Buying Toilets Part 2: Solutions, not Products

In another article I wrote about buying for Value versus buying for Price. The context was a recent toilet purchase in our family.

The toilets are in, by the way, and the improvement is dramatic. (Benefit, going UP!) If you care to know what kind of toilet we bought, send me a note. 

But let’s step back from the porcelain this week, because the fact is we didn’t just buy a toilet. We bought what you might call a toilet solution. This distinction is essential to buying for Value: buying solutions instead of buying products. What do we mean by that?

Products versus Solutions

A product is what you buy, and it stops there. A product, broadly speaking, fits in a box. When you get the box, the product is delivered.

A solution, broadly speaking, does not fit in a box. A solution covers all aspects of how you would derive benefit from what you buy. A solution is not delivered until you have captured the value from the product.

Listening to Music (Example)

In the not-so-old days, if you wanted to listen to Steely Dan you went to a record store and bought Aja (or Pretzel Logic, or another classic). The album came on a compact disc which you played in your car or at home on a CD player. The disc and player were products. You used one with another to play the music, and that was your solution.

These days you might be able to find a store that sells CDs and play them like we did in the 90’s. That solution remains.

But it’s more likely that you would venture online. You might buy the whole album, or just a song or two, or you might subscribe to a service that gives you access to the music without “buying” it. The music might be stored on your device, or in the cloud, or both. Your store might be affiliated with your player, which could be a phone, tablet, or computer. 

What has changed is what you buy, where the music resides, and how you play it. These variations create different solutions between the recorded piece of music and your ears.

Solutions are Everywhere

In every corner of our marketplace, product, service, and delivery overlap and shape into different solutions. Let’s take it back to the toilets for a minute, for a low-tech example.

Remember, a product gets you a box, but a solution gets you the value. So what would it take to get the value out of the toilet? (Awkward sentence, but let’s press on.) It would include:

  • A – Taking ownership of a new toilet
  • B – Transporting the new toilet to our house
  • C – Removing and disposing of the old toilet
  • D – Installing the new toilet (from there, we can rely on biology)

Each of these is necessary, but there are different ways to make them happen. After some research, three distinct solutions emerged:

Solution 1: Pick up. I buy the toilet at a home supply or plumbing supply company (A), and do the rest myself (B, C, & D)

Solution 2: Two Vendors. I buy the toilet at a store (A), bring it home (B), and get someone else to install the toilet (C & D)

Solution 3: Plumber Complete. The plumber buys the toilet, installs, and hauls-away. (A, B, C, and D)


Two Key Insights

These paths have different implications for my time, and for the risk I would take on. So I’ll need to evaluate my time and assess the risk to choose the right solution.

It’s also important to note that the different solutions imply different types of companies that would serve me. I need to think solution first, because a vendor I like might not offer the solution that is best for me.

That leads me to my mantra for value-based buying: Solution first, Vendor second, Price third. 

Start with Solutions

What’s the biggest purchase will you be making this week, at home or at work? What are the different solutions you could choose? For best results, label the solutions without using specific company names.

You probably have more options than you realized, and more potential vendors who could serve you. Next time we’ll look at how to zero in on the best solution for you.

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