Action based on assumptions
Any time you prepare an idea or insight to bring to a customer, you are making assumptions. It doesn’t matter whether your insight is thoroughly researched and its validity fully tested — you are still preparing for the interaction with your customer by making assumptions about how relevant that insight might be to that customer at that time, whether they already thought of the issue themselves, whether that particular business issue is of greater importance than something else going on in their business and, ultimately, how they might react to what you share. Does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Of course not! Rather, you need to be highly skilled in when and how you position an insight, including validating your assumptions first to ensure relevance and engaging the customer in a collaborative discussion that fosters openness to new thinking.
Inability to maintain objectivity to deeply understand needs
Leveraging an insight to generate a need certainly doesn’t replace the critical steps of deeply understanding the customer’s unique situation and current perception of their needs and testing your own assumptions before jumping to pitch your insight and ideas. Solving real business issues requires critical thinking, and critical thinking requires the ability to challenge assumptions — both the customer’s and your own. Sellers who stay focused on their own current beliefs, without openness to altering their own perceptions based on clearer understanding of the customer’s unique situation, miss the opportunity to create value for the customer by accurately diagnosing the issues and creatively problem solving for them. The trap is very real for sellers to get so excited about their insight and the belief that it will truly help their customer that they can inadvertently get tunnel vision and forget to listen and ask great questions related to their insight and other needs. Imagine leaving other opportunities on the table because you were too focused on the one that you wanted to pitch.
Insight dumping — the new “feature dumping”
Do you remember the days of feature dumping? Sellers focused on pitching features and “telling” customers all about their spiffy products without much regard for the customer’s perspective. Can you see where we are going here with insight selling? History tends to repeat itself, and sellers must be careful not to “dump” their insight on customers. Instead, they must constantly be listening, gauging feedback, asking great questions, and navigating the interaction with a focus on the customer and on maintaining momentum. Keep in mind that we help customers to gain new insights through both the questions that we ask and the information, experiences, and ideas that we share. Our questions need to be informed and insightful. We need to maintain a give and take dialogue.
Emotional tone that undermines trust
A key risk in leveraging an insight selling approach is that the seller can easily come across as arrogant, manipulating, or self-serving if they aren’t aware of and skilled in the way that they communicate. A key challenge in expanding a customer’s thinking is that the customer may be closed-minded and not very open to thinking differently. The seller’s ability to establish and maintain an environment of openness, collaboration, and mutual respect is central to navigating the dialogue effectively. The seller has to continually build credibility and earn the right to the customer’s time and attention in the dialogue. So, how do they do that?
It is a combination of things that we do — and frankly, things that we don’t do — that help us to manage the emotional tone of the meeting. The ability to manage the emotional tone begins first and foremost with self-awareness. We have to have self-awareness around the impact of our action on the customer — how we phrase a question or statement can elicit a more positive or negative emotional response from the customer.
We have to be able to anticipate, look for, and accurately read the customer’s reactions so that we can be sensitive to the potential emotional response in preparing for the dialogue and in navigating the dialogue in the moment.
We also must remember that while we are reading the customer’s reactions, they are also reading us and making assumptions about our intent. Any behavior that evokes a feeling within the customer that we are being self-serving and trying to control, manipulate, or push our viewpoint will immediately trigger a negative emotional reaction. Sometimes, they let this visibly show, and other times, they try to mask their true feelings. We’re at a disadvantage because our role is to “sell,” and the customer knows it. From a self-awareness standpoint, we have to be ultra-sensitive to this dynamic. Customers are very savvy about being “sold to” and have little tolerance for it today. Our behaviors have to clearly show our openness and collaboration, without necessarily agreeing with the customer.