The Challenge: Just as gravity pulls objects down to earth, market forces draw companies toward a state of “competitive parity” in which customers can choose from among several similar vendors for similar products. This parity is aggravated by the ability of customers to use easily accessible information to dictate what they want, thus putting vendors further on the defensive. The result is lower growth and lower prices, and increased pressure on sales leaders.
To differentiate themselves from competitors, leaders often focus on a stronger product/service portfolio and broader solution focus. While a broader set of offerings and a solution-selling approach is beneficial, it also tends to introduce more complexity than customers can handle. As a result, management strives to adopt a “trusted advisor” approach where the sales rep’s role shifts toward helping customers sort through complexity and achieve desired outcomes.
This is a worthy and yet difficult form of sales transformation. First, it requires a higher-value dialog with senior buyers – a dialog that Sales earns by sharing valuable “insights.” Second, while “insight-led” selling can lead to sustained share and margin gains, it can also be costly and disruptive when done poorly.
The Solution: We believe 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. They must be valuable to customers and somehow link to your company offerings. This sales motion, which we are calling insight-led selling, can change your positioning with the customer from a vendor pushing product to a partner that adds value. Without it, the sales force remains trapped in the shrinking “features/benefits” loop.
Based on hundreds of consulting projects with Global 2000 companies, The Alexander Group has identified two key challenges leaders must address to effectively conduct insight-led selling:
This article is focused on the first challenge. A subsequent article will address the second challenge. To begin we must consider the various resources or “players” involved in an insight-led selling motion.
The Players: A sustainable Insight development process is a collaboration challenge across several roles and functions, including:
Moreover, it requires coordinated Insight-sourcing across the following processes:
Conclusion: Overall, the best practice companies that we consult with have assigned on-going accountability for insight development to groups that act like cross-functional “gardeners,” systematically nurturing the insight sources, pruning back the operational perspective to find breakthrough insights, and helping new insights bud from old ones. These groups also work hard to systematize the process for harvesting and disseminating insights to the sales force. They also manage them on an on-going basis, calibrating them by seeing them in action, and refining them over time.
So far, these types of effective “Insight Gardener” groups most often sit in Marketing, but typically also have some regular participants from Sales and Product groups as well. More important than where they report is that they have a strong leadership charter, highly-capable personnel who understand Sales, and sufficient capacity to stay focused on generating new and fresh insights. This is not a part-time job! Indeed, the best practice companies we have seen manage insight development as a continually running business process, with inputs, processing steps, quality control, outputs, and constant readjustment based on user feedback.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of the operational elements needed to drive Insight-Led Selling on an on-going basis.
For more information on this topic, please visit the Alexander Group. Look for more insight (pun intended) in the next article in this series – how leaders address the second key management challenge to effectively conduct insight-led selling – maximizing the impact of insights in the sales process.