Is it “Goodbye” to Solution Selling and “Hello” to Insight Selling?

There are three real nuggets here that you can use in your business, so I’d stick with this post to the end or bookmark it and come back to it if you’re in a rush (or both, if you like :-) !)

As is often the case, it started with a not-overtly-enticing breadcrumb… that lead me to a trail of much tastier morsels… that enabled me to piece together the analysis of results of several different surveys/ studies (by the Corporate Executive Board at harvard Business School) from different angles and perspectives of those involved in the sales/ buying process of complex b2b purchases.

Now, don’t be put off by either “complex” or “b2b” if you think these don’t pply to your business – hang on in there and you’ll see why it’s worth it! :-)

It started with an email from a colleague with link to a post in the Harvard Business Review about the best sales people avoiding “talkers”.

The first seemed to be little more than another labelling exercise of customer contact types based on analysis of over 700 b2b business purchases. Here are the types, so you can see what you make of them for yourself:

Customer contact types

  1. Go-Getters: Motivated by organizational improvement and constantly looking for good ideas, Go-Getters champion action around great insights wherever they find them
  2. Teachers: Passionate about sharing insights and ideas, teachers are sought out by colleagues for their input. They’re especially good at persuading others to take a specific course of action
  3. Skeptics: Wary of large complicated projects, Skeptics push back on almost everything. Even when championing a new idea, they’ll counsel careful, measured implementation
  4. Guides: Willing to share the organization’s latest gossip, Guides furnish information that is typically unavailable to outsiders
  5. Friends: Just as nice as the name suggests, Friends are readily accessible and happily help reps network with other stakeholders in the organization
  6. Climbers: Focused primarily on personal gain, Climbers back projects that will raise their own profiles, and they expect to be rewarded when those projects succeed
  7. Blockers: Perhaps better described as “anti-stakeholders,” Blockers are strongly oriented toward the status quo. They have little interest in speaking to outside vendors

Usefulness of this information?

I’ve seen research like this on several occasions and, in my opinion, the information is only as good as the ability of the individual sales person to spot these characteristics early enough in the game to minimise wasted time and concentrate on the players that will help move things forward… And if they’re that good, surely they don’t really need the labels to help them???

Just as I was about to move hastily on to more worthwhile pursuits I hit on the second – “The End of Solutions Sales” link to another article which claims that the top 20% elite and most successful b2b sales reps no longer use solution-based selling… Now, bearing in mind the small business owner is often his or her own chief rep, I figured we should share these findings here… and that leads us nicely onto the second nugget:

  • A key finding in one of the CEB’s studies that involved over 1,400 b2b companies was that nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision was made before any initial conversation with a supplier
  • Customers are a lot more knowledgeable these days about their own needs and the various solutions available to them…
  • Now is it making a wild leap to suggest that in over half of cases the customer has gone through all the information gathering, long list, specifications, and so on and drawn up a short list of contenders before you’re even aware they’re in the market to buy? And by this stage the only influence you have may well be on price.

    Not ideal, huh? So what are the key considerations?

    Let’s look at the main differences between solution selling and what the CEB call Insight selling for some clues that make up the third nugget:

    Solution Selling V Insight Selling

    What kind of company to target?
    Solution selling: Organizations that have a clear vision and established demands
    Insight Selling: Agile organizations that have emerging demands or are in a state of flux

    What sort of initial information to gather?
    Solution selling: What need is the customer seeking to address?
    Insight Selling: What unrecognized need does the customer have?

    When to engage?
    Solution selling: After the customer has identified a problem the supplier can solve
    Insight Selling: Before the customer has pinpointed a problem

    How to begin the conversation?
    Solution selling: Ask questions about the customer’s need and look for a “hook” for your solution
    Insight Selling: Offer provocative insights about what the customer should do

    How to direct the flow of information?
    Solution selling: Ask questions so that the customer can steer you through its purchasing process
    Insight Selling: Coach the customer about how to buy, and support it throughout the process

    Usefulness of this information?

    In my opinion, now we’re getting somewhere! :-) We can see that the Super Star Elite are cleverly positioning themselves as a trusted authority – even before the customer realises there’s a need for one by:

    • Evaluating prospects according to different criteria from those used by other reps, targeting agile organizations in a state of instability, change or transmission rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs
    • Seeking out a very different set of stakeholders: Now this is where that first research I virtually pooh-poohed comes into its own! It turns out that the average rep hooks up with Guides, Friends and Climbers – aka Talkers – whereas our elite and most successful top 20% cultivate Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics – aka Change Agents – in their customer dealings
    • Concentrating on coaching those chosen customer contacts how to buy, not about their company’s purchasing process

    How about this approach for you?

    Is it sound? Yes.
    Is it new? Quite frankly, not particularly – I remember using it it in exploratory complex sales situations back in the ’90s and I’m sure I wasn’t the first! So, to my mind it just has a fancy new label :-)
    Who’s it for? If you’re in any kind of value service/ industry where your knowledge and expertise are a strong part of your offer
    Can you use it easily? Yes. In fact if you’re not trained in sales you’ll probably find it a more natural way to sell than many others
    Should you use it? Absolutely if you don’t want to be reduced to a commodity where your offer will be bought on price.

    So, a quick recap

    Types of potential customers
    Types of contacts

    I’d love to know: How useful has this been to you and what would you like to add? :-)

    photo credit: schnaars via photo pin cc

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