The Myth of the Total Solution Provider

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

In an otherwise forgettable movie named Return to Eden, Rosie O’Donnell plays an undercover detective being pursued by an amorous young admirer. At one point, he pleads, "Just tell me what you want, I can do everything for you" To this O’Donnell replies, "If you really want to please me, go paint my house!"

How many times have we been pursued by sales reps and marketing campaigns stating they have the total solution for us? And how many times has a total solution been what we really needed? Too often, businesses assume their prospects want it all at once. Here are some common examples of total solution providers pushing their whole product line at the same time.

  • Telecommunications companies that offer phone, cellular, e-mail, pager and voice mail services
  • Banks that advertise checking, credit card, investments and mortgages
  • Internet service companies that promote strategy, design, hosting and fulfillment services

The Fatal Flaw of Offering Everything Besides the fact that it is very difficult to present many products all at once, it usually doesn’t work for the customer either. Here are three reasons why.

  • Customers want to test a company’s ability to deliver one product at a time. In other words, they want to date before going steady.
  • Customers have specific needs. There is almost always a product or service they would choose to try before others.
  • If forced "to take it all or leave it", a customer may buy a total solution. But at the first sign of disappointment, the customer’s remorse will overflow.
Does this mean that it is foolish to offer customers a variety of products to meet their individual needs? No. Instead, first take these three steps.

Three Steps For Selling Customers All You Can:

  1. Understand your customers’ typical buying patterns.
  2. Offer your products and services in the right order for your customers.
  3. Market your products and services in the right order for your customers.

A. Understand Your Customers’ Typical Buying Patterns Analyze what your customers buy from you. Determine which products or services are:

  • The first ones they buy
  • The ones that encourage return purchases
  • The impulse purchases that don’t lead to more
  • The ones that existing customers buy
Here is an example of the above four products we can all relate to: Telephone companies promote:
  • Long distance deals to attract first time buyers
  • "Friends and family" deals to lock them into a long term relationship
  • Telephone equipment as impulse purchases
  • Personal 800 numbers to existing customers

B. Offer Your Products And Services In The Right Order For Your Customers. Sequence and stage your products and services and offer:

  • Conversion products which convert prospects into first time buyers
  • Reorder products which prompt first time buyers to become regular customers
  • Next logical products which cause first time buyers to expand their relationships with a vendor
When I served as a Product Manager for the Bank of Boston, we:
  • Offered CDs to attract prospects with funds to invest
  • Created rollover programs to encourage CD customers to reorder our product
  • Advertised checking products to build long term relationships with CD buyers

C. Market Your Products And Services In The Right Order For Your Customers. Create sales and marketing programs that offer products and services in the correct order and to prospects and customers who are ready to buy them. Here are some recent examples from the news:

  • Sprint Telecommunications offered a hot line pre-selling Rolling Stones tickets to anyone willing to switch over their long distance.
  • Progressive Insurance does a magnificent job of telling its less attractive customers that their policies would cost less if they switched to the competition
  • provides topical newsletters to customers based on their previous purchase history, correctly assuming they can be up-sold or cross-sold.
In conclusion, it is possible to offer a wide range of products and services to customers without overwhelming them. The effort must be organized and presented in a systematic process based on how and when customers buy. Do not try to sell products and services on your schedule! Rather, understand your customers’ behavior and adapt your company’s approach accordingly. In other words, perhaps Rosie O’Donnell’s overzealous admirer should have taken her advice, and first painted her house!

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080 , by email at, or on the web at

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