The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has a famous line, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink….” There’s another saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink….”
I’m reminded of variants of these sayings as I see the glut of tools/techniques leveraging the latest generation of AI and generative language tools. All provide us more information, “insight,” and capability with which to engage our customers. Top performers are already using these tools with tremendous advantage, and they always have because that’s what top performers have always done.
I suspect, what we will see, in the coming years, is a continued glut of tools and “expert” advice on leveraging these tools, but very little intelligent or meaningful uptake of them.
“What’s the basis for that judgement, Dave?”
All we have to do is look into history, we’ve provided tool after tool. We brag about technology stacks, “Mine is bigger than yours!” But what results do we see? How are people using these tools? How are they leveraging them to differentiate their engagement strategies?
CRM compliance is a major issue with every organization I work with! And we are in at least the fourth generation of CRM tools. Sellers aren’t using them, or they use them minimally to keep managers off their backs. But CRM has been a powerful tool that drives sales productivity and performance.
We’ve had all sorts of tools providing deep customer insights, research, knowledge. We have tools that help us understand individuals (e.g. LinkedIn). We have tools that enable us to deeply personalize content. We have tools that give us insights on conversations we have, providing recommendations about how to improve our conversational and engagement methods.
These tools have freed up sellers from having to do the “tedious” research to get the data. These tools have freed up time, theoretically allowing sellers to spend more time leveraging the information to work with customers.
And AI promises to extend that capability even more, enabling use to enrich how we use that information in more impactful ways.
One would think customers would revel in the knowledge that sellers might be able to engage them in more meaningful and relevant ways, providing deep insights to help customers improve their ability to drive their own performance and grow their own businesses.
Yet with all but the top performers, we’ve seen these fail–consistently, and dramatically.
Sales performance continues to plummet. Win rates plummet. Sales cycles are extending. Attrition and turnover are skyrocketing.
Customers are increasingly choosing rep free buying experiences, struggling with making their buying decisions, and failing a majority of the time.
One would surmise that the availability of more and better quality information isn’t the problem! We’ve been giving sellers more and better information and easier ways of obtaining/leveraging that information. But it isn’t producing the results—except with the highest performers.
What is the problem?
At the base level, sellers don’t know how to use the information, except to parrot what they have been told, or to take a script ChatGPT may have generated. It’s like everything we’ve seen in the past 2+ decades. As much as we provide tools, training, data, information; as easy as we make it for sellers to get it; they don’t use it or use it poorly.
But, we must go deeper.
We haven’t recognized the difference between information, knowledge, insight and wisdom. Sellers, like customers don’t lack information, they struggle with what’s most meaningful and useful, not only for themselves in preparing to work with a customer and in helping the customer sort through and make sense of the information that’s available. We don’t train sellers on Business Acumen, we don’t develop their understanding of how businesses work. Too often, the meaning and relevance of that information is lost on them, they can’t apply it in meaningful and differentiated ways. Too many struggle with the simplest questions from customers about “what does it mean for us?” While they can cite the information they don’t have the knowledge to apply it in meaningful or relevant ways.
And, most of that information is available to everyone, so how do we differentiate ourselves from everyone else, if we a dealing with the same information?
Sorting through the information, focusing on that which is most meaningful and impactful requires deeper knowledge. What are the issues the customers are facing? What are the issues their markets/industry face? What are the alternatives and what do they mean to the customer. While AI can provide some help on this, it’s currently very limited. This is where Business Acumen comes in. It’s the ability to translate the information to that which is most important for the business.
It is possible to be differentiated here, perhaps not so much in translating the information into what it might mean to the customer, but more from the inability or unwillingness of competitors to take this simple step.
Insight takes the application of this knowledge a step further. It looks at the specific application of that knowledge to the customer and it’s potential impact to them. (This is a little different than the Challenger take on this–but just a slight variation). Helping the customer understand the cost of inaction, the risks, the specific issues they will face in making a change. Insight, in this sense, becomes specific to a customer, to individuals within the customer and their specific strategies, issues, and challenges. It is dynamic, it may change from person to person within the customer. It certainly changes from customer to customer–even those in the same industry. It is deeply situational and is the result of collaborative conversations. AI is very far from this. Working with the customer, we develop insight in the moment.
And wisdom, bridges the human connection to these changes. It’s learning about how each person feels about what they face, about the challenges, and what it means to them. It’s the ability to be empathetic, to create meaning for each person involved. And at the base of every decision, it’s about the human factor–regardless how we might justify the decisions with data, we first make the decisions based on how we feel about the decision.
Information isn’t the issue. Knowledge isn’t the issue. These are table stakes. But to have impact we must leverage insight and wisdom.
All this hype about information and the tools to put information, effortlessly, on the tips of each seller’s tongue completely miss the point. And until we recognize this, we will continue to spend more money for fewer results