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Oct 10 18

What Does “Insight” Mean In 2019 And Beyond?

by David Brock

The concept of providing our customers rich insight has become “standard” for complex B2B selling for at least the last 7 years.  Some of us have been doing that all our careers-without knowing that we are providing insight.

There are lots of definitions around what insight is, but most of them tend to be around concepts of “commercial insights.”  These are generally stories and data around things happening in our customer’s industries and markets that may impact them.

For example, improvements their competitors may be seeing through implementation of a solution or new approach to their businesses.  They may be shifts in competition or markets that may be threats or opportunities to our customers.

They may be more closely focused on our customers’ businesses–problems they are having, opportunities they may take advantage of, and so forth.

Generally, these insights focus on catching the customers’ attentions, helping them identify opportunities to change or improve, and helping incite them to change.  They focus on the business and potential outcomes.

Ideally, a commercial insight provokes the customer into saying, “I cannot afford not to change, my current state is unacceptable.”

But these commercial insights are no longer sufficient to help our customers move forward, and, presumably , do business with us.

Increasingly, I think we need to adopt a much broader view of insights.  We can no longer focus on just commercial insights, business outcomes and results.  We must expand our concept of insight to “buying insights.”

Research from Gartner and others show customer struggle to buy.  53%, or more, of buying initiatives end in “No Decision Made.”  Buyers struggle internally, aligning more people in the buying process, starting stopping, going back to the beginning, struggling.

The buying journey is no longer linear, if it ever has been.  It’s squishy and chaotic–consider the diagram below this post.

Buying insights become critical to helping the buyers navigate this through this chaos.  They help buyers make sense of what they are doing, how to move forward and what they want to achieve.

Without this help, the buyers will never get to the end–they will never achieve the outcomes our commercial insights had projected.

If we and our customers are to be successful, we and they must look at insight much more broadly.  We must master commercial insight, inciting them to change, but most importantly, we must master buying insights–enabling them to effectively, efficiently, and successfully navigate their buying process.


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Oct 8 18

Our Customers’ Stories

by David Brock

Storytelling is important.  None of us live in a world of data and logic, as much as we might pretend that we do.  Stories are important.

Stories provide contexts to teach our customers and help them learn.  They provide a basis for helping our customers understand how we might help them.  They help customer learn through understanding the stories of people and organizations who have faced similar issues.  Stories engage our customers hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, when we think of stories, too often, we think of our stories or those we want to tell.

But our customers have their own stories—stories relevant to their own companies, organizations, and functions.  These provide the frameworks that provide them meaning in their jobs.  Stories that are personal, these provide the context of who they are.  Inevitably, these stories are tightly intertwined.

Stories provide the framework and rationale to how we live, what we believe, what we value, how we dream, what we want to achieve.  They shape who we are–as individuals and as people working in organizations.

We focus so much on the stories we want to tell, too often we forget to understand our customers’ stories.

But that’s probably most important, until we can understand our customer stories, we have difficulty positioning ours.  Until we understand their stories, we don’t know how to help our customers expand their stories to include ours.

Storytelling is important.

Imagine if we took the time to let our customers tell us theirs.


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Oct 8 18

The Challenged Customer

by David Brock

Our customers (and us) live in worlds characterized by information overload, rapidly changing circumstances, increasing demands, rising management expectations, scarcer resources, increasing scale, disruption, distraction, and complexity.  It’s impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed, unbalanced,  and distracted.

Getting things done, getting the support and resources to move forward is increasingly difficult.  They must coordinate efforts across more people, they must get approvals and engage more people across the organization–sometimes extending outside the organization to partners, suppliers, customers.

Increasingly, their days are driven by interruptions, they are always on–responding to emails or on calls 7/24.  Risk, uncertainty, shifting priorities are the norm.

They are no longer capable of being able to understand and manage all the things they need to understand to get things done within the organization–at all levels.

It would be an understatement to suggest both they and we are now living in the time of the “Challenged Customer.”

It’s important to think how human beings, facing these challenges deal with them.

For many, it’s natural to ignore them, to avoid them, to try to refute them.  Some find ways of insulating themselves, perhaps pretending they don’t exist.  These become protective mechanisms, things people do to deal with things that become too difficult/complex to understand.

For some, the only way to deal with these issues is to downsize them.  Rather than addressing the core issues, they address small parts of them.  Doing what they can, what they understand, what is within their abilities to do.

Others try to look for models of similar situations.  Either things they have experienced before (though that experience may no longer be relevant or appropriate), or how others are dealing with similar issues.

Whatever the approach, people struggle with making sense of the circumstances they face.

And here, I think, is the opportunity for sales people to help these people deal with overwhelm and complexity.

The opportunity is to help customers make sense of what they face, to help make sense of what they’d like to do, and to make sense about how to achieve it.  We have the opportunity to help customers how things fit together, to look at what’s important/not important/pure distraction.  To help them sort through the overwhelming amount of information, to help them sort through the disparate views, and navigate to a solution or course of action.

The challenge for sales people, is many of our current methods, processes, approaches prevent us from doing these things.  We think the buying process is structured, disciplined, rational.  We think, at some point, people of determined their goals, objectives, and prioritized their needs and requirements.  We think people know, at least broadly, what they are looking for in a solution.  We tend to think we make it easier for customers by simply providing more relevant information.

But the Challenged Customer isn’t there and is unlikely to get there without a lot of help.


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Oct 4 18

There Is No “Playbook” For Buying!

by David Brock

Playbooks are big.  There are lots of tools and never ending content around playbooks for marketing and sales.  Inevitably, these playbooks are intended to guide us through our marketing and sales processes–providing us relevant questions and content to move the customer through their buying process.

Every playbook I’ve seen is very linear in its approach–start at the beginning of the customer buying process, then go sequentially

Classically, we have always thought of buying as a linear process:  Define a problem or opportunity to be addressed, identify needs/, goals, assess alternatives to meeting those needs/goals, make a decision, implement.  We map critical buying activities, informational needs, decisions, exit criteria for each stage of the buying process.  All to help provide the customer a roadmap through this linear process.

This is done in the spirit of being helpful, and facilitating the in an orderly, effective, and efficient navigation through this process.

We align our own marketing and sales activities to this buying process with the intent of creating value for customers as they navigate the process and to maximize our ability to influence their decisions about the solutions they choose.  We optimize our own organizations around this model–creating awareness, driving demand, creating MQLs which, hopefully, SDRs convert to SALs passing them on to AEs to qualify, discover, propose, and close.

We develop playbooks and battlecards to help us navigate this buying and selling process.  We provide roadmaps as some form of “customer playbook” to help them navigate their process, addressing the issues we think they should address.

All vert logical, straightforward, and focused on helping customers, marketing, sales converge on a decision in very predictable ways.

But is that really how buyers buy?

The more we understand the buying journey, the more we understand it isn’t that logical flow.  Some years ago, Hank Barnes describe it a “Squishy,” (I still think that’s an apt description).  More current Gartner research shows it as chaotic.

Each situation is different.

It proceeds in stops and starts.

It circles back on itself.

Players change.

Priorities and requirements change.

It may be budgeted, or it may also be an budgeted initiative.

Goals/objectives change.

It starts and stops….

Through the process, customers are seeking information, not only about products, but what others have done, how others have approached similar problems, trends/issues, events that impact what they are trying to do.

There is no “single source” of information they rely on, they leverage multiple information channels simultaneously–web sites, sales people, experts, peers, and others.

In the end, the majority of buying processes end in no decision made–less because the customer can’t select a solution, more because they can’t align themselves around a work plan or navigate the buying process.

And then it may start again–perhaps a few months or a few years later.

As one reflects on this “journey,” some key ideas come to mind.

Our marketing/sales playbooks focus on what we’d like to see happen, but aren’t aligned with what really is happening.

Our selling processes tend to assume a linear buying flow, so our selling processes need to be tuned to reflect the chaotic flow of the buying journey.

More importantly, this chaotic flow is not what the customer wants to happen, it’s more a reflection of the internal complexities and dynamics that exist within the customer’s own organization.

This presents us a huge opportunity.  How can we help the customer reduce the complexity, simplifying what they are trying to achieve?  How do we help them simplify and navigate this process more successfully?  What can we do to help them succeed–because if they don’t succeed, we never will.

This requires us to develop new skills and capabilities.  Critical thinking/problem solving skills–to understand and help the customer make sense of what’s happening and how to proceed.  Project management, facilitation skills to help the customer navigate the complexity of their organizations and their “process.”  Curiosity to understand what’s happening and why, to understand the issues that serve as roadblocks to the customer’s ability to make progress.  Agility/nimbleness/flexibility–to be able to adapt to where the customer is, without being constrained by our own views of the process.

There is not playbook for buying, consequently, we must rethink our own playbooks, if we are to help our customers succeed.


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