Everyone talks about "solutions" these days but few seem to invest in the changes necessary to move beyond the rhetoric. For example, truly developing, marketing, and selling integrated B2B solutions typically requires both a strong focus from the top down and a new alignment from the bottom up.
Far too often, companies talk the solutions talk but fail to walk the walk. They don't invest in new mechanisms to work across business units, new ways to connect with customers, and new skills for selling higher value offerings. As a result, we see companies promoting "solutions" that are really just bundles of existing products and services, launching marketing programs that neglect real customer needs, and falling back on the old feature-function approach to sales that customers long ago rejected.
Walking the Walk
Organizational initiatives at HP over the last several years suggest that the IT giant is indeed walking the solutions walk. HP has developed and sold enterprise IT solutions for years but a renewed push in 2009 led to a much sharper focus on 10 critical areas of business customer need, such as enterprise security, converged IT infrastructure, and application transformation.
As Magdy Assem, Senior Director of Enterprise Solutions Marketing, explained:
"Not everything is a solution. You have to look outside-in to really understand the key areas to highlight. HP and other big tech companies all have tens of thousands of products and even so-called solutions. But you need to know what matters to clients. What keeps them up at night? Then you can focus new resources on these areas, not on everything, and create integrated offerings to address those needs at a higher level rather than just selling a bunch of products."
Customer focus and integrated offerings are critical steps for solutions but perhaps even more impressive are the organizational changes that HP has made to invest in success. "This is a key point for solutions," according to Assem:
"We've been working on solutions for years but you need to go beyond just aligning the organization and actually put a structure in place and hold it accountable. We've done this in sales, in field marketing, and in solutions planning and marketing. These are stand-alone teams that are not part of any product team. This was a big 'aha' for us."
New Organizational Investments
On the sales side, HP has added a new layer of Account General Managers for its top global accounts to serve as leaders in positioning and selling integrated solutions. Instead of just adding incentives for existing teams to sell higher value solutions, the new structure reflects an understanding that companies like HP need senior level sellers to be solely focused on meeting customers' most important business needs.
"To drive growth, we need to sell HP, not just one or two products," says Assem. "This means we have to elevate the discussion and have a business dialogue. You want the top people from the sales organization focusing on the highest value solutions. They can then bring in all the product specialists when they need them."
Along with the new global account leaders in sales, HP has also invested in a substantial sales education and training effort to strengthen the bias toward solutions. This has included the creation of HP Sales University, reorganizing the annual sales kickoff, rethinking training programs, and refreshing sales education curricula to include monthly activities focused on solutions.
Beyond sales, HP has also added new solutions marketing groups in the field to support the new push in the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. "You can't just align the product groups around solutions," according to Assem. "It won't work. You need dedicated people on the larger solution issues so we've added new teams headed by a VP for solutions marketing in each region."
Finally, at the corporate level, HP has added a new team for solutions marketing which Assem himself leads. The team's mandate is to define the key areas of solutions focus, develop and support key offerings, and work with marketing and sales teams across HP's business units and regions to bring solutions to market. The team includes dedicated specialists for each of the 10 major solution areas.
Overall, "this has been a huge investment to address customer needs and drive growth," says Assem. "We needed new skill sets to complement existing skills so we've done a lot of hiring and a lot of shifting within marketing and sales. Ultimately, finding people with business skills and teaching them the technology is a better route to solutions leadership than the other way around."
Return on Investment
Assem is quick to suggest that HP still has a way to go with enterprise solutions, and that the journey thus far has not been painless. "Building bridges and alignment across the organization is always a challenge," he notes. "You can't just add separate new groups or you'll risk duplicating efforts and losing support. And you really have to earn respect. It's never easy telling people a new way when they have been doing this for a living for many years."
Less than two years into the new push, however, Assem can see substantial ROI in three major areas: Average deal size has increased significantly with our global accounts and that's a key metric. We've also seen revenue growth in general with these accounts. Third, we have seen real growth in the solutions portion of the pipeline, which is another key metric for us."
Clearly not every company has HP's deep pockets. But the larger point holds for any organization looking to sell complex, high value solutions: If you really want to talk the walk, you're likely going to have to invest in new people, skills, and teams to move from rhetoric to reality. HP's investments in new groups within corporate and field marketing as well as sales help point the way forward.
What about you? How are you investing in people and organization to grow your solutions business. Please let me know in the comments.