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Is Solution Selling Still the Right Approach for Managed IT? Blog Feature

Managed IT services Best practices Sales & marketing resources

By: Collabrance LLC on March 15th, 2024

Is Solution Selling Still the Right Approach for Managed IT?

Solution selling isn’t a new concept. The problem-based methodology gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained a classic sales blueprint since – for good reason! It’s a simple formula built around identifying a prospect’s needs and recommending products and services that will benefit their business on a “big picture” scale.

In this model, the salesperson becomes an indispensable resource – someone who can help the customer identify, understand, and solve their problems. (If you need a deeper explanation of solution selling, you can find it here.)

But just like anything else, consumer buying trends have evolved. Virtually anything a customer could ever want to know about the solution they’re seeking is readily available online, making it highly likely that by the time they get to you, they already know (or think they know) what they need. To position your sales strategy at the top of the buying funnel puts you at risk of seeming out of sync with the customer, missing a critical moment to establish trust.

Solution selling: A time-tested strategy that goes beyond pushing products

To be clear, we’re not suggesting solution selling be written off for good. There are undisputed tactics that will always be useful:

Identifying customer pain points

When you get to the heart of a customer’s specific challenge, you can tailor solutions more likely to convert to closed deals. Pain points are the obstacles slowing your customers down and preventing their business from being as successful as possible. In some instances, the customer may not even know what their particular pain point is. Working with the customer to ask questions, listen, and seeking to understand the headaches that keep them up at night is the first step to becoming a fundamental asset to the customer and their business

Using two-way communication

Approach customer conversations for what they are: Conversations. By definition, a conversation involves the transfer of information between two parties – and the same relational communication you use to nurture your personal relationships can be applied to your professional relationships, too.

To cultivate productive conversations, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”; rather, they prompt the respondent to answer in more detail, based on their own unique perspective. Examples of open-ended questions to use in customer conversations include:

  • What are your top business priorities at the moment?
  • What’s working well for you today?
  • Is there anywhere you’re stuck?
  • What do you see as your greatest future opportunity?
  • What challenges do you anticipate in tackling those opportunities?
  • Who’s involved in making decisions for your business? 

Engaging in intentional, two-way conversations and asking open-ended questions serves the dual purpose of providing you with the insights you need to set the stage for effective problem solving, while also building trust and rapport with your customer. But remember, the prospective customer has surely done their research on you, so it’s imperative you take the time to do research of your own, to ensure your questions are relevant and demonstrate your ability to attune to the customer’s needs. Sales conversations should never be an interrogation, but an exploration that leads to a meaningful connection.

Emphasizing the “why” over the “what” 

Solution selling means focusing less on the features of your product or services and shifting instead to highlight value and outcomes. Instead of centering the conversation around what’s being sold, refer to the customer’s pain points and emphasize why they need it. For example, an MSP shouldn’t just list off the well documented benefits of a risk assessment; they should identify specific risks relevant to the customer’s industry and describe the vulnerabilities the risk assessment might uncover to ultimately improve the company’s security posture.

Listening to understand, not to respond: A sales exercise

A customer may think they know what they want – but that doesn’t mean that they do. And guess what? You may not know either. That’s why it’s important to approach sales conversations thoughtfully. Here’s a quick sales exercise to get you started.

Think of two scenarios from your own recent sales experiences:

Scenario A: A conversation that went well. It was structured but had a good flow, felt productive and efficient, and left you with a lot of actionable information.

Scenario B: A conversation that went poorly. It was stressful or frustrating, and you struggled to connect with the prospect or understand their needs.

Reflect on the high points and low points in each of these conversations. How do the highs and lows of conversation A compare with the highs and lows of conversation B?

Now ask yourself, in each of these conversations, did you do most of the talking or did you spend more time listening?

Refrain from judging yourself; as a salesperson, it’s easy to go into solution mode to start talking about “us” and “our solution”. But it isn’t about you – it's about the customer, and you can only get to the core of their needs by fostering a conversation that puts them in the driver's seat.

Listening to understand is not a skill that happens overnight. But with practice, and by asking tailored questions at each stage of the sales process, you’ll come to understand the customer’s motivation, their decision-making process, and how you can best demonstrate value to affirm their investment.

Related: 5 Mistakes Your MSP Is Making in the Sales Process

Ask the right questions at each stage of the sales process

Ok, you get the point: Open-ended questions are key to a successful managed IT sales strategy. But to achieve the outcome you want, what are the right questions to ask – and when? Let’s break it down.

Qualification stage

The qualification process begins after a lead has shown interest through sales and marketing efforts. At this point, you probably don’t have much information about the prospect’s business needs or whether they’re a viable opportunity at all. To expediently move through the qualification process, sales professionals should have a standard set of qualifying questions – and, crucially, clarity on the answers needed to move forward (also known as your target customer profile). There may be certain attributes that make a customer a better fit for your business than others, or perhaps there are features of your offering that, if the customer has already implemented, make your solutions incompatible. Qualifying questions don’t need to be robotic, but by gathering some basic information upfront, you can determine how best to move forward.

First appointment

The first appointment should be used to establish credibility and help both you and the customer identify what you want to accomplish. You can use a few simple questions to guide the conversation – for example, “Can I ask you some specifics about your IT environment and how you work with technology?” Positioned correctly, this question opens the floor for you to ask more questions, listen, and let the customer talk. Follow-up questions to effectively probe further could include:

  • How are IT issues handled today?
  • What is your current response/resolution time? 
  • Are your IT expenses predictable, or all over the map?
  • Do you pay monthly or hourly fees?
  • What are your revenue goals for this year? 

In turn, you’ll quickly come to understand the customer’s needs, their decision-making process, and what might compel them to buy.

The technical assessment

At this pivotal stage, think of the customer as yours to win. The prospect has agreed to invest their team’s time to meet with your engineers and share specific challenges you can solve. Even so, this is not the time to sell a solution! Use the opportunity to discover the “need behind their need” with questions like:

  • How much time are you spending on IT each week?
  • What happens when you are on vacation or sick? 
  • How many vendors do you manage? 
  • How are you backing up your data today? Who is responsible?

You can weave this information into your proposal so it resonates beyond a straightforward technical solution; you’re also quantifying the impact your services will have on the prospect’s business.

Related: When in the Sales Process to Talk Pricing - Qualification or Proposal?

Solution selling works for managed IT today – if you can avoid potential pitfalls

Awkward conversations

The core of solution selling is its question-and-answer format, which means at times, conversations may feel too rigid and structured, causing the prospect to feel grilled or manipulated into buying. This is most likely to happen when a sales rep relies too heavily on a set of predetermined questions instead of staying present, listening, and leading with genuine curiosity. The right questions asked at the right time can certainly steer the conversation in certain directions – but don’t force it. Even if you’re not able to get where you set out to go, letting the conversation take its natural course will help you build rapport, and create a path for future conversations.

Buyers who already know it all

Today’s consumer is savvier than ever before – think about your own buying habits! By the time a prospective customer gets to you, they probably know the ins and outs of your offering, your pricing, and how your competition compares – at minimum. That’s not to say the customer can’t use your help identifying a problem; it just means you’ll need to be thoughtful about the questions you ask to make sure they create value. Rely on the unique expertise and insights you possess that the customer cannot, no matter how much online research they do. Even the most educated business owner has a need a reliable IT partner can solve for; if it’s not expertise they lack, it could be time, or talent, or some combination of all these things.

Up your sales game with Collabrance

Collabrance offers built-in benefits to support MSPs beyond our third-party IT services, including sales, marketing, and solution support to help service providers attract better leads and close more deals. To learn more about the value-added programs we offer, click the link below or get in touch with a member of our team today.


Collabrance Value Added Services