Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step 2010 : The Microsoft Solution Selling Process

10/2/2012 3:00:55 AM

What it means to be solution centric

Let's begin this discussion by expounding on the definition of a "solution". Quite simply, the word solution means an answer to a problem. But the English Thesaurus offers us other terms such as key, clarification, elucidation, explanation, resolution, and result. All of these definitions fit quite nicely into the constructs of business solution selling, and therein is the crux of the issue—"solution" can mean different things to different people. Because a solution has applicability to multiple contexts, it is a commonly used word in organizations, necessitating that the organizations must clearly define the usage of the term.

For some organizations, it has become very fashionable to say that they have "solutions" and that they are "solutions-focused", as this apparently takes away the negative connotation associated with the term "products". A product is viewed as an offering that the selling company is forcing on the marketplace, while a solution is viewed as something the marketplace is actively seeking, with the solution being that answer the sellers can offer to the buyers. So, is the product the antithesis of a solution? Far from it! In many cases, and especially in the context of business solutions, the product can be the primary driver of the solution. But it is in the usage or delivery of that product that can truly define the success or failure of the solution for the customer. And the up-front positioning of the solution is the key to a successful delivery, which is where the solution-centric approach comes in.

For an organization to be truly solution focused, Eades explains that they need "more than superficial packaging manipulations or bundling services with products". Solution-centric should not be treated as buzz words to be thrown around by the organization.

The need to be truly solution-centric is even more important in mature marketplaces such as ERP/CRM solutions. In this market, many of the top solution providers offer products that have been around and used by many organizations. Each of these products includes a range of features and functionality that are hard to differentiate from the competition. SPI terms this differentiation blur, which is a result of the product being perceived as commoditized, or the product becoming too complex and feature rich for the industry to be able to differentiate it. To combat this issue, companies start to bundle their products with services and deem these as solutions. But what they have really achieved is creating what SPI labels as "pseudo solutions".

Such approaches neither help the customers looking for a solution, nor do they help the solution provider develop a consistent approach to selling. This is further corroborated by a market research by industry analysts, who found only a ten percent effectiveness rate of value positioning by these solution providers. The research also points to other findings that are endemic in a pseudo-solution company. In these companies, a high percentage (70 to 80 percent) of the marketing materials remain unused, highlighting the disconnect between the sales and the marketing teams. Another finding in these companies is that they revert to sales training to solve the problem, and they often find the shelf life of unreinforced sales training to be about six to eight weeks.

So how then does a company become truly solution centric? As SPI puts it, for a true solution-centric approach, organizations need to embrace a sustained business model to market, sell, and deliver customer transformation. They need to identify the problems they solve rather than the products they offer, align all of the aspects of their marketing with the solution framework, and systemically adopt and reinforce the solution selling and solution-centric disciplines across the entire organization. Companies doing this will find themselves able to consistently position the value of their solutions to their customers, to clearly differentiate the value vis-à-vis their competition, and create a business model for sustainable growth.

The Microsoft Solution Selling Process

In the previous sections, we have seen how effective the solution selling concepts can be to align the seller with the customer's needs. Solution selling helps the solution provider build a trusting relationship with their buyer, and facilitates a working relationship between the seller and buyer to craft a common solution vision for the mutual benefit of each other. As a company, Microsoft prides itself in ensuring that the customer's needs are at its forefront, and in turn helping its vast partner ecosystem to also operate by this credo. To facilitate that mission, Microsoft adopted the solution selling method and fashioned it within the constructs of its internal and partner sales mechanisms. This method, known as the Microsoft Solution Selling Process (MSSP), is the subject of this section.

Specifically within the business solutions arena, MSSP has been systematized to help Microsoft Dynamics Partners and Microsoft's internal teams through their sales cycles. The method gives selling teams a structure for creating and delivering value at each step of the sales cycle. Sales teams are provided with an effective process to understand the customer's needs and critical business issues. The process also facilitates the sales resources to work closely with the customer's subject matter experts for determining and developing the right Microsoft solution to fit their requirements.

MSSP aligns the account teams with the customer's decision-making process in their buying cycle and creates an emphasis on driving real business value through Microsoft solutions. It helps the sales teams evaluate their progress on their sales cycles, and it affords the sales and leadership teams a means to develop business plans, drive resource allocation and utilization, and develop viable forecasts for effective decision making.

The stages of MSSP are shown in the following diagram. Also shown in the diagram is a mapping of MSSP to the buying cycle described in the solution selling concepts section, which we will also discuss below.

The first stage (0%) of MSSP is the Prospect stage. The goal of this stage is to identify prospects for the business solutions via sales calls, mailers, internet marketing, conferences, or other means to arouse interest in the solutions. Sales teams create account plans and research typical customer pain points in the industry. They also gather customer success stories as evidence of past success in the space.

The next stage (10%) is the Qualify stage where the sales teams ensure that the prospect has a real need for a solution. In this stage, the customer will have identified their pain areas, while the sales teams may also detect potential latent needs. The sales team helps the customer by ascertaining the business drivers and starts working towards developing a shared vision. This is also the stage where the sales teams will ensure that there is a business sponsor for the initiative, as well as look to negotiate access to the power sponsor.

The Prospect and Qualify stages correspond to Phase I of the buying cycle. The actions by the sales teams assist the customer to unearth the needs for the solution.

Develop is the next stage (20%) of MSSP. The sales team understands the high-level solution requirements and conducts detailed requirements gathering sessions to craft the solution vision. The customer has admitted to their business pain, and is aware of the consequences of not going through with the solution deployment. The sales team will also want to meet personally with the power sponsor in this stage. They will also want to gauge the competitors involved, as well as gain an understanding of the customer's decision-making process.

The next selling stage (40%) is Solution. The goal of this stage is to develop a solution blueprint that matches the customer's requirements. The sales team has linked the solution to business need, and has identified the business metrics or KPIs for the solution value measurement. Hardware and any third-party software needs for the solution are also determined. A high-level cost estimate has been developed, shared with the customer, and acknowledged. The sales team also begins to plan for any solution demonstrations that it may anticipate in the next stage.

The Develop and Solution stages correspond to Phase II of the buying cycle. The sales teams assist the customer to understand how the solution fits their needs during these stages. It also bears mention that the customer teams may run parallel exercises with the competitors to evaluate alternatives.

The next MSSP stage (60%) is Proof. In this stage, the sales teams mitigate any perceived risks for the customer, with detailed product demonstrations, showing proof that the solution meets the requirements. Detailed value proposition analysis for the solution is also conducted to help the customer articulate the projected savings associated with the solution, as well as the timeline as to when they can recoup their investment. In this stage, the sales team also provides the initial proposal to the customer.

Close is the last stage (80%) in the sales cycle before the deployment of the solution begins. The goal of this stage is to finalize and get sign-off on all the contracts—this includes contracts for the software and the Statement of Work (SOW) for the solution delivery. The solution implementation plan is presented and acknowledged by the customer. The solution team also begins to finalize the appropriate resources for the solution delivery.

The Proof and Close stages correspond to Phase III of the buying cycle. The steps taken by the sales teams help alleviate any risks identified by the customer, leading to the final approval of the solution.

The final stage (100%) of MSSP is the Deploy stage. This stage begins with the transition of knowledge from the sales to the delivery team. The delivery team then takes over responsibility for the solution. The sales teams conduct internal reviews of the sales cycle and document key learning for future opportunities.
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