Are we marketing a product or a solution?

Rubik's Cube Solution by Patricio Cuscito

One solution to a Rubik’s Cube

At work, we’re overhauling our website, and in a meeting someone asked, “do we call ourselves a product or a solution”?

“Solution – of course!”  part of me answered.  Solutions signify value!

“Really?” said the other part.  I’m not so sure we have a solution.  We have a product.  And it can solve problems.

When I was at Dell, I worked in a team called “Solutions Marketing.”  It’s kind of funny because at Dell there were dozens of teams with that moniker.

  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products coupled with other vendors’ products.
  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products angled towards a specific use case.
  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products angled towards a specific vertical market.
  • Some were doing the technical marketing work in a lab to support these efforts.

It was trendy to be in “Solutions Marketing.”

We talked about what it meant to offer a customer a “solution” versus a “product.”  How it more directly addressed their needs and aligned better with their their requirements.  “People don’t buy products,” we’d say, “people buy solutions.”

Fast forward, and here I am at Infinio.  We have one (awesome) product.  It gets deployed in one way, where it’s either on or off.  It solves (hard) problems.  Are we marketing a product or a solution?

Does it matter?

Let’s look at some examples from my consumer life.

1. Keurig coffee maker.  I’d say this is a solution.  I have a problem – I like coffee and I hate to wash coffee pot parts.  The Keurig solved this for me.

2. Soft corners to babyproof furniture.  This purports to be a solution, but really it’s just a product.  And it doesn’t work too well – given the overhangs and shelves on our furniture, they keep falling off when we open something.  (Thankfully, babyDiva is made of steel.)

3. Donuts.  Every Friday, Alan brings in donuts for the team.  They’re fantastic.  They light up our day.  And they are definitely just a product.

IT people are sharp.  If they have a problem, they’re going to look for a solution, and whether we call it a solution or call it a product, they’ll find it.  It’s not 1999.  People have access to so many more online resources to research technology.  What we call it is probably not too relevant.

Sure, a “product” has more of the reputation of being something the customer has to do more work to implement.  But again, it’s 2014.  IT people are going to read up on what it takes to make something work no matter what we call it.  (And really, are donuts that much work?)

I think we can help people find us by showing them how we can work in their industry (financials), in their environment (e.g., with NFS), with their application (e.g., virtual desktops).

But I don’t know if that means we call it a solution.

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