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It’s time to stop selling solutions

John Mclean

Developing bundles of products and services and offering them as the perfect solution for any number of different businesses has been an established trend for over half a century.

More and more companies in the B2B sector are now stepping away from that approach to offer more targeted plans and products, write Hannah Grove, Kevin Sellers, Richard Ettenson and Jonathan Knowles for MIT Sloan Management Review.

Tapping into the extensive research they have conducted during the last decade – interviewing hundreds of business leaders, marketing and sales executives and B2B customers – the authors focused on the experiences of a quartet of companies.


These businesses come from very different sectors: one manages investments for large scale financiers; one supplies components to tech manufacturers; one makes building materials; and the last provides speciality services for the power and process industries. What unites them is their shift to a less solution-fixated model.

Their overall aim of a more collaborative and value-led approach was the same, while their B2B customers’ outcome goals varied greatly.

“Beyond the obvious financial metrics (such as revenue growth and profits), goals might include delivering a better experience to buyers, fostering a more vibrant internal culture, achieving efficiencies or revamping the company’s reputation. In each case, the desired outcomes represent leading indicators of that customer’s future business performance,” says the authors.


Changes in the dynamics of B2B markets made it important for all four companies to embrace alternatives. Those changes included:

  • narrowing of quality and technical differences between companies offering similar products;
  • cost efficiency and streamlining, made possible by new technologies;
  • easy access to details about products from online sources; and
  • increasing focus on added value rather than lowest price.


Responding to these shifts saw them deviating towards a more outcome-oriented customer culture. According to the authors, these are the key dimensions involved in achieving that, which applied to all the businesses.

1) Altering the concept of what success means. Rather than basing calculations on who has bought the most products or been the most loyal customer, this is about examining what extra value your business can give them and, in turn, what they can give to their own customers. Your success depends on theirs.

“Both the building products and industrial-infrastructure companies have made explicit efforts to link their offerings to emotionally resonant purposes. With building products, the purpose is protection and security; with industrial infrastructure, it is laying the foundation for modern living.”

2) Adopting a fresh approach to IT. Emerging technology can be an excellent asset in the quest to increase value for customers, and each of the four businesses harnessed it in different ways.

The investment managers provided customers with real-time tracking of transactions. The building products and industrial infrastructure companies both used drones to help customers envisage their choices and to give progress reports on tasks.

Avnet, the parts supplier for tech manufacturing, piloted a digital design tool that is now saving time and costs on 700 different projects and will soon be rolled out to customers globally.

3) Revamping organisational management. Changing to a more customer-focused orientation inevitably prompts some internal restructuring.

“Avnet’s organisational changes have been far reaching. In late 2016, the company sold a major division (representing 40% of its legacy business) and then proceeded to complete a major acquisition. In the process, it consolidated its global design and technical services, enabling faster response times for customers developing prototypes of new products.”

The other companies reorganised departments around different types of industry and customer, as opposed to product or service.

4) Revising communication methods. Internet and social media have revolutionised communication between businesses, their customers and consumers. Harnessing social media, blogs and forums, in particular, has given the businesses direct ties with their customers, and their customers’ customers.

The building products company, for example, uses algorithms to monitor relevant forums to gain insights into customer interests, experiences and opinions, then responded with appropriate online content about products.

5) Rethinking performance measurement. An outcome-based model naturally calls for customer input. Sales teams for all four companies have invited specific customers to contribute to the evaluation process and to help articulate quantitative and qualitative business objectives.


The outcome-focused approach is still in its infancy and it pulls businesses out of long-established comfort zones. But boosting B2B customers’ success by giving them what they actually want is establishing greater value that has ongoing mutual benefits.

Source Article: Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough
Author(s): Hannah Grove, Kevin Sellers, Richard Ettenson, and Jonathan Knowles