Solutions is too broad, need specific ideas to present to client

Can a Solution Without a Name Solve My Problem?

I don’t like to pick on organizations that are no doubt providing valuable services. But I cringe when companies advertise that they provide a solution, which is one of the most overused words in selling and advertising. A solution is defined as the act of solving a problem.

Even Inc. Magazine got it wrong in an article entitled “How to Go From a Product Company to a Solution Company.”

“Solution” is Meaningless

Inc. cited IBM’s slogan from the 1990’s “Solutions for a Small Planet” as an outstanding example of a company that touts its prowess in providing solutions. But that slogan is meaningless. First of all, the company is not providing solutions for a planet but for individual companies.

When your client has a problem, he wants to know specifically how you are going to solve that problem. Most problems fall into these measures of performance:

  • Quality: how the service is performed
  • Quantity: how much is produced
  • Time: how long it takes
  • Price: what it costs

So you need to probe to determine where the problem is. Then you can provide a specific remedy, or solution, to that client’s particular problem.

Even McKinsey, the management consulting firm, has a separate unit called McKinsey Solutions (part of McKinsey & Company). Content on its website begins:

“Today’s winning organizations need a combination of strategic insight, domain expertise, data, and technology. That is why McKinsey complements its traditional consulting excellence with solutions: technologies and specialized teams that deliver McKinsey results.”

Why does McKinsey “complement” its traditional consultant services with solutions? Aren’t solutions intrinsic to the consulting services they provide to clients? Seems redundant to me.

Not to be outdone the ManpowerGroup claims to be “a world leader in innovative workforce solutions.” Then copy mentions that they place people in jobs. Why not come right out and say it?

Words Matter

I don’t mean to beat this issue into the ground, but words matter. You only have so much time on your website or in a personal meeting to make your case about why prospective clients should choose your company. My eyes roll when I hear someone say, “We can provide a solution to your problem.”

If I have a leaky faucet and call the plumber, he doesn’t say he has a solution. He tells me, “You need a new valve.”

I sure do understand what I get from these companies: CheapTickets for travel, Rock Bottom Golf for discounts on golf clothes and equipment, and Best Buy Liquors. I think I’ll give them a call when I need something that isn’t called a solution.

Leave a Reply


  1. Hey Jeannette, this is really interesting that you think about words. Same as you I also roll my eyes on like these sentences “We can provide a solution to your problem.” Because if they have solutions they don’t shout. If someone need that they will choose them. Glad to know your views.

    • Junaid — better to bypass saying you have a solution and got right to what it is that you’re going to do.

  2. Interesting article. I have read the marketing slogans that promise to solve your problem before they even know what it is.

    I agree that your message should read as though you are speaking to the individual company rather than speaking to the mass.

    • Phoenicia — A solution needs to be specific to a problem, as you state, and not just a general promise that doesn’t connect to something real.

  3. This kind of reminds me when students try to solve a math problem and they just show the answer. It is important how to “show your work” on getting the answer. This concept applies to business as well. You need to know how to solve the problem, not just give out the solution. Interesting article, Jeannette.

    • Janelle — I’ve been in more than one meeting when someone promised an outcome and then later tried to “wing” it because they didn’t know how to solve the problem. Happens more than you think.

  4. Well said, Jeannette. It drives me crazy when these folks talk about solving my problem when they are not interested in finding out what I really want or need. That happens way too much. I’ll give a shout out to Apple for never saying they have a solution when I trot into the store with one of my devices. They simply ask what it’s doing and say: let’s fix it.

    I can live with that!

    • RoseMary — funny you should mention Apple. I was at the Apple store last evening for 2 hours while they tried to figure out what was wrong with my iMac. Got most of the problem solved but they are doing more diagnostics today. Thank heaven for the Genius Bar!

  5. Interesting, offbeat Post!

    Connecting via words is necessary. I agree when the audience connects because they find them special rather than a part masses especially when it comes to providing solutions.

  6. Absolutely, there is no single solution that solves every problem. Words do matter. They could just point out that they deliver tailor-made solutions. Catch is that sometimes long explanations don’t work when it comes to copywriting because you will lose the attention of the potential customer.

  7. I love this Jeannette because it’s a great example and I could not agree with you more – words do matter!

    In fact, there are a couple of words on my hot list to write about this year. In each case, the definition according to every dictionary I can find, and even basic research, presents a different meaning and associated outcome from the way they are most often used in articles and stories. But you know as well as I do how this goes, someone writes an opinion piece about a topic, adds a bit of color and touch of personal bias, it gets shared and others build on that concept and so it goes until it becomes ‘fact’ because so many people have said it is so.

    Thanks for shining a light on the value of words in general, and the real meaning of “solutions” in particular.

  8. It is sometimes funny that they say one thing, but it takes you forever to find out what it is. The old adage about “Whose the marketing genius came up with that” fits.
    Sometimes, they get so concerned about HOW to say something, they forget what they wanted to say in the first place.

  9. I could not have said it better myself or expressed my frustration any better. Well done! I am so tired of this stuff. I can see right through it all and it is annoying. If you want my business, give me the straight stuff like the plumber does or go away.