Solution. The term is everywhere! It just may be the most overused and least understood term in technology, SaaS, software, consulting, or business today. So what exactly is a solution?
Definition of Solution
Based on my experience working with a variety of companies, here is the Solution Marketing Strategies definition of the term “solution”
A complete and integrated offering that includes everything required to solve a customer problem and provide value to the customer:
- Complete: The solution includes whatever is needed to solve the problem.
- Integrated: The components are designed to work together.
- Offering: Whatever is being provided to the customer – could be a software-centric solution, a series of services, a consumer service or good etc.
- Everything: Includes all of the components – an understanding of users; process; data and content used in the process; hardware, software, other technology; and strategy, integration, support and training services provided by the vendor and their partners (see Solution Framework below)
- Solves a customer problem: The solution fixes a problem or challenge that the customer has.
- Value: The solution provides a benefit that is greater than the cost to fully deploy the solution (i.e., Benefit – Cost = Value)
Now that we’ve defined the term “solution,” let’s take a look at the key components of a good solution.
The Solution Framework
You might think of a solution as following a framework. The Solution Marketing Strategies Solution Framework™ or model describes the following components required to solve a problem. Components can come from the vendor and their partners – and even from the customer. Each of these elements applies to all types of solutions – B2B, B2C, B2E (employee) etc.
- Customer and pain points – While not solution components per se, the customer and their pain points are the reason that the solution exists. I.e., we’re trying to solve a problem; this is the “why” for the solution.
- Users: Solutions are purposely designed to meet the needs of users – everyone who comes in contact with, is a beneficiary or stakeholder of the solution. Users are the “who” for the solution.
- Process: Solutions are usually built to manage some sort of a repeatable, structured process or informal collaboration process. This applies as much to B2B processes like accounts payable processing as it does to B2C processes like hailing a cab from Uber. Process defines “how” the solution works.
- Data and Content: Solutions run on both structured data (such as database records, pricing, analytics) and unstructured content (such as electronic documents, images, sound files, videos, text). Data and content are “what” flows through the solution.
- Technology: Solutions often include technology such as equipment, hardware, software (whether cloud or premise-based), and media (such as CDs or DVDs) that enable the solution to manage the process, data and content for the benefit of the customer, users and stakeholders. Technology “enables” the solution.
- Services: Services fill in the gaps between components and tie the entire solution together into a smoothly operating whole. Services “complete” the solution and can include everything from strategic, integration and deployment services to ongoing support services.
Why it matters
Now that you know what a solution is, you may be asking why it matters at all. The above definition and framework help you to see what it takes to really solve a problem. For example, providing software alone may not be enough to solve a customer problem – and the definition and framework above can help you to see that more clearly. This definition can also help you to see broader opportunities for your company – new ways to serve the needs of customers, for example, by adding new services to your technology product. And finally, consistent definitions enable alignment with other functions, partners and customers so you can deliver better outcomes and grow revenue.
So what do you think? How would you define the term “solution” and what should it include?
The value of a fresh perspective
All of the recent news around the NASA’s New Horizons mission and Pluto has me thinking of… Martians.
Let me explain.
How would you approach a solution marketing problem if you were a Martian, complete with a fresh perspective and unencumbered with what earthlings already knew?
A fresh perspective
The father of Nobel physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) employed this mode of thinking with his son, asking, “Supposing we were Martians, and we came down from Mars to this Earth, and we would look at it from the outside.” In other words, Feynman was encouraged to consider ”a way of looking at something anew, as if you were seeing it for the first time.”
Today Apple announced additional details of AppleWatch as well as a new, slimmer (!) MacBook line at a media event in San Francisco. Apple is an iconic company and their innovation can provide helpful lessons, many of which apply to solution marketers. Which takes me to the AppleWatch: Needing to be tethered to a iPhone via WiFi, and carrying a not-insignificant price for an optional gizmo, it’s not clear how well this new product will perform I the market. But if anyone can make a go of it, Apple can. Here’s why. Continue reading
By Steve Robins
Solution Marketing for Startups
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to teach a one-day solution marketing class at the Boston Startup School, located in the Harvard Innovation Lab.
Learn to Do
If you have the opportunity to teach, learn, network or otherwise participate with Boston Startup School, jump on it! Run by startup incubator TechStars, the new program helps “young professionals to learn the skills needed to have an immediate and positive impact on the startup they join.” Wondering what’s on their minds? Check out the new blog by the sales and marketing classes, www.GrowthNinja.com, which states that…
You don’t have to start a company to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is a mindset. It’s a healthy discontent with the status quo that brings together teams dedicated to making the world a better place. Entrepreneurs include all members of a startup team, from the CEO to the summer intern.
…and I couldn’t agree more. Continue reading
It’s time to think outside the box. Or the division. Or the hardware. Or the…
In order to offer complete solutions, companies need to come together around a shared vision of the customer, their challenges, and ways that the company can help. Companies like Sony and AOL Time Warner have been hindered by competing divisions often focused on divisional goals at the expense of the company. By contrast, Apple unified around a common vision of the customer, and a view of a complete solution spanning hardware, software and content.
By Steve Robins
Watching Sunday’s Oscar awards, I was struck by… the importance – “and inconvenience” – of customer feedback in multiple forms:
- Inconvenient focus groups – The mock focus group screening (gasp!) the Wizard of Oz. Very funny but it points to the frustration that artists often feel around Hollywood focus groups that disagree with their artistic vision. And they’re not alone either. It may be inconvenient but those customers do hold the purse strings, so they’re kind of unavoidable after all.
- Inconvenient innovations – Billy Crystal’s jabs at bankrupt Kodak, whose name (at least for now) graces the Oscar theater. Hooked on film until it was too late, Kodak missed the inconvenient truth that film was less important than capturing and sharing images in the easiest manner possible. The very company that invented digital photography found that truth inconvenient and now faces a very different and more painful inconvenience – bankruptcy.
- Inconvenient movie-consumption – The Oscar ceremony focused again and again on the movie theater experience with many references back to the good old days. Those good old days will indeed live on – but only in people’s memories. Although more people attend movie theaters than theme parks (duh), theater admissions are declining as people consume movies at home on TV, DVDs and iPads. Instead of reminiscing about the good old days, the industry would be better served to focus on the bright future of entertainment everywhere – on mobile, tablets, at home etc.
Customer feedback may seem inconvenient. But not listening to customer feedback delivers the ultimate inconvenience.
By Steve Robins
February 16 Presentation to the BPMA
Thanks to everyone who attended Thursday’s presentation at the Boston Product Management Association, Beyond Products: Solution Marketing. You helped to make it one of the best discussions I’ve ever led on solution marketing.
You can find the Beyond Products: Solution Marketing presentation slides as well as the Solution Marketing Framework, along with other solution marketing content on Slideshare.
I hope you’ll continue the discussion in a variety of ways:
- Before you do anything else, make sure to join the Solution Marketing Pros group on LinkedIn where you can share your successes and get help with your challenges from other solution marketers. The group includes folks from leading companies around the world including…
Acronis, Adobe, ADP, Akamai, Amazon, Ariba, Aspen Technology, Autonomy (HP), Box, Cisco, CSC, Dell, Eloqua, EMC, Endeca, Epicor, FirstBest, Gartner, HCL, Hitachi, Honeywell, H-P, IBM, Informatica, Iron Mountain, KANA Software, Kronos, Level 3 Communications, Lionbridge, McAfee, Microsoft, Misys, Motorola, NetApp, Nortel, Nuance, Oracle, Orange, Pegasystems, Pitney Bowes, Progress Software, Red Hat, Salesforce.com, SAP, Sapient, Seagate Technology, Siemens, SONY, SunGard, Symantec, Tata, TELUS, TIBCO, Time Warner Cable, Tripwire, Verizon, Vertex, Wipro
- Follow my Twitter stream for the latest solution marketing news.
- Check out additional articles on The Solution Marketing Blog – and be sure to comment!
- Come back for next month’s solution pricing presentation by Jim Geisman
- Contact me if you have additional questions, s.robins [at] SolutionMKT [dot] com
Special thanks to the great folks at BPMA for organizing this event.