All of the solutions success stories that we’ve written over the past few months have shown how technology-based companies have become more customer-centric by creating solutions that seamlessly integrate both products and services. It’s important to understand, however, the move to solutions is alive and well in other types of industries, and are applicable for services companies as well.
Solutions Marketing Latest Insight
Entries in marketing innovation (9)
Everyone talks about "solutions" these days but few seem to invest in the changes necessary to move beyond the rhetoric. For example, truly developing, marketing, and selling integrated B2B solutions typically requires both a strong focus from the top down and a new alignment from the bottom up.
Here's a common scenario: A company spends significant time and energy create a new set of solutions for a specific market segment. A cross-business unit board agrees to support the new initiative and asks Marketing to put together a go-to-market plan for the new solutions. The marketing team rolls out the new program, including wonderful new collateral for the sales force. They brief the sales force on the new solutions and publicly launch their offerings with great fanfare. And then...nothing. The sales force does what it does best, which is selling what it is used to selling and can explain quickly and easily, which is not the new solutions. Marketing is left wondering what's wrong with the sales force.
VMware, a software company focused on virtualization and cloud computing, recently faced a classic dilemma that many companies, especially technology-based companies, have encountered. The business model was to develop and sell software packages. These packages were created and sold as products -- traditional product development processes were applied, the portfolio was comprised of 60+ separate products that were sold separately, and the marketing programs and messages were designed to support each of the product categories independently. The reason for this approach can be traced back to its historic roots -- it started out as a single-product company. Through new technology developments, plus a succession of acquisitions, the company quickly expanded its portfolio with no shift in its go-to-market or sales strategy. In effect, VMware was doing what many software companies have always done -- focused on developing a broad portfolio of differentiated products, and then incenting the sales force to go out and sell licenses for all of them.
B2B marketers in great numbers have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon and embraced the idea that marketing needs to be more like media. We have to focus on providing "readers" and "viewers" (i.e., customers, prospects, and other stakeholders) with interesting and useful material on a regular basis as the starting point for creating and sustaining interest in our products and solutions.
The big problem, of course, is actually doing it: consistently producing material that our hoped-for audiences actually care about enough to read, listen, view, and, ideally, comment upon and share more widely.
B2B companies committed to selling high value solutions often struggle where the rubber meets the road: the individual customer or prospect. Their websites highlight "solutions" and marketers pump out collateral that talks about their customers' business problem, but they have a much tougher time persuading specific customers that they are truly focused on delivering tailored solutions for their unique situations and challenges. The unfortunate reality is that generic "solutions" often need a fair degree of customization if they are going to deliver substantial business value to different customers even in the same industries.
Virtually every marketing student on the planet can recite the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Since the early 1960's when Harvard Business School professor Neil Borden first described them as key elements of the marketing mix, the 4 P's have held their ground as the foundational pillars of 50 years of marketing planning.
This is a large global account we're talking about, with a big account team and numerous multi-million dollar deals worldwide.
Michael Shrage’s recent Harvard Business Review post, Great Customers Inspire Great Innovations, got me thinking:
Why, amid so much evidence of the power of customer-centric business, are so many companies still mired in inside-out operations? Why do we hear so much talk but see so little action?
Shrage’s post reminds us that behind most great innovations lie customers and clients that made those innovations possible.