Can you please shut up? I’m trying to share an insight!
Over the past 18 months, we’ve had numerous conversations with sales leaders wanting to adopt an insight-led approach to selling. Through these conversations, it is very clear that there is confusion over how insights come to life in a sales situation. Some of the people with whom we’ve spoke have the impression that an insight is communicated through a presentation. We believe that there may be situations where that is the case, but the more likely case will be for an insight to be communicated in a sales conversation. This is important not only because a sales conversation requires a different skill set but also because it requires a different mindset.
Let’s run through an example to see how all of this plays out.
Say, for example, the wizards in your R&D group discover some breakthrough innovation that gives you this unbelievable capability to solve a difficult challenge for your customers far better than your competition. Excited by the potential, you have your marketing team produce a slick PowerPoint deck and take time to train your sales reps to deliver the commercial teaching pitch. Then, you issue a directive to line-up appointments with our customers to close some business. So far so good, right?
The real challenge takes place face-to-face in front of the customer.
You’ve prepared your sales reps to deliver a presentation — a silver bullet shot straight to the heart (or mind) of the customer. A presentation that is so insightful and compelling that once delivered, your customer will take out his or her pen, sign on the line that is dotted, and cut a check on the spot.
Seriously? Does this ever happen? Probably not, unless you sell all-purpose steak knives at the mall that can hack through an old leather shoe and a beer can and then cut a tomato like a hot knife through butter!
In reality, your buyer will have questions and possibly doubts about your point of view. As buyers, the notion of someone trying to “sell” to us puts us on the defensive. We live in an age of content marketing overload, and we’re skeptical from being carpet bombed with self-serving thought leadership. However, we also know the importance of staying well-informed in a competitive and rapidly changing market. Every decision is scrutinized. We have doubts, we have questions, and we have our own thoughts and opinions about issues related to our business. And, when we hear a thought-provoking idea, especially a novel one, we need time to process and internalize the concept before we buy in completely.
This doesn’t mean that your sellers can’t trigger new thinking or ideas, build credibility, add value, and eventually sell something, but sellers must be sensitive to how buyers process information, manage through resistance, and keep the buyer tracking with their point of view.
Shut up and listen, will ya?
“Telling Isn’t Teaching” is a popular phrase in the world of learning and development that insight sellers should take to heart. When you train your sellers to deliver insight through a presentation-led approach, you risk putting them into a “telling” mindset. Being in that frame of mind exposes the seller to two significant risks. The first risk is that they are so focused on delivering their pitch that they miss signals that the buyer has questions or isn’t tracking with them. I’ve personally observed sales reps shut down a buyer in the critical early stages of their commercial teaching pitch, effectively asking them to shut up for 20 minutes until they finish talking. This is extremely annoying for the buyer and very detrimental for the seller who fails to keep the buyer tracking with their thinking. The second risk is that the insight isn’t very insightful for the buyer. Again, the seller is so focused on delivering the pitch that they assume that what they have to say will be of interest to the buyer. At no point does the seller check with the buyer for validity or support. It creates an awkward situation when the buyer shuts down the seller halfway through their teaching pitch because they have some experience or opinion that does not support the seller’s point of view.
When you think “Insight,” think Conversations, not Presentations.
It is helpful to think of a customer sales conversation as a pendulum, and through the course of the conversation, the pendulum swings between asking questions, listening, and sharing insight. There are times in that conversation where you will want to lead with questions, such as when you need to sell understanding or seek confirmation. Then, there are times in the conversation where you lead with an insight, such as when you want to seed new ideas or influence thinking. And of course it is necessary to listen for both verbal and nonverbal cues. Sellers must draw on the right skills at the right time, depending on what you know (or don’t know) and how the buyer responds through the discussion.
When the opportunity presents itself to position an insight, we believe that the seller should first start by floating the issue to the buyer and then checking with an open-ended question to test for support. For example, the seller could say something like, “Here’s a challenge that we’ve seen with clients similar to you. What have you considered so far to address this challenge?” Then, if the buyer responds favorably, the seller can dive deeper into their insight, continuing to check along the way to ensure that the buyer is tracking and addressing questions or concerns along the way.
This conversational approach has many advantages over presenting a canned commercial teaching pitch. First, it gives the seller an early out if the concept won’t fly with the buyer. There are many reasons why a buyer might not even entertain your idea, so why waste valuable time trying to push that issue? Second, checking along the way helps the seller keep the buyer on track with new thinking. Finally, by asking questions, the seller gathers more and better information from the buyer. This enables the seller to tailor the delivery of the insight message for even more relevance as the conversation evolves.
As buyers become better informed and better prepared, competition becomes more intense, and sellers need more skill than ever to succeed. Presentations have their place in the sales process, but insights are best shared through the sales conversation.