Solution selling

Assembling a sales force capable of selling solutions is arguably the most difficult challenge for any aspiring ‘solutions provider' that is committed to delivering a balanced mix of hardware, software and services.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  February 7, 2008

Assembling a sales force capable of selling solutions is arguably the most difficult challenge for any aspiring ‘solutions provider' that is committed to delivering a balanced mix of hardware, software and services.

Fear not, for help is here in the shape of Channel Middle East's six-step guide to building an all-action sales team with the skills to make a fortune from solving customers' IT problems.

If it hasn't already caught your attention, the term ‘solutions provider' is rapidly gaining momentum among the first-tier channel in the Middle East.

Companies which were once satisfied with being referred to as ‘resellers' are now branding themselves as members of the solutions family in an effort to demonstrate that they truly have the answer to all of their customers' IT needs.

Astute resellers are quickly coming to terms with the fact that customers which once procured individual chunks of technology are now seeking the type of business solutions that ensure productivity and growth. Consequently, the reseller's call of duty no longer stops at providing a standard list of products, but round-the-clock support and complete IT management.

Given the increasing sophistication of end-users, it is perhaps no surprise that the term ‘solutions provider' has become the de facto alias for resellers eager to stress that they are more than just a product-pusher.

But any resellers who assume that getting in on the solutions act requires nothing more than a new corporate tagline and some slight rebranding are wildly mistaken.

As true solutions providers will testify, transitioning to a business model that involves delivering a delicate mix of hardware, software and services presents more than its fair share of obstacles - none more so than when it comes to constructing an effective and flexible sales force. While recruiting product-focused sales people might not pose a massive problem in such an expansive industry as IT, the challenge is comparatively tougher when it comes to solutions experience.

"It is quite difficult to find people who are well-placed to sell solutions," admitted Sami Abi Esber, president at Abu Dhabi-based IT group MDS, echoing a sentiment likely to strike a chord with other resellers in the Middle East. "We are facing a problem in finding resources, however we are investing a lot in training our people - mainly people with technical backgrounds that know how to find the right solution for the customers."

Indeed, it takes more than your average salesperson to successfully sell IT solutions and such personnel are rarely found in abundance, as many resellers will attest. Selling solutions requires a methodology or approach that is based on the needs and challenges of the end-user rather than standalone products or services, creating a need for a more sophisticated sales force and supporting resources.

The ideal characteristics of a solutions sales person will vary from reseller to reseller, but you can be sure that it all boils down to finding an individual capable of processing an organisation's business needs, comprehending the technology available and designing a solution that delivers the strongest benefit - in a way that bears the most profit for the company of course.

Resellers which have already built a successful solutions-focused proposition argue that a solid technology or business background, an understanding of market dynamics, and soft skills such as communication, negotiation and public speaking represent the key ingredients required to be a competent solutions sales person.

"A solutions-focused sales person has to focus more on the customer's needs than the offering of the vendor," admitted Hani Harik, president and CEO of Emirates Computers. "A solutions-focused sales person needs to have more in-depth knowledge of the customer's business and to help them adopt technology that enables innovations such as driving results, not just satisfy a technical or functional requirement," he added.

TN Rajan, division manager for enterprise computing systems at Alpha Data, says there are certain qualities that any solutions sales candidate must exhibit to stand any chance of success. "Somebody who has clear account visibility and is reactive enough to sniff out an opportunity - those are skills you require in enterprise sales," he said.

"When it comes to a fresh graduate or somebody who has only been used to selling product then the sort of attributes we'd look for would be an aptitude for learning, a persistency quality and the stamina to look for opportunities and follow up. We're talking about somebody who is never happy unless they are selling a solution, but who doesn't get disappointed and show desperation to close a sale."

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