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There’s Insight, Then There’s INSIGHT!

by David Brock on April 4th, 2013

Our customers are starved for ideas and insight.  That’s why, the sales professional who calls offering insight is likely to be more welcomed than the sales person who just “shows up and throws up.”  But we all know this.

But there are hierarchies of insight, it’s critical to understand these and the impact in engaging the customer.

There are very general levels of insight, “We see these trends in business which may impact you.”

There are industry focused insights, “These are things happening in the XYZ segment which may present opportunities for you.”

There may be functional levels of insight, “Manufacturing/Engineering/Finance/HR/Sales/Marketing (pick one) executives are seeing these issues as critical to the performance of their organizations in the next 18 months.

They may be about their customers, “Your target customers are facing these issues, which present an opportunity for you to address.”

They may be a combination of insights, for example industry/segment and functional, “Sales executives in the XYZ segment are seeing these trends which impact their abilities to achieve……”

These insights can range from general to increasingly specific.  The very general may provoke the customer to respond, “ho-hum, tell me something new.”  The more specific, the more likely you will provoke interest and, hopefully, engage in further conversations.

But customers are pleading, “Talk to ME about MY business,”  “Tell ME about opportunities I (WE) are missing,”  “Tell ME how I (WE) can improve.”  “Help ME understand how WE can grow.”

Customers most value the INSIGHT that is personalized, specific,  and unique to them–their company, their function, them as individuals.

“I’ve studied your manufacturing operations and your scrap rate is at $X millions, growing at Y%.  We can show you how to reduce it by Z%, saving $A millions this fiscal year and $Z millions next year.”

Personalized, specific, unique–these insights immediately get virtually every executive to sit up and take notice, engaging you in specific discussions about their business.  But how do we generate these insights?

The answers are actually simpler than you might think.  If you really understand their business, their competitors, and their industries, there is a huge wealth of financial information and other data you can analyze–looking at trends in performance, their performance against competition, their performance against the markets.  This will start giving you more specific insight.

If you really understand the problems you solve–and how they may impact these financial and market indicators,  you can deduce a very specific impact that you might have.  For example, if you sell financial systems that impact DSO (if you have to ask what DSO is, you need to do your homework), and you know with other customers you have been able to reduce DSO by 10-12%, you can look at your prospect’s DSO and do a couple of quick financial calculations showing the specific financial impact you can have.  “We see DSO is becoming a bigger problem.  We can show you how to reduce DSO from X to Y, generating and improved cash flow of Z…….”  Now that’s INSIGHT!  It’s not just a teaching pitch, it’s specific and actionable.

I’m constantly amazed by the amount of very specific INSIGHT we can generate based on publically or easily obtainable information, knowing what key metrics we impact, and connecting the dots with a proforma impact statement.  It just takes a little sleuth work, as well as deep knowledge of key metrics and drivers you can impact.

I had the privilege of sitting with a team earlier this week who did just that.  They were preparing a prospecting call on a key executive.  They had done a deep analysis, just using some simple financial data from the customer’s 10K.  They had done a deep dive into some comparative industry data, and before they even talked to the customer they could identify specific areas they could impact and a projected savings improvement.

They conducted the call, I got to listen in.  They talked to the customer, “We’ve noticed some things in your business and we think you have an opportunity to save $27 million in the next 15 months.”  The customer responded, “That’s very interesting, how did you come up with that number?”  The customer was engaged–he wanted to talk, he wanted to learn!

The team walked him through the numbers, “This is how we arrived at $27 Million.  We saw this data in your financial reports.  We assumed your average labor rate was this ….  Is that a fair assumption?”  They engaged the customer in interacting and providing new information.

“Well, right now it’s actually trending about 3.5% higher than that–it’s a real problem….”  he responded.

The conversation went on, in some cases they had made some poor assumptions, in others they were pretty close.  At the end of the conversation, the team quickly re-ran their financial model saying “Based on the corrections you provided, we think the real savings opportunity is $23 million, not the original $27 million we estimated.”

All this in a 45 minute call.  What do you think the customer said?

They had a long way to go, but they had an interested and engaged customer who wanted to discover more.

There are other ways to get specific about the insights you might provide.  Wander around the customer, observe, listen, analyze things.  Ask questions of the people you can get access to.  Put this information into a compelling specific set of insights about the customer’s business.

Insight is important.  Customer want ideas, they want to learn and grow.  Any insight is better than done, but the real INSIGHT, that which is specific and unique to them is something that will absolutely engage them.  The funny thing, if you know where and how to look, it’s not that difficult to determine.

As you prepare for your next calls, are you providing insight or INSIGHT?

  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, I enjoyed reading this piece on insight.

    I particularly liked the way the case study team CONSTRUCTED the Value WITH the Customer.

    The 27M or 23M modified was LATENT Value within the business, just waiting on an Insight and a Sales-Customer Engagement for it to be Discovered and Developed.

    One tip I would offer after having worked with Insights for 16 months is be conservative, allow the Customer to ADD values!

    i.e. in this Case Study it may have been better to offer 18M as the starting point and let the Customer increase it to 23! Its then THEIR Value!

    And, dont rush it!
    Like all good things its best done without haste.

    Good Blog!

    • Brian, thanks for commenting. You are absolutely right, when you provide this specific insight, you want to err on the conservative side, enabling the customer to build from there. So that should be the underlying principle in building these models. Having said that, whatever analysis you have should be presented. Even if overestimated, couched in the terms of, “We made some assumptions, that may be wrong, and we would love to correct them…” Also, couched in the terms of “Best Estimates,” not absolutes. We’ve found customers very receptive and actually engaging in the first call to refine the estimates. These kickstart the conversation into high gear.

      In the end, as you emphasize, the customer has to OWN the final outcome, and you can’t rush it, you lose the customer!

      Thanks, as always, for the great additions to this post!

  2. Outstanding article, Dave. What you did was provide real INSIGHT to your readers by giving such a specific and compelling example.

  3. Dave, as mentioned by others, excellent post. As Brian noted, key to the Insight is the prospect/customer taking ownership. Clearly if they own the number you are also protecting your value when you get to the negotiating table. It’s much more difficult for the purchasing agent to “beat you up” for discount (i.e. commoditize you) if you are using the ROI they created!

    • Bill, it’s great to see you contributing here, particularly on this topic. DecisionLink is really a breakthrough tool for sales people to leverage in doing this type of analysis! As you mention, if the customer owns the number, it’s almost like they are negotiating against themselves when they are looking at buying! Outstanding point!

  4. David,

    Thanks for the post mate and agree with Jack that such stories really help hammer home the point you are making.

    Sadly, I see so many sales people charge into meetings without any real understanding of the clients business. This is a combination of both their own failings in understanding just home much the selling landscape has changed, but, also a failing of their managers who are often pressuring them daily about about numbers without really providing any thoughtful coaching or mentoring.

    Thanks again for sharing your own insights with the wider community.


    Nicholas Kontopoulos

    • Thanks Nicholas! Appreciate your help in evangelizing these issues! I think the cool accent make people listen more attentively to you;-)

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