While the impact of this is felt differently and more deeply in some industries and verticals than others (context and nuance always matter), the need for most selling organisations to evolve is clear.
We get it, too, and designed our Selling with Insights® program to help clients make this shift. Unless you want to get caught at the end of the buying process in a fiercely competitive battle for the business, where buyers have pre-decided solution options (fraught with their own bias and possible misconceptions) and with Procurement doing their best to commoditise you into a price war, it’s time to do something differently.
Another Oldest, New Killer Sales Skills
Enter insight, a timely approach given the era of Big Data, right? I won’t spoil the moment by reminding you that selling with insight is not new… it’s been done successfully in professional services for years, and used elsewhere and very successfully by top-performing reps (think the top 20% of the top 20%. Very similar to our 2013 post on dialogue being the oldest, new killer sales skill.) What we’ve really done is create an insight methodology that is replicable and can be scaled across a sales organisation, without requiring reps to become something they’re not or start challenging their prospects and clients.
A View into Deja Vu
At one of my past employers, the very top reps used their knowledge gained from experience and perspective gained through research to completely reframe how customers saw an issue, and offer an innovative solution to a common challenge. It was a stunningly brilliant and customer-oriented approach that yielded great results. (For the fellow geeks in the house we showed a statistically significant difference in outcomes for those reps who used this approach.)
Did these reps challenge their customers? Did they go in swinging with their insights or bludgeon clients or try to shock them with their brilliance?
Sorry to disappoint, perhaps, but not a chance. They actually worked hard to AVOID shocking their clients and reduce the risk of walking into a surprise jab (avoiding what I like to call “black eye/bloody nose syndrome”). My friend Dave Brock has written about the dangers of selling with insight here. I paraphrase one of his examples often, saying, “Put a 25 year-old enterprise software sales rep against a 47-year old, battle-worn CIO, and have that rep ‘challenge’ the CIO about how he sees his business, and see how well that works out for the rep.” Greg Alexander of Sales Benchmark Index wrote about one of his unfortunate experiences shadowing a Challenger rep, here. It’s ugly. I know these are extreme examples, but unfortunately, we frequently hear that companies struggle to operationalise an insight-led approach.
In contrast, the reps I mentioned earlier used a very educational, respectful approach. There were times when they did share information and insights outright (and did it with confidence and presence, completely without arrogance), but there were just as many where they led their clients to a new realisation through questions, leading an open dialogue.
In the room, you could see the gears turning in their prospects’ heads… they’d lean forward, brows wrinkled, heads tilted, questions leaked out and sometimes, a few objections or resistance. But you could literally see them thinking. At the end, you could always see the proverbial light bulb go off over their heads. It was a process that was always very respectful and engaged the client at every step. The reps led the client to a new understanding and new solution for an old problem, that provided bigger benefits at a similar or reduced price. At the end of the dialogue, it was such a no-brainer for customers to buy that most did. Did everyone “get it” and buy exactly what the rep recommended? Of course not. It was a pretty radical departure from what others were doing. It worked more often than not for these top producers and I didn’t see or hear about reps being tossed out for challenging customers either. In the calls I observed personally, clients went out of their way to thank the reps for helping them see things differently.
Yup. It’s Still About Dialogue.
It’s probably no surprise to those who have followed Richardson Sales Performance for a while that we believe selling is still all about having an effective dialogue. Sure, there are times when you lead with insight, versus questions, because the changes in buyer behaviour demand that you get it in early or cut through the clutter, or build credibility and differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, once you capture attention, gain interest and hopefully orchestrate an Aha Moment… it’s the dialogue that takes it home from there (and honestly, even our insight-led models incorporate dialogue within the models).
What Makes This Work?
There is no single defining moment, but rather a series of steps and skills that when combined completely shift the approach and increase the effectiveness.
- Pick a capability you want to support with insight. The capability must address a significant challenge or enable a considerable opportunity for your clients.
- Find or gather your research, data, case studies, white papers or experience gained from knowledge, which either increases the weight of the challenge/opportunity, or helps clarify the solution you offer as the best approach. (See this post for tips on creating an Aha Moment by juxtaposing two points to create a resolvable tension.) Not every Aha Moment has to be Earth-shattering, but the more you can bring a surprise to the table or a perspective that could help someone see the issue or solution differently, the better. (You can see that some advance thinking or research may need to go into this step.)
- Develop an Insight Blueprint™ to codify and capture the thinking around the Challenge/Opportunity, the Insights, the Capabilities/Differentiators and more. This is the source document where the information and logic path are contained.
- Use the information in the Blueprint source document combined with what you know about a prospect’s or client’s real situation to personalise an Insight Message (we have a model for this). In this stage, you need to think about how you can position the Insight to influence the client’s thinking or help them see things in a new way.
- Deliver your Insight Message in the context of a dialogue or sales conversation.
All of this must be done well to improve sales performance and increase win rates, but it’s that last bullet where the magic happens. We teach reps to identify what stage the decision-maker is at in their Buying Process, to identify the appropriate Selling Mode (where you Create, Shape or Respond to opportunities). Then, we teach dialogue models that will get the best results for each mode, and teach reps how to plug their Insight Message into the dialogue. This is where strong dialogue skills come into play, such as the Six Critical Skills and others taught in our foundational Consultative Selling Skills course. This is so much more than just “making a pitch” (that term still makes my skin crawl) or a presentation. This is an influential, ethical, respectful dialogue between business professionals.
Is that easy? No. Is this different from what most reps typically do? By far. Can you just hold a training event and hope for change? Hardly – you know better. Done with mastery and sustained throughout the period of culture and behaviour change, can it transform your company’s sales effectiveness? Yes, it can. This is what the very top reps in some industries have been doing for years. Now, the changes in buying behaviour are pushing many more of us in this direction.
Are you feeling the push, in your industry, your company, with your sales force? If so, we’re here to help.