SOLUTION SELLING

The concept of "solution selling" has been boiling up to the surface for quite a while now, and it seems destined to join the industry's pantheon of guiding ideas.Solution selling was the topic of the leading news article in this month's issue of SN Brand Marketing, the companion publication of SN, and you'll see mentions of it in SN with increasing frequency now.So before we're swamped by solution-selling

The concept of "solution selling" has been boiling up to the surface for quite a while now, and it seems destined to join the industry's pantheon of guiding ideas.

Solution selling was the topic of the leading news article in this month's issue of SN Brand Marketing, the companion publication of SN, and you'll see mentions of it in SN with increasing frequency now.

So before we're swamped by solution-selling overload, let's take a quick look at what the concept really is, and how it might be put to work.

The heritage of the concept is rooted in meal solutions (or home-meal replacement). It's original purview was to study how to sweep together products from various supermarket departments that could be united into a meal-solution offer so supermarkets could better compete with Boston Market and other HMR providers.

Then light dawned: Why not expand the concept to include any cross-category packaging, merchandising or service combination that would constitute a more convenient solution to a consumer need?

Here's another way to look at this: Category management rationalizes vertical product-category components of a supermarket with the aim of increasing customer convenience and category profitability. Solution selling does much the same, but does it horizontally; that is, across departmental boundaries. In sum, solution selling is the end expression of category management since it could involve the entire store simultaneously.

But enough of this dense theory. What about some examples? Here are four:

I cited one in this space last week with the suggestion that supermarket operators could co-merchandise and promote video software with their HMR offer, affording consumers a one-stop meal and entertainment solution.

Ukrop's offers quick-fix dinner recipes and recipe ingredients all in one place. The offer is enhanced by on-the-spot sampling of the meal that will result.

Raley's, in conjunction with a processor, offers restaurant-style entrees with wine. And, a coupon on the entree leads consumers to the produce department to purchase value-added salad.

H.E. Butt, in partnership with a manufacturer, set up a "Just for Women" center from which personal-care products -- and information about the category -- are offered. The intention is to make product selection more convenient.

Now, notice that examples cited concerning Ukrop's and H-E-B involved more than product rearrangement; they also involved presentation of an added service or information dimension in a bid to make the consumer buying decision less mysterious. And note that food and nonfood can take part in this.

Solution selling's service and information component is one of the ways by which it's distinguished from simple cross merchandising, another is its general focus on a special- or single-usage occasion.

By the way, the examples (except my own) were drawn from a newly issued booklet entitled, appropriately enough, "Solution Selling: Coming Soon to a Store Near You." To learn how to get a copy, turn to Page 11.