I had the opportunity to speak with a colleague who asked an interesting question:
“How do you become a Solution Marketer when there is no real education path for the role?”
This is true. There were no college courses for Solution Marketing and at the time I attended, there were also no Product Marketing courses. Let’s face it, the internet had not yet arrived and the tech industry had yet to boom. Marketing was traditional consumer marketing. So how does one arrive at becoming a Solution Marketer? and Why?
Let’s start with the easy portion, the why, it is a passion of mine. I didn’t wake up one day and aspire to be a Solution Marketer and, in fact, did not start my professional career in Marketing. I trained for it with each role that brought a new skill, I was mentored and I learned from others who excelled at Marketing. It is the solving of the puzzle that is interesting, it is the challenge and the value and that is the heart of Solution Marketing, starting with why a customer would value your solution.
Defining Solution Marketing
Let’s start by defining what we mean by the term, Solution Marketing. Quite simply, Solution Marketing focuses on customer challenges and value, where Product Marketing focuses on the features and cost of the product. Solution Marketing seeks to understand the market segments, industry trends, partner solutions and a portfolio of products and how they come together to create a solution and the benefit it delivers to a customer. It is a multi-discipline and cross functional, leadership role in order to understand and connect with the target customer to engage at a level of value delivery.
The days of “pitching” features, products and “he who has the most features at the lowest cost wins” have come to an end. Personalization is expected and is being driven into B2B Sales and Marketing from our consumer experiences. Businesses seek a partner who understands, anticipates and is vested with them in meeting business challenges and delivering the value that enables the business. This requires segmenting and targeting the customer market and engaging in a way none of us were taught in our university Marketing curriculum.
To put this into simple perspective, let’s start with the marketing mix, what most know as the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Promotion and Placement. As a Solution Marketer, these pillars of the Marketing foundation have evolved and look more like the following chart focusing on the customer to solve for a challenge and the value delivered.
The above chart may seem like a simple change of words and conversation, however, making the shift is difficult for most organizations and even more difficult to execute. The shift requires research to segment and thus target through appropriate channels with engaging content in order to truly connect with both the market and prospective customers.
I would go so far as to challenge the foundation of marketing and say that it is shifting from the 4 Ps to: Solution – Engage – Connect – Value, as depicted below.
New Marketing Pillars
Solution: Customers buy solutions to solve the challenges they face in their organizations. The solution can be one or many products, services, partner solutions and components found within a customer’s organization.
Value: Quantified benefits delivered by the solution as applied to the challenge. Metrics can include any combination of the following: time saved, growth of the business, costs eliminated and/or quality of service.
Engage: Promotion has evolved into engagement. Customers seek to have a two way conversation, rather than spoken to in a one way pitch. Seek first to understand the market and customers and then engage with them in manner they wish to engage.
Connect: There are many channels to connect with customers of today and customers are performing their own research early, mid and late stage of buying cycles. Connecting with the market and customers through multiple channels for each stage of the buying cycle requires segmenting research to target appropriately.
Who is a Solution Marketer?
Now, where do these folks come from and how did they come to learn their craft? Often times they come from other parts of the organization:
- Product Marketers renamed
- Product Managers moving to the dark side of marketing
- Customer facing groups such as help desks, consulting, trainers, implementers
- Customers jumping the fence to the supplier
The challenge with all of these is that they tend to have a strength in one skill set, but lack the others. I think of the role as fueling my need to be challenged in many skills and not focusing on any single skill and leveraging a career of a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”. What do I mean? Solution marketing requires a few key skills:
- Research and Analysis
- Problem Solving
- Customer Service
- Story Telling
- Business Planning
- Cross-functional Leadership
Customers who purchase your solutions are seeking to solve a challenge and there is value in solving that challenge. Often times, they need help assessing the scope and cost of the challenge and Solution Marketers are required to engage them with that assessment in order for them to also realize the value in solving the challenge in their organization.
Segmenting also requires understanding the customers business, their market and where they rank in that market. The Solution Marketer must know the customer’s business as well or better than the customer themselves to engage and connect with solutions that deliver value in their terms.
Solution Marketers are grown in the field not in the classroom. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by some of the best Sales and Marketing leaders in the business.
How did you arrive as a Solution Marketer?