Insight selling: Killer questions to develop your commercial insight

LIsa Vitale marketing GuruBeing a company that (among other things) develops prospect surveys, we’re in the business of asking questions. And so it stands to reason that we’re in a perpetual quest to help our clients form better questions. Today’s B2B marketers are uniquely challenged in a noisy digital context to craft insightful, relevant, and valuable content that resonates profoundly with buyers. To this end, messaging centered on compelling insights of real commercial value increase relevance and spark buyer action by disrupting conventional thinking and demonstrating the risk and cost of inaction. However, in order to gain the full insight necessary to develop such messaging, you need to ask the right types of questions of the right people – not just as they relate to your prospects, but also as they relate to your organization, your existing clients, and all relevant stakeholders.

Based on the recent MIT Sloan Management Review article, The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions[i] (Winter 2015), here’s a quick-start guide for the types of questions you should be asking to generate your own uniquely differentiated, frame-breaking commercial insights:

What’s the larger context? Build the ‘Big Picture.’

Spot unmet market needs by seeking to understand the implications of both prevailing market trends, as well as the subtler ones. Explore ideas and developments out of the mainstream and challenge existing premises and assumptions – what are the startups doing? Keep an eye on these as they often signal coming market shifts. Expand your perspective and context by looking to see what’s occurring in related industries, which could have implications on your own.

What are the potential implications of key external uncertainties?   Look around corners.

Seek to understand both deeper trends and key uncertainties, and how these might affect your industry and buyers. Look around corners by exploring these potential scenarios in planning exercises using the most likely – as well as the most devastating – uncertainties. Consider such things as emerging technologies, pending regulations, social trends, and geopolitical issues. Learn where the greatest opportunities and threats lie. What can you do to help position your buyers for success as the market inevitably evolves?

Is there an emerging pattern in the data? Connect the dots.

In synthesizing your information, beware of confirmation bias, the tendency to see and selectively interpret only that information which directly supports our ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions. We tend to dismiss information that doesn’t fit our mental models, but in doing so, we also filter out those potentially conflicting – and critical – signals that could point to an emerging disruptive pattern. Data visualization is a simple, but powerful and unbiased way to see both the connections between data points, and the emerging patterns.

Pivotal Questions

Have you creatively explored all options? Seek diverse thinking.

In a business environment where time is a high-value, limited resource, we tend not to engage in creative thinking, opting instead for the more pragmatic, obvious solutions. Choices made under such pressure are prone to narrow thinking focused on ourselves, rather than the larger context. Be wary of the limiting effects of cognitive biases and narrow perspectives – we have a strong tendency towards uniformity and cohesiveness, yet innovative ideas and approaches emerge from dissent and divergent thinking. Creatively explore all options to develop your commercial insight, and test the veracity of new ideas with surveys and polls deployed among diverse groups of stakeholders. As you refine your commercial insight, design survey questions to both gain and communicate unique perspectives on the challenges of your prospective buyers.

Today’s information-rich digital context challenges us to bring a fresh, unique, and materially important framing to our messaging in order to rise above the fray. By first asking the right questions of the right people, we can gain the ‘Big Picture’ to see around corners and connect the dots in such a way as to create a powerfully compelling commercial insight approach.


Read deeper on this topic:

MIT’s Sloan Management Review article, The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions (Winter 2015)

Leveraging Survey to Gain Commercial Insight

3 Critical Stages to Develop Commercial Insight


You can learn more about deploying your own industry/prospect survey and gaining critical insight into the specific needs of individual prospects, by clicking here. Not only do such surveys provide prospect-level intelligence, but they reveal developing trends, while also generating unique and insightful content for further prospect engagement.