A New Solution-Selling Strategy

If you're still using the outdated 4Ps of marketing, you're in serious danger of losing out to your more progressive competitors.

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By Ed Hatton


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The 4Ps of marketing, known as the Marketing Mix:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place (meaning distribution channel) have been a mainstay of marketing strategy for 60 years.

Despite many suggestions to change them in favour of something different, the venerable 4Ps have proven to be remarkably durable.

Should we still base our marketing on this construct or should we move on? Many products are now sold online, making Place irrelevant for them, but online remains a tiny fraction of all retail sales. Price comparison tools mean that some suppliers cannot price with the freedom they used to enjoy, but Price remains a differentiator.

Although customers increasingly mistrust advertising and use referrals for information, marketing promotions and advertising are powerful ways to attract and keep customers.

Finding a relevant differentiator

Motorola's Eduardo Conrado with Etterson and Knowles studied B2B suppliers and their customers, where the suppliers stuck to the 4Ps. The results they published in Harvard Business Review in February 2013 showed that the primary problem with sticking to the 4Ps was an internal focus.

The sales and marketing teams stressed product technology and features. In a world where technology and quality are expected, this mindset was wrong. Customers look for solutions to their specific problems. Technology and quality are no longer differentiators.

These companies were poor at presenting their value proposition. Customers wanted a credible business case to show why they would get better value, but the suppliers were focused on cost instead. The most surprising finding was that customers trusted these companies as diagnosticians, advisors and problem solvers, but the suppliers could not leverage this huge advantage; they were too inwardly focused.

A new solution

Motorola used the study to avoid the traps they had uncovered. They called it the SAVE project, seeing the need to move the focus from internal concerns like technology, cost and performance to an external customer- centric focus. They needed to focus on solutions to customer requirements with a clear value proposition. SAVE stands for:

Solution instead of Product

Solution means that customer issues are sufficiently understood to deploy solutions, and that a trusting relationship is vital. Motorola restructured its divisions to focus on solutions for its government and corporate customers.

Access instead of Place

Products and services become available in whatever manner and location the customer finds most convenient. This is a far cry from traditional channel management, and can only be done if the customer's preferences are known.

Value instead of Price

No surprises here; the market already requires this shift. In this concept the price becomes only one element in a credible value proposition that can be presented to the customer during the sales cycle and measured once the sale is implemented. This measurement assists other potential customers to assess the accuracy of the value proposition presented to them when they are considering purchasing.

Education instead of Promotion

People mistrust advertising and instead find information from the Internet or associates. However, the Internet may contain misinformation, so instead of Promotion, Education delivers trustworthy, valuable facts that can correct any misinformation, in a medium convenient to the customer.

Change that works

Making the change from internally focused 4Ps to externally focused SAVE is not easy. A solutions mindset must become the basis of the organisation, and this may be difficult for both production and marketing teams with an engineering or a technology focus.

Marketing, sales, development and implementation teams must be set up to work together to address specific customer needs. Functional boundaries cannot be allowed to get in the way.

A Harvard Business Review webinar on this subject summarised it best: "B2B marketers who continue to embrace the 4Ps model and mindset risk getting locked into a repetitive and increasingly unproductive technological arms race. The SAVE framework is the centre piece of a new solution-selling strategy — and B2B firms ignore it at their peril."

Ed Hatton

Owner: The Marketing Director

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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