On Developing Insights

Everyone has been talking about Insights. Our customers are hungry for Insights about their businesses–opportunities to grow, opportunities to improve.

We know we have to engage our customers in new conversations. These conversations have to be about them and their goals, not about what we sell. So Insights are the new “buzzword,” for sales.

But all of us, me included, have been a little casual about this discussion. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of Insight, how we communicate, how we continue to engage our customers in Insight driven conversations through their buying process. I’ve talked about company strategies around Insight, calling for Insight Driven Organizations, actually another form of genuine customer centricity.

But I realized there’s something missing in many of my discussions and most that I read. We’ve been talking about Insight as if they are apparent, they’ve already been created and it’s our jobs to deliver them, engaging our customers in new conversations.

But before we can deliver Insights, before we can start teaching our customers, we have to first Develop Insights.

Many may say, well that’s the job of the product teams, marketing, and maybe company strategists. After all, they know what problems we are focusing on to solve, the customers that have those problems. So it’s there job to develop the Insights, it’s sales and marketing that communicate those.

Well that’s true, but that’s not the whole story.

Sales has the opportunity to develop and communicate huge Insights to our customers.

First, I think we have a misunderstanding about what Insights are. We tend to think of them as hugely transformative, paradigm shifting, game changing. We search for the big “AHA’s,” that immediately transform organizations and businesses.

Insight is really not about that. It’s true, we see them — every once in a while. But Insights of this magnitude are difficult. Both to develop and for the customer to accept. The level of change, risk, education, and ultimately, faith in accepting and implementing these transformative insights is very difficult. Very few people and very few organizations can do this. And those that to require a lot of time and make missteps along the way.

Fortunately, Insight is really much simpler than this. And sales people have the opportunity everyday to develop Insights and teach their customers about them, getting them to think about their companies differently, getting them to change and improve incrementally.

So how do sales people develop Insight?

Here are some quick thoughts:

  1. Insight by wandering around the customer: Spending time with customers, wandering around their operations. Observing, talking to people of all levels, understanding what’s working, what’s not working. Understanding bottlenecks, problems that people may be unaware of, or too busy to fix. Simply seeing things that are happening in our customers they may be unaware of or have become complacent with? Then engaging customers in conversations, “Did you know this is happening…….. and this is how it impacts you?” “Have you ever considered……?” Or one of my favorites, “What if…..?”
  2. Insight the customer has but doesn’t know they have: Wander around any organization enough, talk to enough people, and you find people with great ideas. They see things that are happening, they have ideas, they see opportunities, but they don’t know how to take advantage of them. Or they can’t get management’s attention. I’m constantly amazed at how many people in organizations see great opportunities, but don’t know how to facilitate taking action on them. They may be too busy, they may not know how to, they may not have the confidence to take them to management. We can help them do that, we can help them surface and “teach” these insights within their own companies.
  3. Insight by reference: We see what other customers are doing. We can, without breaking confidences, present interesting Insights to other customers. “Company X is doing some very exciting things in this area, and here is what it means to them….. What if we looked at something similar with you?”
  4. Insight by extension: This is a twist on the previous point. We visit many customers, each doing different things. We see some customers doing some very innovative things, some running their organizations in certain ways. Customers are a constant source of ideas. We can look at customers, thinking, “If we tweaked what this customer is doing, adapting it for the different circumstances of another customer, what might happen? We can engage customers in looking at, tweaking and adapting what others might be doing, but in a manner that works for them.
  5. Insight from unusual sources: We all look for ideas in the usual places–our customers do as well. They look at what competitors are doing, copying, tweaking, one-upping. We try to learn from customers. We attend all the same old conferences, read the same trade journals. talk to the same people. Innovation becomes tough, Ideas become stale. It’s tough to generate Insight from all the same places. But as sales people we have a tremendous opportunity that our customers don’t have. We may sell to a very broad number of segments–market wise, geographically. What might be common place in one segment may be new and innovative in another. I often tell the story of hosting a meeting between leaders in the fashion industry (motorcycle — to make it even more extreme) and the semiconductor industry. It was one of the most interesting meetings I’ve ever been in. As they shared ideas, what was common place–in fact old to one, was new and innovative (when tweaked and adapted) to the other. Likewise, I see the same thing as I travel the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, business leaders are hungry to learn about the business practices of organizations in Europe or North America. Likewise in Asia, they want to learn from what other regions are doing. And when I speak to leaders in North America, they always ask, what are you seeing in Asia? What can we learn? So as sales people, we are in a unique position. We have the opportunity to work with customers in a variety of industries. Things that are common place in one may represent great Insights for another.

Yes, our product managers, marketing, and business strategy people should be developing Insights that we can leverage in teaching our customers. But it’s not that difficult for us to do it ourselves. All it takes is curiosity, business savvy, and a little creativity.

What are you doing to develop and deliver new Insights to your customers?

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