The Prime Solution: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 11th, 2011 by bobmorris

The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale
Jeff Thull
Kaplan Publishing (2005)

Many of the same core concepts in this book were previously discussed in Thull’s Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High! However, what we have here is a much sharper focus on two of the three objectives specified in the subtitle: close the value gap and increase margins while winning the complex sale. In the Foreword, Greg Lewin does a skillful job of explaining the need for this sequel, offering his own conclusions about customer value: “First, value should be added to the customer’s entire business, not just a specific part of it…Second, the value created for your customer should be easily identified and owned by your customer…Third — and this is the main objective of Thull’s Prime Solution — the value you promise must be delivered…Fourth, the `secret sauce’ is the heart and soul of your organization — the people! ” According to Thull, Prime Solutions deliver optimal results which leverage value to the highest level of each customer’s business, ensure that customers are provided with the best answer to the given problem, and provide solution implementation and value-enhancement strategies that enable customers to achieve the ROI that they anticipated.

Presumably Thull agrees with me that getting beyond customer satisfaction and even loyalty to what is widely referred to as “customer evangelism” requires that what he calls “robust solutions” must be provided consistently, time and again, whatever questions must be answered, whatever problems must be solved. To sustain that relationship, therefore, Thull recommends three separate but interdependent protocols: value maximization of product, process, and performance; decision acuity that enables customers to recognize — and thereby appreciate — the tangible benefits of the solution(s) provided; and optimization of a measurable ROI. I agree with Thull that what he calls the Prime Solution Cycle (please see pages 179-194) requires a cross-functional effort; that is, communication, cooperation, and collaboration between and among all areas within the provider’s organization.

In Part I, Thull explores the environment in which complex solutions must compete. Then in Part II, he shifts his attention to an analysis of how to translate the demands of that environment into the three protocols that define, guide, and inform prime solutions. Finally, in Part III, Thull responds to a question which each reader is probably asking as she or he arrives at page 125: “How can my organization develop and then deliver prime solutions to our own customers?” Four chapters are devoted to Thull’s response. First, he recommends a process of discovery and engagement that will reveal opportunities among those prospects currently experiencing insufficiency of the value offered. Next, diagnose and quantify what is needed. Then, design and produce what will fill (solve) the given need. Finally, deliver, measure, and improve on the solution(s).

Here are a few caveats. First, beware of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as “The Knowing-Doing Gap” in the book which bears that title. (They later introduced the concept of “The Doing-KNowing Gap.”) More often than not, decision-makers fail to convert knowledge into action to achieve the desired results. In this context, I am reminded of Coach Darrell Royal’s assertion that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” By all means absorb and digest the information and counsel that Thull provides in abundance. You and your associates must then focus together on formulating and then providing what each customer needs. Also, when seeking buy-in within your organization, expect to encounter resistance to change initiatives. If I understand Thull correctly (and I may not), he urges his reader to think in terms of cross-functional teamwork that involves customers as well as everyone within the provider’s organization. Granted, that is an ambitious objective but I wholly agree with him that it is also an “achievable reality.”


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