Outcome Selling: How to Communicate Value to Prospective Customers and Drive Sales

Outcome Selling: How to Communicate Value to Prospective Customers and Drive Sales

Looking to improve your sales? If you've searched online for new sales strategies and tactics, there is no doubt you've come across multiple approaches to selling. Many of these terms you've stumbled upon are, in fact, tactical approaches to a broader sales strategy known as solution selling. Solution selling involves trying to tailor your business' products and services to a specific problem a prospective client is having.

When a salesperson engages in B2B solution selling, they start by asking prospective customers probing questions to identify their pain points. When the salesperson has identified the "problem," they recommend a "solution" involving their company's products and services. The salesperson then pitches the prospect the recommended solution by illustrating how the solution would solve the problem.

On the surface, solution selling seems like an ideal approach to selling products and services that can be heavily customized to businesses and consumers who have complex needs. In cases where a customer is uncertain about their exact needs, solution selling allows salespeople to help clients identify them.

However, while solution selling methods have been a mainstay of corporate America since the latter part of the twentieth century, the approach's many shortcomings have become increasingly apparent. As consumer demands and preferences continue to evolve, successful businesses have found that a new approach, outcome selling (or outcomes-based selling), is winning the day.

Outcome Selling vs Solution Selling

The marketer showing outcome selling vs. solution selling

So, what is outcome selling? Rather than trying to identify prospective customers' pain points (as in solution selling), an outcomes-based selling approach involves demonstrating to prospects how your product or service can facilitate them in achieving their strategic business goals. You're not asking how you can help them. Instead, you're showing them how you can help them.

Why is this approach better than solution selling? First, it's helpful to provide a bit of context about solution selling. When this approach took off, salespeople would spend hours on the phone and in meetings with prospective clients to assess their needs. And often, the "solution" they engineered involved such significant customization that the price would increase, the solution's quality might be compromised, and support for the customizations might be expensive, inadequate or both.

Consider a membership association needing to update its financial dues management software. The association may also need some functions commonly found in customer relationship management (CRM) systems, such as the capacity to send personalized email messages and warehouse membership marketing data.

Within a solution selling paradigm, a vendor might take a look at the needs assessment and try to build custom membership marketing functions into its basic financial dues management platform. In doing so, the vendor's production costs would go up and the customer's price and ongoing support costs would go up. And, perhaps most troublingly, the custom development work might interfere with the basic platform, creating extensive, even potentially catastrophic problems the customer might not encounter until well after implementation.

Another unintended consequence of solution selling? Wasted time. After the needs assessment component of the solution selling process, a prospect would issue a request for proposals that would mirror the unique solution the seller had devised. All other bidders would be at a distinct disadvantage to the seller and would often waste time trying to compete.

However, when you engage in outcome selling, you're using your industry knowledge and experience to show businesses what they need to compete, market, and sell. That means:

  • No wasted time doing comprehensive needs assessments
  • No creating extravagantly customized and expensive solutions that may not be viable in the long-term
  • No need to engage in futile bidding processes

In the above example, using an outcome-selling approach, the vendor would take a look holistically at industry and would-be client needs. And if a dues platform with substantial CRM capabilities is what membership associations need to achieve their KPIs, then the vendor would build such a platform from scratch, creating a fundamentally sound application the sales team can then sell by illustrating how it can help would-be clients achieve and exceed their goals.

Outcome-selling is an effective alternative to solution selling because you're helping them achieve their most important priorities and grounding your decisions in their needs. As you help them improve their strategic objectives, you strengthen customer loyalty. Because you're listening to their needs, they'll not only be inclined to come back to you but also refer others to your business.

Outcome Selling Starts With a Customer-Based Mindset

Pursuing an outcome selling strategy starts with adopting a customer-based mindset. You have to understand the goals of your would-be clients and what they need to achieve them. Only then can you tailor your products to customers and ensure you can meet their needs.

To get started, you'll need to develop ideal customer profiles. An effective ideal customer profile can be broken down into a B2B customer profile and a buyer persona. The customer profile will help you understand the business, industry, and pain points, while the buyer persona will give you the information you need to make an effective pitch.

Setting Your Sights on Your Customers

Graphic showing three buyer profiles

Starting with the B2B customer profile component, you'll want to gather industry information, including:

  • Industry type
  • Products or services for sale
  • Prospects' target markets
  • Geographic dispersion
  • Average company size
  • Market share distribution

Take a look at the landscape locally, regionally, and nationally, and identify trends that may affect your would-be clients. You'll also want to drill down on industry norms, identifying nuances like regulatory considerations or atypical sales approaches that are important to the businesses you'll be pitching. Pay specific attention to the common challenges companies in your target industry face, as this will help inform your outcome selling strategy.

Next, examine your existing customer base and your target markets to create a composite business, defined in terms of the company:  

  • Size
  • Infrastructure
  • Age
  • Stage of maturity
  • Annual revenue

This information will help you contextualize the company's pain points, which you'll also need to identify. But unlike in outcome selling, you won't be starting the process by asking them about their pain points. You'll be researching this information on your own, leveraging industry information as well as other company-specific public and private data sources. Go beyond specific problems, and ask yourself what each company's strategic goals are and how they are pursuing them. How is each business competing? Are they differentiating their products? Customizing their marketing? Deeply discounting their prices?

Gathering this information will likely require:

  • Examining data in your CRM system
  • Evaluating prospects' websites, social media channels, and online marketing efforts
  • Interviewing existing satisfied customers
  • Talking with your customer-facing teams, such as sales and customer service

Assess how they may be faring based on the data you find to begin to determine how your company can add value. Incorporate this information in your business customer profile to begin to identify how your products and services can comprise the solution they seek.

Using Customer Personas in Outcome Selling

A graphic showing a customer persona template. It includes age, personality, occupation, location, lifestyle, wants, bio, and income

The other component of an effective B2B customer profile is a good buyer persona. You'll want to build a profile of the key employee you need to sell to win their employer's business. Using data from your CRM and customer-facing teams, as well as publicly available data about your prospects' employees, create a composite buyer, defined in terms of:

  • Age range
  • Job title
  • Educational credentials
  • Years of experience
  • Preferred method of communication

You'll want to dig deeper to understand this employee's role in the buying decision-making process. Do they have a budget and sole budgetary authority? Or are they the key influencer who will determine whether their company makes a purchase? Understanding this and what your buyer's specific pain points may be relative to your service's functions and the procurement process itself is also crucial to understand. When you have a clear sense of who your buyer is, you'll be able to tailor a far more effective pitch than you could through cold outreach.

Moreover, when you've crafted your ideal customer profile, you'll be able to center your sales process on their needs. You'll be able to see through their eyes and evaluate how your own products and services may help them achieve and exceed their goals.

How Can I Design and Execute an Outcome Selling Strategy?

A graphic of three customers sitting atop pillars

Creating an ideal customer profile is a crucial early step toward designing and implementing an effective outcome selling strategy. You should have identified several financial goals that your prospects seek to achieve within the information you've gathered. Prioritize these the way your existing and would-be clients do. Because these goals are most important to your customer, you'll want to start mapping your products and services to those needs.

Identify Customer Goals, Needs, and Pain Points

To design and execute an outcome selling strategy effectively, you'll need to:

  • Identify customer goals, needs, and pain points
  • Map your business' products and services specifically to your customer goals, needs, and pain points
  • Develop marketing and sales materials responsive to your various customer audiences
  • Reach out to and engage with your existing and would-be customers where they are in the customer journey
  • Assess customer outcomes and incorporate the results in future marketing and sales efforts

Developing ideal customer profiles will help you develop the customer-based mindset that is key to successfully using an outcome-based selling approach. Hone in on the KPIs that businesses in your target industry find important, as they are crucial to understanding and selling to your would-be customers. For example, suppose you manufacture a lightweight and durable container solution. Can your solution help today's transport and logistics companies keep load weights low to minimize fuel consumption per shipment? What other metrics can you help them address?

Map Your Business' Products and Services Specifically to Your Customers' KPIs

Examine how your products and services can be tailored to help your customer's KPIs. Unlike in solution selling, you're not worrying about how to configure your CRM software, for example, to suit an organization's legacy system requirements and departmental conflicts. If a B2C industry relies on software that helps them track online consumer activity to bring them through the sales funnel, then your off-the-shelf CRM should be optimized to do so.

Develop Marketing and Sales Materials Responsive to Your Various Customer Audiences

When you have the products and services that can demonstrably help would-be clients hit their KPIs, start developing marketing and sales presentations that sell the value you add. Think beyond the buyer persona, and look to develop an echo chamber that shows how your offerings will improve a business. For example, in the linear actuator market, you want to show not only how your models make roller coasters go faster but clearly link increased speed to greater ticket sales and revenue. Consider thought leadership pieces, explainer videos, and advertorials as part of the marketing mix. Also, craft presentations that speak not just to a buyer persona at a would-be client's business but also to C-suite members and decision-makers at existing clients.  

Reach Out to Customers and Prospects At Every Stage of Their Consumer Journey

Armed with value-adding offerings and tailored presentations, start to reach out to your target customers. Are existing customers only using a fraction of your offerings? Connect with them as they consider renewing and demonstrate how your expanded offerings can provide greater business value. Reach out to customers at each aspect of the customer journey, from the sale to the onboarding process to the renewal. Guide them towards your offering with detailed explanations of how a base model or expanded version can help take them from where they're at to where they want to be.

Assess Customer Outcomes For Future Use

Post-sale assessment is an often-overlooked component of an effective outcome selling strategy that is crucial to future sales success. When your product helps customers meet or exceed expectations, you have evidence you can leverage in future sales pitches and marketing materials. For example, if your corporate wellness packages keep a company's turnover rates low, the resulting case study or white paper about that particular story can help you generate leads and convert prospects. Further, if your offering doesn't produce the outcomes you intend, you need to know that in order to refine it.

How Can You Measure the Success of Outcome Selling?

Assessing customer outcomes is critical. But there are also several key metrics you want to watch as you implement your outcome selling strategy, including your win, customer retention, and churn rates. Your win rate measures your sales over a specified period. Of course, you'll want to measure win rate improvement as you switch from solution selling to outcome selling and as you implement outcome selling strategies over discrete periods (usually quarters).

Customer retention is also key. And if you're effective at outcome selling and ensuring your offering does get your customers the desired outcomes, your customer retention rate should be high. Dips in this measure, or increases in your churn rate, may signal that you've misidentified your customer's needs, that your offering is not solving those needs, or a competitor is outperforming you in some key measure. If your customer retention rate starts to drop after you implement an outcome selling solution, it's paramount that you figure out why and remediate the issue as soon as possible.

But if you've accurately identified your customers' needs, mapped your products and services to those needs, and developed and delivered an effective pitch, you should see substantial improvement in your win rate. Selling from a customer-based mindset is a superior approach that will help you increase your revenue and grow your company.

Where to Start

Moving a company from solution selling to outcome selling is not easy. From developing new marketing approaches to reorienting your sales staff, the transition is complex, and its success relies on multiple moving parts. Fortunately, you have Steel Croissant to help guide you through the initial research to the post-sales data analysis. Contact us today, and let's discuss how you can seamlessly leverage outcome selling strategies for your business.

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