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Solutions Marketing in High Gear

The shift from product marketing to solutions marketing is a significant transformation for any company. It represents a maturing from self-centered emphasis on product features (“speeds and feeds” in technology parlance) to customer-centered problem solving. It’s the basis for establishing long term, trusted relationships with clients that will weather the appearance of shiny new things from competitors.

At its core, solutions marketing frames the purpose of your products and services in the context of the business pressures faced by your customer. You put on your customer hat, think about what keeps them up at night and explain how your products can be applied to solve those problems.

A good illustration of the difference between product marketing and solutions marketing is in the logical flow of a typical customer presentation.

First product marketing:

  • Technology (“We are terribly clever engineers.”)

  • Product (“We’ve built an awesome product. It does all these cool things!”)

  • Differentiators (“No really! It’s a great product. It does all these things no other product can do.”)

The customer, if she is paying attention, gains a good understanding of the product and why you think it is better than the other guy’s product. But you are forcing her do the hard work of figuring out how your product can make her life easier.

Now a solutions marketing presentation:

  • Trends (“We understand your world and how its changing.”)

  • Application (“This is how people like you can respond to these trends.”)

  • Value (“This is the outcome of taking this sort of approach.”)

  • Product (“Our product is ideal for this application, to deliver this value.”)

  • Differentiators (“Here’s how it does it better than other products.”)

I demonstrate that I understand the customer’s environment, show how an application of technology can provide a solution (value), and then connect it to the product I’m selling. Once I’m talking about my product, I can then shift into the logic flow for a product presentation and talk about technology and differentiators – but not before I’ve established the problems it solves and the value it provides. I need to earn the right to brag about speeds and feeds!

Preparing this sort of presentation, let alone shifting your entire marketing emphasis in this way, demands an expert-level understanding of the industry and your customer’s business. It’s no surprise that the roots of solutions marketing often finally take hold when people are brought into the company from customer organizations (i.e. folks who have walked a mile in the customers’ shoes and speak their language). But there are customer proxies in your organization – your sales team, sales engineers and customer service staff all spend as much time in the customer world as in your product world.

Work with these people to do some “applications mining”. By shifting the focus from the product to how it is actually being used by customers, you reveal the underlying customer issues your product addresses and how its application makes things better. As a solutions marketer, your job is to make explicit the logic that (presumably) underpins the selection of features your product management and development team chose to put in their product!

Application marketing can be the on-ramp to solutions marketing within your organization. Soon you’ll be speeding along in the solutions marketing fast lane, influencing customer decisions and building customer relationships – leaving your product-focused competitors in the dust!

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