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Insight Selling: Essential Skills for Shaping and Creating Sales Opportunities

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Opportunities to grow your business with a major account come in three different modes: Respond, Shape, and Create.


When you respond to an opportunity, the customer has already identified the issue, the solution, and the expected outcomes. Now, a provider is sought. This is the most reactive style of account development. The scope and budget are usually already set. Pressures on both price and competition are often high. By no means should you ignore such opportunities. Flexibility is a key element of business. You have to be able to respond as well as initiate. But, responding is not the best way to develop and grow a business relationship.


High-performing sales professionals tend to focus more on shaping opportunities. This is where you help the customer in defining the issue, the most likely outcomes, and even possible unintended consequences. This is a much more proactive style of account management — one where you may be able to preempt the competition. And even though some opportunities might initially appear to be “respond” situations, if you have a different opinion or broader view, you might be able to shape a respond opportunity in new ways.


The third selling mode is the most ambitious and creative. Here you create an opportunity. You bring forward insights to challenging issues that are not even on the customer’s radar but will likely have an impact sometime soon. This is the most proactive style of account development, and it is the most difficult because you are teaching the customer something new and are creating both the need and an opportunity. This allows you to become actively involved in defining the scope and budget. You may even be able to shut out the competition and forestall or lessen price pressure.

So, how do you identify or create opportunities from insights?

  • Tie the insight to a challenging issue. Where do you find those issues? Marketing should provide you with a list of issues that your client's industry is facing — or, do the research yourself. Then, you select the challenging issues that will resonate the most with your client.
  • When positioning the risk of the typical approach, choosing your success stories, or describing the impact that your company can have on the issue, use numbers to grab the client's attention and enhance credibility.
  • Asking questions to understand the client's situation, goals, objectives, initiatives, success factors, and thoughts is important. However, when it comes to positioning insights, you need to communicate a point of view. Clients need and expect you to have a perspective. This is what elevates you to a Trusted Advisor position. Your point of view should be concise, easy to understand, and defensible.
  • Presenting both sides of the issue shows that you've given thought on all aspects of the issue upon which you've based your point of view and conclusions.
  • The risks you are highlighting are linked to a current approach, which the client may be taking. Don't exaggerate these risks, and if possible, quantify the negative consequences.
  • Word choice is so important, as the client may be feeling pain or resistance around a particular issue. Avoid directive language, such as, "You should ..." and instead, make suggestions with phrases, such as, "Imagine if ..." and "You have several options. For instance ..."
Clients do not usually just come up with great ideas all by themselves. They rely on others for ideas. Those that consistently provide good ideas establish credibility over time and become a part of their inner circle. They have the opportunity to develop into a Trusted Advisor. It is important to understand that an idea does not always need to be fully developed. Instead, providing an idea or point of view provides a starting point from which a discourse begins and a collaborative discussion can take place. It is through this collaborative process that clients can refine their thinking, establish their own point of view, and determine their course of action.

When you don't present a point of view, what are the risks to your personal brand? Proactively sharing a point of view is perceived as valuable by a client. The opposite is also true. When you consistently don't present a point of view, you risk the perceived value of your brand being diminished. This limits your ability to elevate your relationship into being a Trusted Advisor, and over time, you risk becoming irrelevant to your client. This opens the door for competitors to fill the void, and if they are able to consistently provide insight and ideas, they will ultimately win the business, and you will be replaced.

Selling modes are important because they affect where you enter the customer’s buying cycle. The earlier you enter the buying cycle, the better.

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