Insight is all about having a point of view, but too often I see sales people who don’t have one or who are afraid to express it to the customer. Having an opinion or point of view is the starting point for maximizing your value creation for customers — and your own personal sales success.
So often, when I speak with executives, managers, and sales people about the importance of an opinion or a point of view, there is real fear. “What if I’m wrong?” “What if the customer disagrees?” “What if they don’t care?” They’re worried about looking bad to the customer.
But they’re missing the point, what we are trying to do is engage the customer in a conversation about their business. We are trying to teach the customer, to learn from them and to help them learn. We’re trying to help them think about change.
So how might the customer respond to your point of view?
“That’s interesting, I’d never thought about that before. Tell me more?”
“We’ve looked at that, we really see things differently……”
“We just don’t see that as an issue for our organization…..”
“We really don’t care about that, we think there are more important issues…”
“We’ve already addressed that and this is how…..”
Each of these responses is the start of a conversation. Each demands a follow-up. Each provides the opportunity to engage a customer in a discussion about the issues most important to them in growing and improving their businesses.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a CEO of a key prospect of mine. I knew a lot about their industry, their customers, their competitors, and the key drivers for success. I’d studied their performance and strategies through a lot of public material–annual reports, 10-K’s, press releases, analyst reports, and so forth. In my meeting, I opened with, “In looking at your strategies and recent performance, I see a real exposure in this area…… This could have a real adverse impact on your performance over the next several years.”
Her response, “We’ve already recognized that and are addressing it…. We really don’t consider it an issue….”
For a moment I was floored, what do I do? I’d done a lot of work, identified what I thought was a critical issue, and had presented it. I’d intended to “teach” her about the exposure I’d identified and alternatives for eliminating the exposure. But she didn’t agree with my point of view. What was I to do?
There actually were a number of things I could have done in following up. I could have probed to understand what they were doing. That discussion might have opened some new opportunities and directions.
She actually preempted me. She said, “I really like your thinking though. There is no way you could have known that we had discovered that exposure and developed a strategy to address it. But it shows you really understand our business and markets. There is something that troubles me about our future directions….. It’s this…… What are your thought about this…..?”
While we had been scheduled for a 30 minute meeting, the discussion continued for 90 minutes, followed by more meetings and a very large consulting assignment.
I’d had a point of view, I’d expressed it. It turned out she didn’t care–it had been handled. But the point of view established credibility and opened a conversation.
Insight is critical, it’s about having a point of view or an opinion. It’ about being knowledgeable enough to express the insight, to defend it, to be comfortable in going deep with the customer.
In short, a point of view or an opinion is the start of a conversation—and isn’t that our objective? Aren’t we really trying to engage the customer in talking about their businesses, their dreams, and new opportunities? Whether they agree or disagree with our point of view, is really irrelevant. Starting the conversation, engaging the customer in talking about their future is what we are trying to do.
But having a point of view is just the starting point. We have to be prepared to go deep with the customer. We have to have enough knowledge to conduct the conversation–to question and probe the customer’s point of view, to defend ours. We have to have the ability to engage the customer in a process of discovery–and through this, to guide them to wanting to do something about the issue and being interested in hearing how we can help.
Insight is more than a teaching pitch, it’s about being knowledgeable and confident enough to have a point of view and to engage the customer in a discussion about that point of view.
Are you preparing yourself to do this?
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