If you ask this question (i.e. are you selling Product or Solution?) to any business, the obvious answer would be the latter, i.e. solution.
But covering the last mile is an altogether different thing, as compared to selling service and from my personal experience with startups, I see most of them selling products, rather than solutions.
Here are a few personal anecdotes to set the context:
Story #1. For some reason, I had to get a door lock repaired (the lock was jammed and finally broke during an attempt to open it forcefully). And since it was Sunday, I had to get the damn lock in place (i.e. before the week starts and one gets into the hustle bustle of life).
Here is what two vendors offered –
Vendor A: Price of lock : Rs. 500/. No carpenter to fix the lock (remember it was Sunday).
Vendor B: Price of lock : Rs. 575/ (different brand). Has a carpenter to fix the lock (carpenter charged Rs. 70/ to fix the entire thing).
Obvious that I went ahead with the second vendor, even though the product he was selling was priced higher.
Story # 2: I recently bought a Dell Inspiron laptop and within 4 months of purchase, the hard disk crashed (lets not get into the frustration that I went through post-the-crash). While Dell replaced the hard disk, the service stopped at that. On being asked about any help in restoring the backup, company has no intent to help the customer with that.
I wasn’t expecting Dell to deploy it’s support force in restoring the backup – but how about partnership with companies/service providers that can potentially help customers (on being asked for help, the customer care connected me to one of his friend who runs a small service center and the person quoted Rs. 4K for the backup!).
The question to Dell is very simple – does your role ends with buggy hard disk that you supplied; and a ‘free’ replacement that you provided?
In all your move, customer loses a good amount of time (in setting up the machine/reinstalling all the software) and to top that, you do not even provide any help with data backups.
Why are these two stories important? Because it’s important to understand that as a product company, you aren’t selling product, but you are selling solution.
The difference between a transactional and WOW experience is obvious to buyers – and unfortunately, most of the product selling stays within the transactional notion.
For the lock example, I preferred to go with a vendor who had a better/equipped ecosystem. As far as Dell example is concerned, I’ll find it difficult to refer Dell to anybody else.
If you are a startup, think of the entire ecosystem of services that will support your product – think of what all does a buyer go through, what are the different touch points? What are the other services that buyer has to avail in order to use the service? How can you improve the ‘overall’ experience?
Big companies can prefer to ignore the ecosystem (well, Microsoft’s 97% revenues come from partnerships with vendors/ISVs etc), but not startups.
What’s your opinion?