Solutions Marketing Definition:
I've had a number of conversations with senior level marketers at large B2B technology companies about their solutions businesses. On several occasions, we realized that we had different views and definitions for the term “solution”. It wasn’t just a matter of semantics where we used different words but meant the same thing. We lacked a common definition of what we were talking about, which led to different opinions of how solutions should be developed, marketed and sold
Why a Common Definition is Important
The term "solutions" is now being embedded in business models at companies in industries ranging from telecommunications to basic chemicals and manufacturing.
It’s very important that there is a common definition for a solution across the organization for several reasons:
- Creating a marketing strategy that means the same thing to everyone – if marketing trumpets its solutions through all of its channels – the website, collateral, talk tracks for the sales force, etc. – it is critical that everyone has the same perspective of what a solution is. If not, the brand will take a hit and customers will become frustrated about what you really do and how you can help them.
- Developing a solution – Depending upon how a company defines a solution, a mandate to create and take a new solution to market could be anything from straightforward product development to fully integrated products and services. Having different perceptions within your operations will result in your development process resembling the Keystone Kops at a crime scene.
- Meeting customer expectations – Several different sources of customer insights, including an annual survey conducted by ITSMA (a leading technology-based association focused on services and solutions marketing), have identified a couple of important characteristics when a customer engages in a conversation with a vendor around solutions. While some customers simply think that a solution is simply “an answer to a problem”, the majority expect that the vendor will discuss an offer that:
- Integrates both a product(s) and a service(s).
- Addresses a problem they have that is complex and difficult to resolve, requiring some type of vendor involvement and expertise that they don’t have.
- Will provide tangible, measurable business benefits.
What, then, is a solution? Let’s look at several definitions that are used by leading companies:
- The ITSMA Solutions Council -- A combination of products and/or services with intellectual capital, focused on a particular customer problem and driving measurable business value.
- IBM -- One or more offerings – from one or more companies – that solves a client’s business or IT problem through value-enabling combination of technology and high-value services
- HP – Integration of the best systems, software and services across the company and its partners to create new solutions with the greatest business impact for customers and HP.
- Rockwell Automation – A combination of products and services that provides high value through the manufacturing process.
- Unisys -- A combination of products and services plus intellectual property, focused on a particular business or technology problem, that is replicable and drives measurable business value
- Cisco – Focuses on a specific customer problem by combining products and services that have proprietary intellectual capital embedded in them, delivered either by Cisco or through its partner eco-system, and drive measurable business value.
Our definition follows the main intent and themes presented by the other companies:
- Solutions Insights -- A combination of products, services, and intellectual property focused on a specific business problem or opportunity that drives measurable business value and can be significantly standardized. The solutions components can be from either the vendor and one or more partners, and the solutions implementer can be the vendor, the partner, the customer itself, or a combination of the three.
Every Word Counts...
While it may not seem so important on the surface, every word in each of the definitions above is hugely critical. For example:
- Intellectual capital – What is this for your company? How do you standardize it so that it can be applied to your solutions? How do you protect it?
- Partners – Who are they? What is their role in developing and implementing solutions? How much of your intellectual capital do you share with them?
- Measurable business value – How will you measure the value? When will you measure it? How is this different from operational or technological value?
Not only is what you include important, but it’s equally important to be clear about what you don’t include. For example, some companies define their solutions by the following attributes:
- Scalability and repeatability
- Size of the offering and potential revenue
- Scope; how many different assets and resources across the company are required to build and deliver the solution
Sing From the Same Songbook
We strongly believe that a long term solutions strategy must have a definition that everyone in the organization understands and supports. The marketers, delivery teams, and salespeople all need to be on the same page in discussing solutions both internally and with customers. In many ways, it doesn’t actually matter what the definition is – it is more important that the definition aligns with the corporate strategy for its solutions business, and is universally understood.
So…our parting question is: if you put your top 20-25 executives in a room together and asked them to define what your company means when it tells the market that it sells and delivers solutions, would everyone have the same exact definition of what that means?