What Is a Solutions Transformation?
March 20, 2018

What Is a Solutions Transformation?

by Brian de Haaff

Remember planning vacations in the 1990s? You spent a lot of time talking on the phone. Separate calls to airlines, hotels, and car rental companies. This was just to compare rates — you had to make another set of phone calls to book services. Or you used a travel agent and accepted the fact that it was likely going to be more expensive than if you just did it on your own.

Then along came deal-aggregator sites like Expedia and Priceline. And with one click, those phone calls were gone. (Unfortunately, most of the travel agents disappeared as well.)

This was a solution transformation — a visionary shift.

The realization was that a vacation typically required booking a flight, hotel, and car rental. A flight alone was not enough. So, companies started to rethink the value they offered to travelers.

As I have written before, we are seeing three major types of enterprise transformation. I recently covered the first two — digital and data. Now I want to talk about solution-oriented transformations.

Simply put, a solution transformation means rethinking how products are bundled and sold to meet customer preferences and expectations. This requires pulling back from disjointed point solutions — instead thinking holistically about what customers want and delivering a Complete Product Experience (CPE).

This kind of transformation is rooted in understanding what it takes to solve a customer’s problem and then seamlessly bringing together exactly what is needed. Nothing more.  

The key to a solutions transformation is to think about how the customer wants to buy and use your product — not what you have historically offered. It requires reimagining the way you have always sold or marketed your product. And it demands a deep understanding of your customer’s needs.

Even more challenging, it likely requires changing how you see the future and how you work internally. This is particularly important in mature organizations that have broad product portfolios built up over time through acquisitions.

For example, our team at Aha! has been working closely with a major financial services company that provides software and solutions to financial organizations. After decades of acquisitions, this company found itself with dozens of teams selling point products to customers. And guess what — these different sales teams were often calling on the same customers. Why was this a problem?

Well, if a customer wanted to buy more than one product, they had to speak to multiple salespeople. And worse, none of the products were integrated. It was painful for the customer and a big problem for the company.

The different sales teams were not talking to each other. And truthfully, it was maybe even getting a little competitive internally. This situation created an ideal hunting ground for nimble competitors who were able to swoop in with more streamlined, hassle-free offerings.

Fortunately, company leaders saw what was ahead and they are now going through a solutions transformation. They are asking themselves, “How can we make our products easier for customers to buy?” and “How do our products need to be integrated to remove friction?”

They started by taking a unified approach with sales and support — restructuring the commission model and incenting teams to collaborate in the customer’s best interests. Then, they started strategic planning to deliver the right product solutions to truly give customers what they want.

Customers do not care how your product is built or managed internally — they only care about how they will use it and whether it will improve their work (and happiness).

This work required deep self-reflection. Truly knowing your customer is required for any solutions transformation. When you know your customer deeply, you can anticipate how they will want to use — and buy — the various products you offer.

Before you can take on a solutions transformation, you need to understand your organization’s capabilities. Start by asking these questions:

  • What do we offer today?

  • How do customers use it?

  • What is our customer’s real, complete problem?

  • Is our product solving that problem?

  • Is our customer looking for us to do more?

  • What would we need to do to solve the broader problem?

So, take an honest look at your own company to determine if you are focused on the customer or on your own technology and history of serving the market. If you find yourself nodding along to the latter, it may be time for a change.

Now, I am not arguing that emerging companies should start out with massive problem sets in mind. The opposite is true — focus first. The challenge is that as companies grow, organically or via acquisition, the customer’s problem changes with it. And to continue to be meaningful and lasting, companies need to change how they solve that bigger, more complex problem.

If you are in strategic planning or product management, are at a mid or large company, and if that company has been in business for a decade or more — then solutions transformation is likely something you will tackle in the near future.

If this is your case, then I can almost guarantee it is time to take a fresh look at your customers. Not the typical product council type of theater — but true immersion. Are you up for the challenge? I know your customers hope you are.

What examples have you seen of solution transformation?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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