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What Are You Helping Your Customers Discover?

by David Brock on April 5th, 2014

As he consistently does, Seth Godin has captured the crux of Insight based selling in a very simple post.  It’s really the issue of Search Versus Discovery.  This post is mandatory for any sales or marketing professional.

So much of what we have done in the past has been to support and simplify our customers’ abilities to Search–or Research.  That is to find the answers to questions they have.

The questions may be very complex, finding the answers may not be simple, understanding the answers may not be easy, applying them in a manner that produces the desired result may, also, be difficult.

Much of the value traditional marketing and selling has provided has been helping customers simplify and accelerate that process.  That is, helping customers find answers to difficult issues or questions they had already discovered.

In truth, much of the value we create is still in helping customers do this.  Finding the answers to improving manufacturing effectiveness, reducing design cycles of complex products, improving sales effectiveness and productivity, more effectively leveraging complex data analysis to better reach customers is not trivial.  Knowing where to search, understanding what the answers mean, understanding the implications for their own companies and translating those to the ability to implement and execute remains very tough!

Often, too, customers don’t know the right questions to ask.  After all they know what they know–not what they don’t know.  So we create great value through providing guidance to customers on the questions, the search/research they should be doing.

Likening this type of search to Amazon’s ability to suggest other books you might like, Spotify’s ability to suggest music doesn’t make sense.  In complex B2B problems, it’s not quite that easy.  We can still create huge value by helping customers with their search.

At least for now……

But things are changing.  We already know customers are leveraging search heavily.  Our own companies are investing in content and tools to help improve the visibility of our answers to their search.  Rich analytics, applied to their own operations help customers make discoveries about their own operations or their customers–things they never knew, things they never even imagined considering.

So sales and marketing strategies focused solely on facilitating our customers’ abilities to search/research will no longer be sufficient.

We have to change and move forward.  We have to add the capability to help our customers “Discover.”  This is the crux of Insight.  It’s helping our customers see something new, something they’ve never thought of before, they’ve never experienced.  Discovery is the simple act of learning something new.

Discovery is different than search/research.  Discovery isn’t driven by seeking answers to questions we already know.  Discovery, in fact creates new questions–questions we probably have never asked.  Things our customers have never considered.  It doesn’t have to be new or a breakthrough—it’s just new to the customer.  It may be very common in other sectors or industries, but if it’s something new to our customers, it has the potential of providing great value.

So as our customers enrich their ability to ask questions and search/research, we have to move forward, helping our customers with discovery.

This doesn’t mean helping our customers with search/research is no longer important, it is.  Discovery, properly done, provokes customers to ask questions.  “Why haven’t we seen that before?  What would be the impact if we did something different?  How do we take advantage of that opportunity?”  Discovery provokes search/research.  So we have to continue to support our customers through the full cycle of Discovery-Search-Research.

Before we can help our customers with discovery, we have to be open to discovery ourselves.  We have to move beyond being able to answer the questions to our customers’ search/research.  We have to open ourselves to thinking differently, to learning,  engaging our customers in learning with us.

What discoveries are you making about your customers and their businesses?

What are you doing to help your customer in the discovery process?

Are you prepared to go the full cycle of discovery, search/research?

Putting all aspects of this together is where we create the greatest Insights and Value for our customers.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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  1. Kezhao Xing permalink

    Absolutely true! Nowadays, the information is so much easier to get from the websites, and the method of only search to research is not good enough in the sales and marketing processes. I like the idea of the search to discovery. However, it would demand much higher levels of the knowledge and the quality of the sales and the marketing people. One should be the expert in the area first and show the customers that you are the one who could provide them the vision of the future. This is especially important for the business of a large amount of money involved.

    • Kezhao: You’ve hit the nail on the head! We have to become much more knowledgeable about our customers’ businesses and how they can improve them. We have to have the knowledge and skills to help our customers discover new things.

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