution by first understanding the customer's problems that they are trying to solve. To develop a win-win relationship with your customer, you must understand what it means for them to win, or in other words, what a successful solution means to them. Follow the "principles of empathetic communication" by outlining the objectives in terms of the customer's needs and wants. This allows you to craft the solution vision in terms of the customer's objectives, thus facilitating an easier buy-in of your solution.

For solution selling, Michael Bosworth has a simple message: diagnose before you prescribe. Prescribing is when the seller leads with presentations on their company, products or services. Instead of the focus being on the customer's organizational needs and benefits, the seller's message should be stated as "you need….". The seller should not assume that the buyer already is aware about what value their offerings are going to bring to him/her. So, they should first try to understand the buyer's need and then position their solution in terms of the buyer's value metrics.

Being disciplined to listen first before talking is easier said than done as in real life, we are often impatient. When we know the answer, we find it hard to hold back or have empathy for the customer who does not know the information that we know. Bosworth calls this seller impatience "premature elaboration", and he thinks that it is one of the primary reasons for killing a sale. Also, impatience is counterproductive to the solution seller's goal of building relationships between the buyer and the seller.

When sellers lead with feature-functionality, they play right into the hands of the competition. Remember that unless you operate in a very unique industry where you have a monopoly over the market, your competition is very likely to have a set of compelling features and functionality. Bosworth believes that the role of the product in a sale should be proof—not in interest arousal, education, or need development.

The product should be used to prove that the solution indeed matches the customer's vision.

This approach benefits the seller in many ways. Early product demos could result in the buyer feeling that he or she was being "sold to". If the customer has yet to detail out their requirements, discussing product features with the customer can come across as the seller trying to impose their solution on the buyer, not to mention that it feeds into the hands of the competition that comes afterwards and can put its own spin.

Showing the product early can also lead to the seller having to get into discussions on features that the customer didn't have any interest in. However, during the demo, questions can arise that require the sales team to defend their product—something that could have been avoided if the seller had already determined exactly which features the buyer was interested in, and focused the demo only on those solution components.

Another reason to wait to do full-fledged solution demo is that the customer could request a proof of concept after the solution vision has been developed. Also, the seller can avoid having to discuss any specific pricing questions that may come up during the demo. Until the customer buys into the solution vision, it is better for the seller to avoid detailed pricing discussions, and instead stay at a rough order of magnitude level. When the customer sees the solution vision and the value of the solution, pricing negotiations can be much smoother, and you can avoid any unnecessary acrimony.

So, how do you prevent the urge to start with show and tell? The answer lies in solution selling, where you methodically diagnose the customer's requirements, and in concert with the buyer, you build the solution blueprint, which will, of course, be biased towards your solution. Also, in using this approach, you will develop a solution selling benefit statement that is a composite statement of the features, advantages, and benefits of the solution. This is not to say that the customer will jump into a requirements assessment stage without even knowing the solution that the seller is offering. This is to differentiate between an early "vision" demo and a custom "proof" demo. The early vision demos are typically pre-scripted demos to articulate the solution capabilities, and help in articulating the solution features to build the solution vision for the buyer. When the buyer and seller reach the point where they share a joint vision, that's the stage for the proof demo. Proof demos can trigger time and resource constraints for the seller's organization, and hence should only be resorted to when there is a joint buyer-seller vision, which can be shown in the form of a solution selling benefit statement.

A solution selling benefit statement tells the buyer that the seller's solution addresses the vision that was developed through active participation by both the buyer and seller. As Bosworth puts it, the statement will indicate the prospect: who will be doing what, when in time via a product or service. So, in effect, the seller has corroborated with the buyer that there is a Level 3 need, meaning that the buyer has participated in the development of the solution vision. If the buyer is still at Level 2 or an earlier level, and the need or pain is still undeveloped or latent, the best that the seller can do is to develop an advantage statement. The advantage statement can list only the benefits from the eyes of the seller as they still don't know the detailed pain points of the buyer. This is the fundamental difference between an advantage statement and the benefit statement that results from the solution selling approach.

Staying aligned with the buyer

One of the essential techniques offered by solution selling is keeping the seller in strategic alignment with the buyer. To stay aligned, the seller must be able to understand the thought process of the buyer so as to be able to predict their behavior.

Based on his years of sales experience, Michael Bosworth was able to break down what a buyer goes through into a series of steps. As the buyer's needs go from latent need to active need to solution vision, Bosworth found that buyers have four primary concerns:

· Is there a need?

· Is it the right solution to meet the need?

· What is the cost of the solution?

· What is the risk associated with acquiring the solution?

The presence of a need initiates the buying cycle. The need must be in the foreground of the buyer's mind for him or her to initiate the cycle. However, a seller can adversely affect the sale by putting undue pressure on the buyer in this stage. To prevent that, the seller should get the buyer to acknowledge their needs. Once the buyer acknowledges their pain, they progress to their next concern—cost.

Cost is a key concern for most buyers. However, it is important for the seller to recognize at what stage the buyer is. If it is early in the buying cycle, the seller is better off avoiding all cost discussions as they are yet to determine if there is a need associated with their solution. When the buyer achieves solution vision and is able to understand the value of the solution to their organization, cost implications change to price association, and the seller is in a more favorable position to have this discussion.

In the typical marketplace, a buyer has many options, and selecting the right solution from that mix is a pressing concern for the buyer. This is where value justification comes in. The sellers who have done their homework are prepared with business drivers for the solution, and can perform a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis for the customer to prove the value of the solution. Customer case studies can be used by the seller as additional proof points at this stage. Also, for the patient sellers, this is the stage at which they show their customers a full-fledged proof product demonstration to highlight how the features meet the customer's requirements.

The more important the initiative, the more the risk that rises to the top of the buyer's concerns at the later stages of the buying cycle. This includes the perceived risk of not having selected the best solution as well as obtaining the best price for the solution. Risk can also extend into solution support—the perceived risk of the service provider going out of business and not being able to support a solution in operation. Sellers should use sales methods and techniques that include risk-management disciplines to identify, analyze, and respond to the perceived risks in a timely manner.

While analyzing these four concerns even further, Bosworth also found that they clearly fall into three phases in the buying cycle:

· Phase 1: Determination of need

· Phase 2: Evaluation of alternatives

· Phase 3: Evaluation of risk

In the following diagram, Bosworth depicts the four buyer concerns as they shift within the three buying-cycle phases. This tool is used extensively in solution selling as a means of anticipating buyers' behavior so that the seller can stay aligned to the expectations.

Staying aligned with the buyer

As seen in the preceding diagram, the buyer's primary concerns in the early stages of the buying cycle are need and cost. As the buyer moves towards the end of the cycle, risk and price take over as higher concerns as the needs have been determined and a solution has been identified by that time.

For the seller, Phase I is about helping the customer determine their needs, but with a bias towards the seller's solution. In Phase II, the seller shows proof that their solution meets the customer's needs in the form of product presentations, customer evidence, ROI analysis, and so on. Finally, in Phase III, the seller seeks to mitigate any and all risk factors perceived by the buyer, and moves to close the sale. By acting as a "buying facilitator", the seller allows the buyer to perceive that they own the process while also ensuring that their sales process is executed efficiently.

Vision processing – creation and reengineering

There are many sales tools and techniques available to help the seller guide the buyer through the development of the solution vision. For example, Bosworth espouses a technique called the 9-Block Vision Processing Model, where the seller moves the buyer from pain to vision through a series of questions that gradually build upon each other. As seen in the next diagram, sellers begin with Open questions—open-ended questions fashioned in a way to give the buyer a sense of control throughout the process. Open questions then lead to the Control questions that allow the seller to probe into specific subject matter areas. The final set of questions, the Confirm questions, lead to the summarization of the buyer's needs and pain, ensuring that the seller has a good understanding of the situation. The following is a depiction of Bosworth's 9-Block Vision Processing Model.

Vision processing – creation and reengineering

The Open, Control, and Confirm questions in the 9-Block Vision Processing Model are noted vertically. From left to right, the model leads the seller to Diagnose Reasons, Explore Impact, and Visualize Capabilities. In the left vertical block, the seller uses his/her Open, Control, and Confirm questions to diagnose the customer's latent pain and get them to admit the pain. In the middle vertical block, the seller determines the organizational interdependencies, and the impact they have on the issues. The seller is able to determine which issues are more critical, and who are the power players or influencers for the requirements. The last vertical block helps the seller crystallize the solution selling benefits and vision by getting the buyer to take responsibility for solving their needs, preferably with a bias towards the seller's solution.

While much of our discussion to this point has been about creating the vision as the seller is starting anew with the buyer, it is important to understand that these techniques also apply to situations where the buyer already has an initial vision in mind. This is a key point especially in the business solutions arena, where it is becoming commonplace for a solution provider to get engaged at the Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI) stage. At this stage, the customer may have already engaged with an independent third-party consulting group to come up with their initial requirements. It is also possible that they could have engaged with a competitor for this. Obviously, the latter situation is not ideal as the requirements are already fashioned with a bias towards the competitor's solution, and the seller needs to do some investigation to ascertain that it is indeed still fair competition at that point. Keep in mind that if the buyer is merely going through the exercise to show their management that they completed the requisite steps for their due diligence by analyzing a preset number of solutions, it may be better for the seller to not waste too much of their time. But if it is still open competition, the seller can still use the same techniques offered here, including the 9-Block model, to "reengineer the vision".

The Microsoft Solution Selling Process

In the previous sections, we have seen how effective the solution selling concepts can be to align the seller with the customer's needs. Solution selling helps the solution provider build a trusting relationship with their buyer, and facilitates a working relationship between the seller and buyer to craft a common solution vision for the mutual benefit of each other. As a company, Microsoft prides itself in ensuring that the customer's needs are at its forefront, and in turn helping its vast partner ecosystem to also operate by this credo. To facilitate that mission, Microsoft adopted the solution selling method and fashioned it within the constructs of its internal and partner-sales mechanisms. This method, known as the Microsoft Solution Selling Process (MSSP), is the subject of this section.

Specifically within the ERP and CRM business solutions' arena, MSSP has been systematized to help Microsoft Dynamics Partners and Microsoft's internal teams through their sales cycles. The method gives selling teams a structure for creating and delivering value at each step of the sales cycle. Sales teams are provided with an effective process to understand the customer's needs and critical business issues. The process also facilitates the sales resources to work closely with the customer's subject matter experts for determining and developing the right Microsoft solution vision to fit their requirements.

MSSP aligns the account teams with the customer's decision-making process in their buying cycle, and creates an emphasis on driving real business value through Microsoft solutions. It helps the sales teams evaluate their progress on their sales cycles, and if it can afford the sales and leadership teams a means to develop business plans, drive resource allocation and utilization, and develop viable forecasts for effective decision making.

The stages of MSSP are shown in the following diagram. Also shown in the diagram is a mapping of MSSP to the buying cycle described in the solution selling concepts section, which we will discuss in the following section.

The Microsoft Solution Selling Process

The first stage (0%) of MSSP is the Prospect stage. The goal of this stage is to move customer leads identified for the business solutions via sales calls, mailers, Internet marketing, conferences, or other means into the opportunity management cycle as a prospect to arouse interest in the solutions. Sales teams create account plans and research typical customer pain points in the industry. They also gather customer success stories as an evidence of past success in the space.

The next stage (10%) is the Qualify stage where the sales teams validate that the prospect has a real need for a solution. In this stage, the customer will have identified their pain areas, while the sales teams may also detect potential latent needs. The sales team helps the customer by ascertaining the business drivers, and starts working towards developing a shared vision. This is also the stage where the sales teams will ensure that there is a business sponsor for the initiative, as well as look to negotiate access to the power sponsor.

The Prospect and Qualify stages correspond to Phase I of the buying cycle. The actions of the sales teams assist the customer to unearth the needs for the solution.

Develop is the next stage (20%) of MSSP. The sales team understands the high-level solution requirements, and conducts detailed requirements' gathering sessions to craft the solution vision. The customer has admitted to their business pain, and is aware of the consequences of not going through with the solution deployment. The sales team will also want to meet personally with the power sponsor in this stage. They will also want to gauge the competitors involved, as well as gain an understanding of the customer's decision-making process.

The next selling stage (40%) is Solution. The goal of this stage is to develop a solution blueprint that matches the customer's requirements. The sales team has linked the solution to business need, and has identified the business metrics or KPIs for the solution-value measurement. Hardware and any third-party software needs for the solution are also determined, and/or for cloud-based deployments, the types of users that would access the system are determined. A high-level cost is developed, shared with the customer, and acknowledged. The sales team also begins to plan for any proof-solution demonstrations that it may anticipate in the next stage.

The Develop and Solution stages correspond to Phase II of the buying cycle. The sales teams assist the customer to understand how the solution fits their needs during these stages. It also mentions that the customer teams may run parallel exercises with the competitors to evaluate alternatives.

The next MSSP stage (60%) is Proof. In this stage, the sales teams mitigate any perceived risks for the customer, with detailed proof product demonstrations, showing proof that the solution meets the requirements. Detailed value-proposition analysis for the solution is also conducted to help the customer articulate the projected savings associated with the solution as well as the timeline as to when they can recoup their investment. In this stage, the sales team also provides the initial proposal to the customer.

Close is the last stage (80%) in the sales cycle before the deployment of the solution begins. The goal of this stage is to finalize and get sign-off on all the contracts—this includes contracts for the software and the Statement of Work (SOW) for the solutiondelivery. It is worth noting that some customers and their solution providers may choose to start with a SOW for the first two implementation phases, Analysis and Design. They will then work through and develop the SOW for the remaining phases at the end of the Design phase. The solution-implementation plan is presented and acknowledged by the customer. The solution team also begins to finalize the appropriate resources for the solution delivery.

The Proof and Close stages correspond to Phase III of the buying cycle. The steps taken by the sales teams help alleviate any risks identified by the customer, leading to the final approval of the solution.

The final stage (100%) of MSSP is the Deploy stage. This stage begins with the transition of knowledge from the sales to the delivery team. The delivery team then takes over the responsibility for the solution. The sales teams conduct internal reviews of the sales cycle, and document key learning for future opportunities.


In this chapter, we introduced and discussed the concepts of solution selling. Solution selling helps the seller stay aligned with their buyers by building a trusting relationship and a common vision of the solution that meets the customer's needs. We also presented the different techniques that we can afford to enable solution selling, including value measurement, vision processing, and the phases of the buying cycle. Finally, we covered MSSP, the solution selling process that Microsoft designed to help its partners and internal sales teams.

There continues to be new theories espousing the evolution of solution selling. They are certainly worth investigating and forming your own opinions on how to adapt your selling techniques. Regardless of your approach, we are selling business solutions, and these are mission-critical systems to run the company's business. The sellers' responsibility then is to understand what the customers' needs are through a discovery process, and match the solution to their needs. The time span for the said discovery process can of course vary depending on where the customer is in their evaluation and buy cycle. But it doesn't absolve us from the need to follow a process for solution envisioning. The CEO/CFO/COO/CIO levels are the ultimate decision-makers—so you don't just go in and tell them how to run their business. But they do expect you to provide them with the best practices from your experience with other similar businesses, and solutions that fit their business.

In the next chapter, we will explain how solution selling is enabled by the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology.