Why Commercial Insight Trumps Thought Leadership

Commercial insight guru Lisa VitaleMarketers and sales teams recognize how profoundly times have changed in this age of digital, mobile, and cloud.  This holds especially true for providers of complex tech solutions, where the industry is shifting from traditionally licensed software packages, to selling software as a service (SaaS) through cloud-based subscriptions.  Traditional marketing and sales models have encouraged performance and measured success by careful adherence to longstanding processes and metrics.  Yet the very thing that once grew sales for tenacious companies is now arguably scuttling their efforts.  A recent HBR article (Dismantling the Sales Machine, Nov. 2013*) makes a convincing case that in today’s digital medium, “leaders must abandon their fixation on process compliance and embrace a flexible approach to selling driven by sales reps’ reliance on insight and judgment.”


Their argument rests on the fact that buying behavior has seen a dramatic shift in the context of today’s internet-enabled, information-rich environment.  These informed – and thus empowered – buyers have changed the equation by only engaging the sales conversation once they are armed with a clear understanding of their problem, the range of solutions meeting their needs, and a firm sense of what they should pay.  What’s left to discuss but price?  The net result, as noted by the HBR article, is longer sales cycles, lower conversion rates, less reliable forecasts, and compressed margins.


Couple this with the shift in buyers, from IT to the line-of-business (LoB), as a result of cloud applications being easier to install than traditional on-site software, and the challenge for such vendors is even more imperative.  The sales conversation has changed, catching many teams unaware – today’s dialogue with LoB buyers must be about meeting business needs, rather than the previous tech-based sales pitch. Consequently, marketing and sales need to understand this new audience of buyers. LoB buyers are interested in comprehensive business solutions, requiring a wholly different approach from both sales and marketing teams.


In this new environment, with its dramatic shift in buyers and buyer behavior, the most successful organizations are those which provide their teams the ability to learn quickly, and the flexibility to adapt and apply new insights to each prospect’s needs and specific context.  This “insight selling” recognizes the need to frame each sales conversation differently, in an effort to disrupt the buyer’s thinking and assumptions regarding their needs, and even the very nature of their problem. 


Here are 8 steps to help move your marketing team beyond content marketing and thought leadership, into the realm of insight selling:


  1. Align with sales to develop a segmentation scheme which prioritizes all marketing and sales efforts.
  2. Develop personas to understand the line of business prospect and what their needs are.
  3. Work with sales to develop commercial insights for each major target account and for each business segment in general.
  4. Determine the value proposition that will most resonate with the buyers in the initial chosen segment.
  5. Test on existing sales contacts.
  6. Work with sales to determine a new sales process that can be loosely used by sales to engage the prospect at the earliest time.
  7. Develop an online marketing plan that will leverage the segmentation, personas, and commercial insights to generate interest and create leads early in prospect’s purchase.  The goal is to engage prospects before they settle their short list.
  8. Collect actionable intelligence to help sales determine where customers are in their buying process so that they can track the customer’s progress.


Whereas thought leadership and content marketing typically focus on the impact of new technology or changes in the market, insight selling focuses on the customer.  Insight selling distinguishes itself from thought leadership by focusing not on what prospects could do in some future state (i.e., a “nice to have”), but rather on the limits of their current thinking.  Done properly, insight selling creates an urgent need for the prospect, with a clear cost of inaction. 


A great place to begin is by going directly to the source with a carefully crafted prospect survey. For example Kronos, the workforce management company, surveyed senior management in the food service industry to determine how prepared they were to accommodate pending changes in healthcare regulations. The commercial insight Kronos obtained as a result of the survey concerned the industry’s collective inability to efficiently distinguish between full-time and part-time employees using existing systems – a key aspect of effectively managing the regulatory changes. Creating a cost-effective solution to this imminent problem provided Kronos with a message of material value for their market.


Read how Kronos used SimplyDIRECT’s demand-gen surveys to improve their customer insight. Download the Kronos case study now – click the button below.

Kronos Discovering undiscovered needs


Are you developing commercial insights that your sales team can use to engage prospects and close deals?


* http://hbr.org/2013/11/dismantling-the-sales-machine