The idea that solution selling is dead is a popular talking point these days. Unfortunately, if you've abandoned the tactic based on that opinion, then you've been sorely misled. The catchphrase is popular, but most of the proposed alternatives sound eerily similar to solution-based tactics.

Besides, the problem that's often laid out isn't selling solutions -- it's acting like a salesperson, to begin with. No one wants to be a salesperson's mark, but everyone appreciates someone sharing his or her knowledge to help in making better buying decisions.

Customers still need guidance and benefit greatly from the expertise that only you can provide. You just have to give that expertise in an authentic and genuine spirit of service, rather than just trying to close the next deal.

Why Engage and Not Provide Solutions?

The most common theme among solution-selling naysayers is that, in this day and age, it's annoying. Consumers have a much greater ability to research their needs, so they don't need a sales representative's help as much, and asking them questions will only drive them away.

In part, that's true. Bombarding groups of consumers with canned questionnaires won't win any of them over. Yet the essence of selling a solution is recognizing your consumers' needs and problems, then showing them how you can solve them.

With an effective engagement technique, that level of personalized service is still the most successful way to elevate customer satisfaction. Solving consumers' problems means providing tailored solutions, which a 2018 study by McKinsey & Company found is the most successful way of "boosting customer lifetime value and increasing consumption of existing and new services."

It's more than misleading to claim solution selling is a dead concept while praising customer engagement as the key to selling more. If you're engaging customers and still can't solve their problems, it won't be long before they question what value you actually provide -- and look elsewhere for solutions.

How to Be a Problem Solver

One point that can't be ignored is the fact that consumer data and analytics technology have dramatically changed how customers shop. Whatever strategy you employ to engage with them, it must incorporate these accordingly.

To get you started, take these steps to combine old-school solution selling with new-school customer engagement:

1. Find the customers who need solutions.

The reason many people argue that solution selling is dead -- namely, that it's too easy for consumers to find information now -- is the same reason why it's easier to find customers who actually need solutions.

According to an Adobe study, people spend nearly eight hours a day engaging with digital content on their smart devices. Tapping into the data this creates can give you a glimpse into what they're searching for most. Using innovative analytics and artificial intelligence, you can gain insight into what your consumers' greatest needs are and who could benefit most from your products or services. So, find out what their problems are and speak to them specifically.

2. Ask about their particular problems.

Finding consumers with problems that you can solve saves you time, but the next part -- the pitch -- is where it can all go wrong fast. Not understanding this is the reason why many solution-selling tactics don't work. Instead of charging in with your sales pitch, do your homework first to learn more about the problems your prospects face and what they've tried in the past.

Consumers put in a lot of legwork before making a purchase, so you need to do the same before you take up their time. That's the approach Matt Sunshine, managing partner of the Center for Sales Strategy, calls the "define stage" of the sales process. The goal is to "discover the opportunity and confirm that it would be of value to the client" before moving on to trying to solve their problems or pain points.

3. Demonstrate how you can solve them.

Showing customers that you understand their problems gets their attention and holds it. Now it's time to prove that you can be of use (if not absolutely vital) to solving those problems. This may require you to be flexible and willing to shift from your typical processes at times in the name of providing the best solution. And always be sure to tell customers the whole story.

For instance, if you're providing a solution for industrial clients, highlight how much money they're losing each day because their plant isn't operating correctly or efficiently. Then showcase how you plan to fix the issue in a timely manner to save them money by having a fully operational or more efficient facility faster. If you solve their problems, you'll have loyal customers who could become brand evangelists for you.

This final point highlights the whole misconception about solution selling being obsolete. Remember that customers still need help solving problems, but they won't waste time with salespeople who don't understand the bigger picture or haven't done their homework.