5 Steps to a Great Sales Insight

9 minute read


Much has been said about the need to bring insights to your customers. In today’s world of more informed buyers, it is clear that you need to do more than just communicate the capabilities of your product. However, not much has been written about how to do this well or consistently. Sellers are struggling to know where to start, and some sales and marketing organizations flounder when trying to build an ‘insight machine’ that scales. How can you ensure that your insight machine (a) delivers insights that customers appreciate and (b) guides them to your solutions?

According to Forrester Research, 64% of senior executives believe that the sales person does not know enough about their buyer’s business to bring any value to a meeting. In fact only 25% of them are prepared to take a second meeting. Think about this for a minute; three out of every four sales meetings are a waste of time and money – both for the seller and for the buyer.

A seller who adopts the buyer’s perspective in his approach to a customer meeting will engage a buyer more effectively. This is because he sees things as the buyer does. He inhabits their world, and speaks to their pains, challenges, and fears. Using insights as a core part of the sales engagement strategy forces this perspective and results in more successful sales calls. Recent research from SiriusDecisions indicates that providing industry and business expertise is four times more valuable than having product knowledge and developing good relationships. That’s the value of a well-designed insight.

Sometimes we can forget that being a customer is not necessarily easier than being a sales person. All the customer’s got to do is pick a supplier, right? But when the customer makes that buying decision, the risk shifts from the supplier to the customer. For a customer to be comfortable, she must be really sure that the supplier actually understands her needs. Demonstrating knowledge of your own products or solutions doesn’t help. You need to help the customer learn something (worthwhile) that she doesn’t already know. That’s how you build credibility.

Insights are different from traditional marketing messages.

Insights help your customers discover problems (or opportunities) that they didn’t know they had. Traditional marketing approaches sell to a buyer’s identified need. But, as Daniel Pink said in his book To Sell is Human, ‘your products and services?are far more valuable when your prospect is mistaken, confused, or completely clueless about their true problem’.

The purpose of an insight is not to confuse, but to illuminate. Unlike traditional marketing materials, the insights themselves provide something of intrinsic value to the customer. Insights teach the customer something that you want them to learn, but have inherent worth such that, in the extreme case, a customer should be not be adverse to paying for the insight itself. Traditional marketing messages tend to address just the need that the buyer has identified. Remember, that is what all of your competitors are doing as well, so it is hard to differentiate.

The Recipe for a Great Insight – 5 Ingredients

The core ingredients for a great sales insight exist in every company. When your engineers, product managers or product designers first built the product you are selling, they usually started with a customer problem that they were looking to solve. The solution they developed was designed to fix something that is broken in the customer’s organization, or provide a capability that doesn’t exist but is needed. Assuming that the product concept was well informed, the essence of those product design decisions should be the foundation on which you build your insights.

Unfortunately, in many cases, some of the ingredients for that great sales insight are lost on the journey from product designer to sales person. Good insights lead a customer to the unique value that you can provide with your solution. This is important. If your sales team is bringing insights to your customer that are not leading to your unique value, then your sales efforts become an expensive educational exercise, and you may end up educating the customer right into the arms of your competitor.

Insights are tremendously powerful when well crafted and used in the right context. However, this is one of those cases where if you can’t do it exceptionally well, you should not do it at all. You can fall on your face really easily.

1. Start with the ‘typical’ customer problem scenario: All customers are different, but few have truly unique problems – just problems that are not sufficiently well understood at a detail level in the context of that customer. Companies of a similar size, at the same stage of company maturity, in the same region, and serving the same markets tend to have similar business challenges. There are other attributes that apply, and while the issues vary by role and their ability to meet those challenges might diverge, the context generally remains the same (or at least similar). This is just how business works.

We all have Goals (or Key Business Requirements) and Business Pressures to which we have to respond. This is why we undertake Initiatives (or projects); to relieve those pressures so that we can achieve the goals. In essence, these Initiatives fix things that are broken or add things that don’t exist but are necessary for a successful initiative. I refer to these as Obstacles. Remember, the reason the product was built in the first place was to help fix something that was broken, or fill a gap in the market.



2. Consider the Buying Personas: Companies don’t buy – people do. In a typical B2B scenario there will be multiple personas involved in the buying decision. Each of these will have different concerns and issues that they care about. If, for example, you are selling a Cloud-based CRM system, the VP Sales in the buyer’s organization may care about how the CRM will help with sales productivity, while the CIO is more likely to be concerned about the deployment effort and data security concerns. Insights must be designed with the buying persona in mind. In this example, it may be valuable to provide the CIO with insights around the relative cost-of-ownership of SaaS versus on-premise software. The VP Sales might care about that but probably not too much. He is much more likely to be interested in the ease of use for his sales team and access over mobile devices, and might see value in a whitepaper that discuss trends in mobility.

3. Make it interesting – add intrigue: While it is important to address the buyer’s stated needs, and demonstrate your understanding of how the buyer might deploy your solution to meet those needs, it is a lot more valuable if you can create that ‘Aha’ moment when the buyer says “That’s interesting, I never thought about it that way before – I can see how we might benefit from that approach”. You want to teach the customer something that you want them to learn. You have to bring something new to the table and make it interesting.

4. Lead to your solution: You can create an insight that leads to your solution if you have a deep understanding as to why the product was developed in the first place. This is where sales enablement and product marketing / management can deliver dramatic value to the sales team by synthesizing those specific capabilities that your product uniquely delivers that the customer should value, based on your understanding of their business. You want to use the insight to lead to your product’s capabilities mapped to the customer’s known or unknown needs, rather than use traditional marketing approaches to lead with the product.

5. Do Not (overtly) Self-Promote: As I said above, the insight you provide should have intrinsic value. Here are 12 Steps to Building a Great Sales Playbook; Check out your Sales Velocity Equation; 64% of sales calls are ineffective, are all examples of Insights (from The TAS Group) that all have intrinsic value – independently of whether the customer chooses to do business with the insight provider. They each cause the buyer to think in a potentially different way about the challenges or opportunities in front of them. Good examples of insights are things like 3rd party studies, survey results, or industry analysis. Anything that is overtly self-promotional, and presented as an insight does more harm than good. Datasheets, customer testimonials, or demo videos are not insights. Insights should really be vendor agnostic. Bear in mind that you are asking the buyer to spend their time consuming whatever you provide. Does the insight add value to their job? You should be using the insight to build credibility.

Making it Scale

What we are doing here with insights is designing for a crucial component of the buyer / seller interaction; the point at which credibility grows or dies. It is not reasonable (or responsible) to ask all of your salespeople to figure this out themselves. They just don’t have the time and are not as close to the problem as your product people were when they were building the product, or where your sales enablement people or product management / marketing should be. In many cases you will end up with marketing collateral masquerading as insights; or insights that are only lightly-informed and can’t flex when faced with any level of analysis; or, at worst, insights that have not been thought through well enough and in fact lead to a capability that you cannot provide.

There are too few sales and marketing organizations that package insights in a manner that can be consumed easily by an individual sales person and then shared with the customer. Even fewer have put the infrastructure in place to scale such a solution consistently across a sales team. This is where things typically fall down. I’ve seen marketing portals brimming with collateral, sales portals littered with data sheets and case studies, and CRM systems grinding to a halt under the weighty burden of content, content and more content. There is lots of content, but very little customer context. We need less content and more context.

Winning sales teams are gathering all of the raw information available from product experts, from marketing and customers, to deconstruct, process and repackage it with smart software so that everyone – sales, marketing and all customer facing personnel in your company – can apply it to facilitate good business conversations with customers that lead to the right solutions. Smart technology can help to connect your solutions to the customers’ business problem and deliver the right insights at the right time to the right persona.

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories