Solutions – Why Can’t We All Work Together?

If you like me shudder when someone mentions the word Solutions and you think: Solutions? Can’t we come up with any better word than solutions for a set of integrated products and services?

so·lu·tion [suhloo-shuhn] noun

1. The act of solving a problem, question, etc.: We have a solution for our customer’s problem. Unabridged. Random House, Inc.

Well okay, maybe not. The word Solution has been around since the early 1300’s, and as overused as it seems in marketing parlance, Solution is perhaps the perfect word for what all of us are fundamentally trying to do – solve our customers’ problems, or enrich their lives with our products and services better than the competition.

This happens to be a good definition for marketing as well, which I’ll discuss in a future posting.

I have been focusing on how to review your portfolio of products and services for pipeline balance and future potential, but I haven’t discussed how you can combine, or recombine these products and services into solutions; creating force multipliers across the other components of your offering portfolio, or developing vertical market share strength for your company.

It depends on the capabilities and resources within your span of control. But, without dwelling on the obvious, let’s assume for the moment, that you have all the requisite products and services to form a solution for a specific market segment, and you can form alliances, or procure those resources where you don’t. You will never realize the full advantage of the wealth of all of these cross-divisional resources, if your business units can’t get properly aligned, and perform better together. The same can be said within a business unit where the independent product line managers are focused only on their own performance.

It turns out that forming potential new solutions from your existing lineups is the easy part. Let’s start by picking a market – like the USA Education Market. There are roughly 132,000 primary and secondary schools in the USA, and if every school has an average of 30 classrooms, that’s almost four million classrooms. Each of these classrooms will need networked displays, projection equipment, document cameras, and computers so the teacher can interact with their students in new content-rich, thought-provoking ways. Assume there are about 15 students per classroom, (which may be understating it a bit) and you will need a lot of tablet computers, allowing the students to interact and collaborate with their teachers and their fellow students. Let’s call this the Interactive Classroom Market, and it’s a big one.

Now say your company makes large screen displays, video cameras, telephones, wireless microphones, security equipment, copiers, fax machines, computers, and pencil sharpeners. What sorts of Interactive Classroom solutions might you make from all this? I want to share with you a simple way of defining solutions – the Product Focused Solution, and the Applications Focused Solution, that will help answer this question.

chart 13.08.22 integrated solutions

In the Product Focused view (left), I’ve illustrated how product categories combine forming a foundation for the Interactive Classroom environment. In the Applications Focused view (right), broader solutions can be formed from this same portfolio, such as Distance Learning using video cameras and classroom audio products to record a class so students who missed the class can view it later at home, or Building Security (sadly, a necessary technology needed in today’s modern education facility) utilizing the same cameras, or Back Office Productivity which could include everything from copiers, fax machines, and telephones, to pencil sharpeners. You may or may not make all these devices, but you can certainly direct your Education Vertical Market Team to go find out who does, and partner up with these folks, or OEM them from a contract manufacturer, or choose to forego the application altogether but now with an informed decision.

We’ll need to talk about how to design an efficient vertical industry organization, and how to analyze market potential sizing, but we’ll save that for anonther day.

Seems logical right? If you make all these great things, why wouldn’t you create these kinds of solutions, and deliver them uniformly to your vertical market customers? I believe this is often called “One Face to the Customer.”

It is astonishing how many companies I work with, who are not properly aligned to leverage everything they produce, or could potentially provide to their customers. Panasonic had five (or more) divisions and no less than 20 product category mangers all wanting to call on the education market with completely independent sales forces. Philips had created a shared sales organization, but if you weren’t a significant portion of the sales value for the compensation plan, your part of the solution didn’t even make it through the prospective customer’s door. Kodak, well, let’s just say film and digital didn’t mix well. How about your company?

If your company or business units are product centric, and you’ve allocated the budgets and P&L’s along the same lines, the business units will naturally approach their annual sales objectives from the perspective of their respective P&L’s – the lines of business will attempt to sell as many displays, computers, or pencil sharpeners as they can, without much regard for their other colleagues. And you can forget about engineering helping connect these gadgets together – they’re immersed in creating the next fax machine feature.

Solving this problem becomes exponentially more difficult the larger your company, and/or the more independent your business units are. It is imperative that you take a very hard look at how this is – or isn’t – working for you, and what you’re missing by not encouraging cross-collaborative efforts. In the end, it’s more about working together internally with the common goal of identifying, developing, and delivering more robust solutions for your customers than your competition.

Identify the markets / customers / products, where you believe business divisions should collaborate better with each other. Task the division managers with how they might solve this problem, or develop a simple plan to share sales opportunities. Create an environment where each division get’s a “piece of the action” for helping out their colleagues, sharing sales leads, or better yet closing deals together. And what better time? Next year’s budgets are being prepared right now.

Contact Us today and see how we can help you take a different view of your product development roadmaps – helping you sell what you’ve got today without sacrificing your future.

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