Not long ago, sales representatives were the sole keepers of valuable market information. However, today’s savvy buyers have learned to easily gather their own information, putting them in the position of dictating their needs to potential vendors.
Many vendors have been forced into a commodity-like atmosphere, having to prove that their features and benefits exceed those of their competitors. Sellers have struggled for “competitive parity” of features and benefits, resulting in lower growth, lower prices and increased pressure on sales leaders.
To differentiate themselves, sales leaders turned to a broader solution focus that incorporated a strong offerings and services portfolio. While valuable, it added complexity for buyers who do not have the bandwidth, making it more difficult to make important decisions.
Unfortunately, as business complexity grows, focusing only on how features and benefits provide standard solutions still will not solve what customers are really looking for: a trusted provider with deep insights about their complex issues.
The shift from selling on features and benefits to becoming a trusted advisor is an enormous leap for many sales organizations. Achieving the role of “trusted advisor” transforms the sales rep from being product-focused to helping customers sort through complexity to achieve desired outcomes.
The ability of the sales force to generate and communicate meaningful insights has become one of today’s key sales leadership competencies.
Insights may address the customer’s industry, business model, productivity, competitors or future. These insights must be valuable to customers and somehow link to your company’s offerings.
The new advisory role requires higher-value dialog with senior buyers, understanding of complex issues by Sales, capturing insights and developing unique solutions that eventually form the basis of a trusted relationship. When done effectively, insight-led selling can lead to sustained share and margin gains. When done ineffectively, it becomes costly, disruptive and can potentially harm the valuable customer relationship. Getting it right requires coordinating efforts from across your organization.
Ultimately, insight-led selling changes your sales proposition from purely product-focused to customer problem-focused. Adding value is at the core of insight-led selling, as we have seen on hundreds of consulting projects with Global 2,000 companies. The two key challenges that sales leaders must address:
Addressing these challenges helps companies not only create a trusted advisor relationship but grow profitability and ensure customer retention during times of great change.
A sustainable insight development process requires collaboration across several roles and functions, including:
As a group, these roles help to define customers’ core challenges, potential offerings or service solutions, incorporate data analysis insights for target markets, strategy adoption, training and planning. These roles also contribute to instilling a customer-first attitude and coordinating decision-making. Training and enablement tools are also a core piece to ensure the entire sales organization fully aligns under the umbrella of “trusted advisor.”
The insight-led sales process requires not only skills but coordinated processes across the organization including sales, marketing, training and analytics. There are eight key processes to address:
1. The Sales Process: A systematic process is required to harvest insights from sales representatives and to equip other sellers with important information. Being at the heart of the sales dialog, sellers are a key source of customer insights and feedback. However, their insights tend to be improvisational, anecdotal, highly personalized and customer specific. Unfortunately, when a seller has a great insight, it is often not shared due to internal competition. Additionally, once insights are harvested, they tend to aim too low in the customer organization (where they are comfortable), thus wasting insights on non-decision makers. Sales representatives’ insights need to be gathered and shared across all levels of the Sales organization to make an impact on the customer.
2. Marketing Analytics: Marketing analytics is an increasingly common sub-group in the Marketing organization tasked with conducting research on customer needs. However, because their focus is often on product development, pricing or ranking vendors (on price, service or offering), they don’t typically identify breakthrough sales insights, and are unable to consolidate sellers’ ideas as part of a guided selling process (i.e., sales playbooks). Including marketing analytics in the insight-led process can lead to critical revelations.
3. Sales Training: Training leaders typically see the need for insights to optimize sales effectiveness but lack the resources and expertise to develop formal training programs. With increasing pressure for a clear training ROI, they are acutely aware of the danger of “spinning,” “advantaging,” or “challenging” customers without the compelling insights to back it up, resulting in the worst-case scenario: an argumentative seller who does not close. Sales training that spreads the value of customer insights helps disseminate key information and train all sales personnel.
4. Customer Data Mining: Vendors increasingly have data on how customers use their products, often coming from their customer service team or cloud applications. However, sales insights only emerge if someone with a strategic perspective systematically reviews the data to identify common challenges, usage gaps and best practices. Looking beyond traditional sales optimization ideas, this process needs to find breakthrough insights to capture the attention of senior buyers.
5. Account Planning: An effective account planning process forces sales reps to analyze customers more deeply, often yielding valuable insights that can be systematically extracted and shared. However, the real insight payoff comes from joint planning with customers, particularly when senior buyers participate, and sellers follow up by disseminating that information across the sales organization.
6. Win/Loss Analysis: Win/loss analysis provides great insights by getting to the root of key issues and should be a standard practice. Challenges include repeating insights that competitors may already use, sorting through multiple perspectives, focusing on buyer perspectives, identifying true strategic insights, and eliminating pricing, product or company platitudes.
7. Vertical Marketing: Large marketing groups often include experts focused on developing collateral for specific industries. These materials often contain some key insights for sales, but typically are focused on a generic industry-wide level. Too often these experts are also product-focused and out of touch with sales realities. Creating collateral that encompasses customer-revelations supports sales representative and company-wide goals.
8. Value Realization: This is an increasingly common function, designed to ensure customers get full value from their purchase so products do not become “shelf ware” and get displaced. This role is an excellent source of insights as it combines elements of on-going impact analysis, training, evangelical selling, account management and best practice dissemination.
Best-practice companies use an “insight gardener” approach to:
This approach helps sales leaders capture ideas, put them into action and refine their methods over time.
These “Insight Gardener” groups are often located in Marketing, with regular input from Sales. They have strong leadership over their charter, including sales personnel who have the capacity to focus on generating new and fresh insights ─ a truly full-time effort.
The result of this focused attention is management of insight development with the inputs, processes, steps, quality control and constant user readjustment based on user feedback. This approach is commonly found in other areas of the vendor organization that when streamlined can result in a truly knowledgeable, insight-driven customer advisor.
Insight-driven selling has never been more important. As companies realign their organizations to become more customer-driven, insight-led selling is a proven way to enhance client relationships for the long term while growing revenue. For more information, contact us to speak with a practice leader.