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

2. Training for success

If resellers do choose to go down the path of attempting to convert their product sales staff into solution-selling employees then the transition will only turn out to be a smooth one if a comprehensive blend of training, education and guidance is provided.

Companies take it for granted that technical staff need training to acquire the knowledge they need to do their job - and the same attitude needs to be taken where sales staff are concerned. Sales training, for both new recruits and former product-sales staff, has got to be taken seriously or it will hamper the reseller's long-term goals. Whether it's account management skills or technology sales training, a standard curriculum needs to be available so that sales staff are able to develop the proficiencies they need to be part of the solutions team.

Hani Harik, president and CEO at Emirates Computers, insists that training programmes are necessary to ensure that sales staff who start out in product roles are taught the additional skills they require to market IT solutions.

"Product-focused selling has its challenges and builds basic sales instincts within an individual - those instincts include competitiveness, benefit-selling and closing techniques," he said.

"Once a sales person proves themself on a product then they could be initiated into solution-selling by being placed on a training programme that includes foundation technical knowledge, strategic account management, solution design basics, technology-to-business mapping and industry insight," he suggested.

3. Getting the reward mechanisms right

Let's face it, sales incentives and commission structures make sales people tick and it's the same in the IT solutions business. The difference, however, is that while product-focused sales personnel generally achieve financial bonuses for the quantity, specification or value of goods they sell, solutions staff work to different criteria.

It is not an impossible job to transform product-focused staff into highly competent salespeople, but if the internal remuneration systems are not structured sufficiently or become misaligned with the rest of the company's objectives, they will fail to serve their purpose.

A solutions rewards system needs to take into account longer sales cycles and reflect key performance indicators such as gross margin, product and service mix, account development and customer satisfaction.

Enterprise reseller Alpha Data, for instance, has designed a weighted incentive programme that encourages solution selling among staff. "We operate a special value-based solutions sales scheme which allows more money to be earned from selling solutions, even if somebody else has sold three or four times the same revenue in hardware," said enterprise systems division manager, TN Rajan.

Making a remuneration system flourish in a solutions-focused environment also requires every member of the organisation to correctly interpret their role in the sales cycle and clearly understand what part they have to play in delivering the overall solution.

4. Extolling the virtue of teamwork

While selling single product lines or technologies may be an isolated job at times, solution-selling is completely the opposite due to the number of stakeholders involved in making sure that all aspects of the solution are designed, managed and implemented correctly.

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