Beyond Solution Selling: Customer Intimacy as a Path to True Solutions

During the first stage of the Customer Intimacy Journey it is important to create and deliver solutions that have a visible impact with your clients

As you know, terms like “solutions” and “customer intimacy” are overused in the management consulting industry, and I believe often mean too little.  In this blog, we’ll try to distinguish our thoughts with not-so-clever use of the terms True Solutions™ and Intimacy Engine™.  I want to talk about what True Solutions™ are and how it is crucial to the building of the Intimacy Engine™ business model.

As you can see by the chart as you move up and to the right you are both making a greater impact on your client and requiring greater intimacy ability to get them to buy and implement solutions.

True Solutions™ – represented on this chart as business solutionsmust address a true important business opportunity or correct a business problem for your client.

It is not the bundling of your product and services, it is not adding professional services to implement your service or even assist in product selection (although all these are valuable and will be part of your portfolio).   Further, a True Solution™ should be focused above the Line of Safety in the clients business:

The problem or opportunity that the True Solution™ addresses must add something that is crucial to someone (hopefully more than one) above this line.  Also, you’ll require their support and purchasing power to engage you on the problem.  Fall below the line of safety and you’re easily replaced – by technology, price, or salesmanship. Stand above the line of safety and competitors will find it difficult to dislodge you.
This means developing True Solutions™ requires deep understanding of the business sector your clients occupy, and profound knowledge of the unique issues in that sector – not how they use your product! 

Over the last decade we have spoken to literally hundreds of senior executives on behalf of our clients, from all industries: Food and Beverage, Retail, Pharma, Insurance, Healthcare, Financial Services, Heavy Manufacturing, etc. – and the common requirement from this broad group is that they want to partner with experts in their industry who bring them new ideas and the staff to help them through the realization of the benefits of those ideas.
Too many companies think they understand their clients’ business but in reality their investments tell the story. They are heavily invested in product-driven R&D, and their interactions are far too shallow to uncover real value. They invest in product focus groups, product user meetings, and low-level interactions with transactional salespeople.  The few executive interactions ave mainly “dog-and-pony shows” to show support and get feedback about what is irritating customers.   I’m not saying these are not important, but I am saying that this sort of engagement does not build a deep understanding of your customers’ business – or the drivers, challenges and methods to solve key business issues. 

A case in point: I was once meeting with the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world and he stated that he had intimacy with his customers – he could meet with any of them for dinner at any time – it was just that others would not follow up on the promises he made.  This statement told me everything; he was not intimate at all; rather, they were being polite and leveraging the meeting for concessions.  Intimacy means actual daily presence in the trenches, solving real client problems.
Think through your own experience: who is your trusted advisor to you? Who do you reach out to for advice and help? Usually it is someone that understands your problems and issues and has proved themselves by providing impactful solutions in the past.  Remember, our goal is to become an extension of our clients’ organization – to be treated as part of the body with no anti-bodies seeking us out and trying to exterminate us.

Let me tell you about a personal experience which illustrates my point:

I live outside of Houston, Texas and have large tract of land. I was building a house on the land and wanted to add some flower beds – nothing unusual.  I contacted three companies to come out and talk to me about it.

  • The first company spoke to me for about 30 minutes and focused on where you want the beds and how they were the best buy in town.
  • The second company came out and showed me some pictures of other work they had done and suggested different plants that would look good and a little work qualifying my willingness to invest.
  • The third company sent two people – one a land architect and one water architect and they brought a custom layout with pictures and video of what my land should be.  They took the approach that I had an opportunity to make this into something to be proud of and that it was important for me to understand and be educated about the many options and what they would say about me and my view of the land. They encouraged me to think of the native positives of the land and how the acres of trees need to be brought work in harmony with new meadows.  They encouraged me to build a natural looking acre pond for birds, etc.

The three companies saw the problem differently – I met with someone trying to solve a cost problem, someone trying to solve a color problem, and someone trying to get me to take advantage of an opportunity.  I chose the third company and have had a long (expensive) but rewarding relationship with them.  But, I must add, had they not used the proper approach to educating me and bringing me along, it could have appeared that I was being manipulated. I call that putting the client first: they genuinely wanted to show me what was possible for my family and were passionate about it.

You’ve been hearing for years that your organization must be client-focused – but the Intimacy Engine™ is the business model that actually makes that possible.  A common reaction from many of our clients goes like this: “We get the concept, they say, “but we do not have the ability to deliver these True Solutions™, even if we could identify them.” They often want to start where they are and slowly move towards solving the more important issues.  There is truth in these statements.  As stated earlier in the blog, getting and maintaining support for the revolution is paramount and never ending.  But, there are multiple truths here:

1) as solution provider, we must find the key ideas that impact the client above the safety line, and, 2) we should take into account what results are achievable today.