Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough

  • Hannah Grove, Kevin Sellers, Richard Ettenson, and Jonathan Knowles
  • August 01, 2018

B2B companies need to focus on helping each customer achieve better outcomes.

The word solution needs to be retired from the business vocabulary. What was once a meaningful, buyer-defined term that meant “the answer to my specific problem” is now generic jargon that sellers have co-opted to mean “the bundle of products and services I want to sell you.”

Management guru Peter Drucker made this observation nearly a half-century ago, when he said that customers are always more interested in their outcome than in your solution. “What the customer buys and considers value is never a product,” Drucker wrote. “It is always utility, that is, what a product or service does for him.”1 In the business-to-business (B2B) environment, many companies have moved away from this truth. They develop products and services (often described as solutions) from an internal view, and they attempt to sell them to the widest possible customer base.

In this article, we describe how four companies have chosen to move away from selling solutions in favor of identifying and delivering outcomes that customers want. The companies are State Street, which manages investments for large institutional investors; Avnet, which supplies electronic and semiconductor components to technology manufacturers; a large U.S.-based manufacturer of building products; and a leading U.S.-based construction, engineering, and specialty service company for the power and process industries.

We’ve observed that B2B customers define their desired outcomes in widely different ways. 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.

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