Synopsis: In B2B markets, firms increasingly seek to provide customer solutions instead of merely selling goods or services. Boundary-spanning salespeople are pivotal for crafting the solution offering and communicating its value-in-use to customers. However, salespeople are often reluctant to engage in solution selling and earlier literature has indicated that companies might need to replace large portions of their sales forces to achieve this transformation. Against this background, the purpose of this study is to explain how manufacturers can tackle the critical managerial challenge of transforming a product-focused sales force to undertake solution selling. Through an application of configurational theory, the authors explain how individual and organizational conditions combine to determine salespeople’s engagement in solution selling. Specifically, the study uses multilevel, multisource empirical data from the sales organization of a global supplier of building solutions nested at three levels: salespersons, solution champions, and sales managers. A fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis reveals no single, optimal way to overcome transformation challenges. Rather, consistent with prior research, solution selling requires certain types of salespeople, because value-based selling arises as a necessary condition for successful engagement. Yet, after meeting this foundational condition, a heterogeneous sales force can be successfully engaged to solution selling, as long as the organization provides appropriate support that is tailored to individual salespersons’ needs. This viable support can come from either sales managers or solution champions who engage in market shaping through negotiation of institutional resistance.
Publication: Salonen, A., Terho, H., Böhm, E., Virtanen, A., & Rajala, R. (2021). Engaging a product-focused sales force in solution selling: Interplay of individual and organizational conditions. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 49, 139–163. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-020-00729-z