It was 1989 … parachute pants, backward baseball caps and tie dye t-shirts were all the rage. Young men were dislocating their shoulders and permanently damaging their eardrums with enormous ‘boom-boxes’, all in the name of fashion.

Into this world stepped a fly young rapper, with a message. A message that unbeknownst to him would echo down through the ages, eventually becoming the mantra for a generation of hungry young sales executives across the planet:

If you got a problem, Yo, I’ll solve it. Check out the hook while my (pre-sales) revolves it
– Vanilla Ice, 1989

Ok, there’s a touch of artistic license in the second line, but I’m sure you can all relate to the sentiment. Over the years in more sales training programs, new-hire boot camps and corporate kick-off events than any of us care to remember, we’ve had the importance of solution selling rammed down our throats. We were told …

‘Don’t sell a product or a service, sell a solution’

‘Clients don’t care about feature/function; they want an end-to-end solution’

I agree with both these statements … at least in principal. The problem with the concept of ‘solution selling’ is that many sales people have lost sight of what the word ‘solution’ really means. They are being asked to jump straight from needs analysis to problem resolution, from closed deal to new opportunity, with no opportunity to stop and smell the roses. Rule #1:

1) You can only offer me a real solution if you actually understand my problem and preferably my industry as well.

In my current role, I’m lucky enough to travel to a variety of countries around the world and meet sales professionals from many different industries and backgrounds. Most are under increasing financial and quarterly pressure from their management teams to achieve ever more challenging sales targets.

These behaviours are leading to a growing disconnect between client expectations and project outcomes. At the same time, the gulf between the desired role of ‘strategic business partner’ and the reality of ‘solution provider’ or just plain ‘vendor’ is continuing to widen. This leads us to Rule #2:

2) You can only offer me a real solution if you actually understand what is motivating me, both personally and professionally.

If we sales folk are to avoid the very real prospect of the imminent extinction of our species, we need to find a way to get back to basics. A way to put the ‘solution’ back into ‘solution selling’ and ensure that this word continues to have meaning for generations to come.

As a salesperson, it can be tough to juggle the competing priorities of running a sale, managing client expectations and meeting your quarterly commit, but it’s imperative we achieve this, whilst also keeping the priorities and needs of our prospective clients in plain view. Rule #3:

3) Just like fire, so too a business solution cannot exist within a vacuum. The word ‘solution’ is a subjective term, it only truly becomes a solution when its presented in the right business context.

I think we might leave the last word to Vanilla Ice, the architect of this selling philosophy, who perfectly summed up the importance of providing clients with a real solution, when he said …

“Anything less than the best is a felony”

Cian McLoughlin is the Amazon #1 bestselling author of Rebirth of the Salesman, a regular keynote speaker at sales kick-off’s around the world and one of the Top 50 Sales bloggers in the world for the past 2 years. He is a passionate proponent of an ethical, honest and authentic approach to sales. His company, Trinity Perspectives, is committed to helping sales organizations unlock the latent potential of their customers’ insights with their Win Loss Analysis and Sales Transformation services. To read more of Cian’s sales articles visit

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