Transforming From Product to Solution Selling

Transforming From Product to Solution Selling

A Common Vision; Transforming Sales

It is something I hear all the time. Yesterday, I spoke with the Chief Sales Officer of a well-known company that offers services to most businesses worldwide. I asked him his opinion on the most significant problem he has with meeting sales goals. He explained it as “we have tried and failed, but we cannot seem to get our salespeople to stop pitching products and move to more consultative sales.” He continued to discuss the stratification of their service solution and how it can help business owners improve their business results – if they are able to engage them better.

I asked him to tell me about the efforts they had made to achieve this change. As a magician who notes the answer to an illusion in advance of the audience participant, I could have written it down and sent it to him.

He said that they had spent millions on training in sales methodology, but it was like water in the sieve. It was almost as if the training event had never occurred within a month.

He also spoke of other common tactics: they announce the initiative at their annual sales meeting, measure the breadth and update their marketing materials to reflect their stratified solutions.

The results were: a slight increase in the number of services sold but a significant increase in discounting, which offsets a large portion of the gain. He acknowledged that this minor gain was not due to behavior change but more likely because he was under the microscope.

The scope of a transformation is more significant than most people expect

It is common to underestimate the power of transformations. To change behavior, it takes more than just training. While I will describe a more efficient change framework in the next paragraph, each transformation is a challenge regardless of how sophisticated a company’s change management program is. These obstacles include the company’s growth status, its culture, and the strategy chosen by the leaders to carry out the transformation.

Sales Transformation Challenges

Underestimating the scope
It is essential to consider the current health of your organization. Success-based transformations are more accessible than those based on the crisis.
Failure to recognize cultural contributors
The wrong strategy is applied to the situation.
The transformation challenge will be affected by whether a company has achieved growth or is in crisis. A sales organization in crisis is more difficult than one that is successful. Sales teams that are meeting their goals have little incentive to change. Other support organizations may not be motivated to change, so the sales team is left to figure out how to break free of its cocoon.

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Cultural factors play a crucial but often overlooked role in either encouraging or hindering progress. One prospect has an extensive sales team that includes personnel from four companies. All of these companies were acquired relatively recently. It has created a clash between cultures that haven’t yet settled down, but, more importantly, it has also produced large numbers of salespeople who have learned to wait for transformation attempts from previous experiences.

Another example is cultural: I advised a technology company that had adopted the casual attire style well-known in their industry and Northern California base. They could be denied sponsorship by their I.T. simply because they wear a polo shirt. It was eye-opening for them to make contact with the managers of their business units. They had been selling successfully into I.T. for years, and this obstacle was not apparent to them. Organizations.

It is crucial to choose the right strategy. The strategy you choose can make all the difference between a company that is growing and one that is in crisis. A company-wide, all-hands-on-deck strategy can work well in crisis situations, but it can be devastating for growing businesses. My November 2008 paper “Transforming Sales without Crisis” goes into more detail about this topic. For the purpose of this paper, however, I will summarize the main point about motivation. A significant number of salespeople are successful, which means that they will resist a broad-based campaign to change their behavior. Our research shows that it is scarce for a second transformation attempt to be made after a failed attempt at transformation.

A Sales Transformation Framework

Once the growth status has been assessed, the culture diagnosis has been conducted, and the strategy selection made, a transformation framework should then be developed to support the campaign. Based on the research conducted by Harvard University and our consulting experience, we developed our transformation framework called “TAKE CHARGE.”
A transformation framework helps the leader understand the scope of change and provides the basis for creating an implementation plan that can easily be measured, revised, and corrected if necessary.

TAKE CHARGE’s transformation framework consists of five leadership disciplines, each of which encompasses a subset of leadership tactics. To keep this paper short, I will only describe the five highest-level components. If you want to learn more about the underlying strategies, you will find further information at the end of this paper.

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These are the five leadership skills that enable sales transformations.

1. Define success

2. Establish Credibility

3. Align Systems and Processes

4. Navigate around Obstacles

5. Rebuild the team

Define Success: James P. Kotter’s landmark paper “Why Transformation Efforts Failed, Harvard Business Review January 2007” reports that failures to communicate the vision increased by a factor of 10. One memo or meeting that communicates the vision is a common occurrence, he says. A scheduled communication plan is necessary to communicate the vision and reinforce it on a regular basis. It should also be updated regularly and share the lessons learned. Reward or recognize the behavior that has changed. Anything less than that is likely to confuse the constituency and make them unaware of their expectations.

Establish credibility: Salespeople often cite a lack of role models as one reason they don’t change their behavior. This is not surprising considering that most of the management comes from the ranks and files, making them less equipped to implement the new behaviors. The transformation framework should provide a forum for leaders to learn from the team and build credibility.

Align Systems and Process Consider the systems and processes that support or reinforce the old behavior, such as forecasting terminology and milestones, compensation strategies and hiring profiles, recognition practices, and titles.

Navigate Obstacles Even worse, coalitions can form, which could lead to even more political obstruction. There are also non-political obstacles that can be encountered. Examples of non-political obstacles include changes in the organization’s structure or the need to fill new roles and responsibilities. A transformation plan that works is one that identifies the key issues and addresses them.

Rebuild the team: This discipline includes defining the expected behavior, evaluating current personnel against the new criteria, and communicating expectations. A methodical approach is required to create a cohesive plan for improving organizational skills.

Rigorous Review

Sales transformations are not something that can be done by themselves. This requires additional leadership discipline and rigorous review. You’ll appreciate this concept if you have ever taken the initiative and taught a child or adolescent how to make their bed every day. It’s worth taking a few moments to teach your child how to make their bed. You should remind your child to make their bed every night. (Not that they are picky.
Management of an organization requires a thorough review. This review is multi-leveled and multi-departmental. The first level sales manager needs to examine many aspects of sales professionals’ behavior, including customer diagnosis meetings, confirmation letters, and business proposals. The second-level manager must review the first-level manager to see if they are making progress towards their transformational plan, and most importantly if they are actually following through. The third-level manager should review the second manager and, if necessary, the progress of crucial supporting organizations to the transformation initiative. So on.

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It is important to remember that one review is not enough. Every review will reveal weaknesses and provide feedback to the participant, giving them the opportunity to overcome the obstacle. A lack of reviews can make it difficult to see the importance of the initiative and lead to a loss of motivation.


This article had one primary purpose. It was to show that a typical sales transformation initiative requires more excellent leadership capabilities than what is usually understood or applied. It is a good thing that sales transformations work well. Many companies that have been clients of ESG have seen significant increases in their largest transactions, substantial increases in their product and service sales breadths, and demonstrated increases in productivity due to successful sales model transformations.
Secondary objective: To acknowledge that specific sales methodologies or behavior changes may require more leadership bandwidth than currently available. These cases may require outside help to realize the full potential of a sales transformation.

Sales Transformations

This paper is intended to provide a brief overview of sales transformations. This makes the subject seem more straightforward than it really is. Sales transformations can be complex and may surprise you.

Companies grow from one product offering to a broad portfolio of solutions, so a shift in the sales model from product-centric to solution-oriented is essential for reaching ongoing growth goals. To address the leadership challenges of successfully managing sales model transitions at all sizes, the Enterprise Selling Group was created.

Kevin Temple has led successful sales transformations in both crisis and non-crisis situations. This includes a remarkable success story with Cadence Design Systems, where the most significant transactions quadrupled within a year. Some of the most respected companies in the world have also hired him to consult on sales transformations. Some of his personal clients include Cisco, Epicor, and Wind River Systems.