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Dear Occupant, I’ve Got Insight!

by David Brock on February 7th, 2013

Insight is a key differentiators in the value we create for our customers, throughout their buying process.  The insights we provide, the ability to help the customer think about their businesses differently is critical both to their and our success.  Driving different conversations moving into co-creation changes everything about buying, selling, our value and our relationships with our customers.

So I’m troubled by the notion of the Insight or Teaching Pitch.  It somehow seems like a “Dear occupant or current resident, I’ve got ideas about your business.”

Maybe I’m confused about Insight. Ideas are ideas–probably actually commodities, though our egos may prevent us from seeing this.  I may be interested in talking about ideas, but most of all I’m concerned about what they mean to me.

Ideas open the conversation.  But if a sales person came to me offering Insight, I would expect it to be specific to me, my business, what I want to achieve.

For someone to provide me insight, they have to understand me.  They have to understand my dreams, my goals, and vision.  They also have to understand what keeps me from achieving these–they may be real constraints in my business, they maybe mistakes or errors I’ve made, they may be choices or decisions I’ve made.

So insight is not just about ideas.  A good starting point may be the idea producing a reaction, “I’ve never thought of that before.” But without the connection of what it means to me specifically, it’s just interesting information—thank you for sharing.

So to provide insight, we have to invest not only in teaching, but also in learning.  Learning in very specific and targeted ways.  We have to understand our “customers.”  Understanding their markets, industries, competitors is just the start.

But we have to understand our customers–the organizations.  Not just the strategies, their financials, their recent announcements—though that’s all mandatory.  We have to understand how they work, not how they say they work.  We have to wander around.  We have to observe, we have to ask lots of questions, we have to analyze, we have to discover opportunities for them.

But we have to understand our customers–the people.  We have to engage our customers as individuals and people.  We have to understand their dreams, goals, aspirations.  We have to understand their blind spots, strengths and weaknesses.  We have to understand their capabilities.  We have to build a relationship.

Then we have to understand how we can help–not just conceptually, but specifically.  How do we translate our ideas, our insights into specific outcomes for our customers–the organizations and individuals.   How do we help the organizations?  How do we help each person engaged?  How do we help them change?  How do we help them achieve results?  How do we help them be successful?

So it seems Insight is not an event.  It can’t be a pitch.  It has to be a process, the way we engage our customers in conversations about their future and helping them achieve it.

To deliver Insight, we have to invest.  We have to do our homework.  We have to simultaneously teach and learn.  We have to both engage and be engaged, being a key part of the conversation, co-creating a path to the outcomes the customer wants to achieve.  Otherwise it’s just talk.

  1. John Graff permalink

    It seems like you are splitting hairs with the definition of Insight. Out of the dictionary, Insight is “the ability to perceive clearly or deeply.” Clearly we want our sales people to get insight into our customers as you describe, and through that insight they are in a better position to anticipate challenges or opportunities the customer may face. That in turn gives them an opportunity to share ideas and/or “teach” the customer new or alternative ways of addressing those challenges or opportunities. Like your conclusion says Insight does take homework. Without it a “teaching pitch” or any pitch is going to come across as just another product/feature pitch.

    • John: It’s a very fair comment, I could be splitting hairs with the concept. So much of what you’ve outlined here really resonates with me, but I think is overlooked in engaging customers with insight:

      1. You imply that we can get insight from our customers–which in turn enables us to share insights they may be unaware of.
      2. The definition, requires great capability on the part of the sales person in listening, understanding, probing and engaging the customer (“perceive clearly or deeply.”) This is overlooked in so much of the discussion about insight.
      3. 1-2 really talk to engaging the customer in a conversation about their business–a back and forth where they outcome is ideas that are better than either could have come up with individually. What is missed so often is this conversation and the power it has in getting the customer to own the change.
      4. So much of what is written about “insight” focuses on the teaching pitch. As you discuss, the “teaching pitch” is just another form of “pitch.” It’s one way, does not drive engagement from the customer. Customers have complained that sales doesn’t listen, they have their own agenda, etc. The teaching pitch can be the new version of this. Or properly executed, it can initiate a conversation. But insight based conversations can be conducted without the pitch, but can be about observations, or questions.

      My intent in the post was to widen the view of how we create and provide insight–both in approaches, as well as not just at the initiation of a buying cycle, but throughout the buying cycle.

      By the way, it’s been many lifetimes since I’ve been “involved” with National Instruments, but my experience of your organization dating back to the late 80’s and early 90’s is they created insights about measurements that were very valuable and engaged the customer in very powerful conversations. I use that experience of NI as an example in many of my speeches or stories I tell people. The buying experience at that time was remarkable and stood head and shoulders above others in the industry — which in some cases was my organization;-)

      Thanks for helping clarify the issues. I really appreciate you joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  2. This is a great conversation.

    And I think that is a key word…conversation. Clearly as sales professionals, it is our job to make a pitch. But frankly, it is a bit arrogant to think we are going to “teach” our prospects in a 1-way dialogue.

    To be effective, no doubt our pitches need to be provocative. But they should be about provoking engagement and 2-way dialogue. The prospect can learn from us, and we better learn from them.

    In spite of our supposed focus on customer alignment, survey after survey of B2B buyers say they feel the vast majority of sales reps are pitching their products with little or no real connection or customer empathy. 70-80%. Doesn’t speak well for our alignment efforts. The path to alignment is insight, and the path to insight is a 2-way dialogue…in my opinion.

    • Jim, thanks for joining the discussion. I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s nothing wrong with the teaching pitch, as long as we view it as the first step of a conversation or dialog. Seldom do any of us have the complete best answers, but working together we can achieve this.

      Thanks for the great comment! Regards, Dave

  3. Brian MacIver permalink

    “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few (Salespeople) engage in it.”

    Henry Ford

    And, that is why Sales ‘insights’ are so challenging!

    You have to think about your client, their business,
    their Value Generating process, and then develop an insight.

    There is a ‘litmus test’ for Sales “insights”:
    “If the Client agrees, then it is NOT an insight!”

    Your Challenge should provoke a disagreement,
    which you can demonstrate with evidence is your insight.

    Great Blog, Dave.

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