Insight Selling

"Think of an insight scenario as a flashlight that you use to illuminate hidden value."

- Insight Selling, page 76

As a kid, did you ever keep a flashlight in your room so you could read under your covers or find a misplaced toy after your lights were turned off for the night? Maybe some of you have gone camping and used a flashlight to find your way to the latrine at nighttime or locate your pajamas in a pitch black tent. If you can relate to any of these scenarios, then you will appreciate the flashlight analogy used by Michael Harris in Insight Selling to underscore the usefulness of insight selling as a tool for helping prospective customers discover the unique (and sometimes hidden) value of your product or service.

Harris believes the sales process has changed dramatically in recent years because customers are more in tune with their needs and more informed about the potential solutions to their problems, in large part because they can access a wealth of information instantly via the internet. The challenge is that customers often do not make an accurate diagnosis of their situation and consequently select solutions that may not actually solve their dilemma. His book outlines why using ‘insight scenarios’ will help prospective customers ‘virtually test drive’ your product and provides a step-by-step method for creating your own insight scenarios.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Discover the Great Divide

"What is the gap between what the customer believes today and what they need to believe to buy your product?"
- Insight Selling, page 18

Information overload can lead to what Harris calls an inaccurate buying vision – the customer underestimates both the costs of their current behaviour on their success outcomes and the potential impact of future alternatives. Without a clear understanding of how your product can enhance their success rate, buyers will postpone purchasing solutions, choosing instead to live with what they perceive to be a small problem or they will buy based on price alone, possibly ending up with a sub-optimal solution.

He suggests savvy salespeople need to ‘open the value gap’ before closing it. Put another way, if the customer thinks they are only “ankle deep in problems”, the salesperson must help them see they are really “drowning in problems” before they will be receptive to hearing more about the value propositions associated with your product/service.

This is not meant to be done in a deceptive snake oil seller’s way. The advice merely underscores the importance of creating a noticeable contrast between where the customer is today without your product or service and where they could be if they purchased what you were selling. And the best way to do this, Harris suggests, is to tell an insightful story.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Sell like Picasso Painted

"Insight scenarios… provide a clear word picture of what the buyer’s circumstances are before ownership, and what they are after ownership."
- Insight Selling, page 24

Insight scenarios are stories about other customers’ dilemmas told to help challenge the buyer’s current picture of their situation, without directly challenging them. When you share a story about the problems another customer faced and highlight how your product or service helped them solve that challenge and achieve success, you encourage the prospective buyer to imagine how the features and benefits of your product or service might resolve their problems too. Rather than telling customers how your product solves their pain points, which could lead to resistance and push-back from the client (no one likes to be told they aren’t performing well), stories about the problems other organizations faced and overcame help guide the buyer to their own conclusions about the untapped potential that might reside in their situations.

To be effective, your story must be as vivid and enthralling as a Picasso masterpiece. Which means the story must be short, memorable and contain facts that are ‘wrapped up in emotion’ because as Bill McDermott (CEO of SAP) noted, “…buyers are not inspired to act on reason alone.” Customers need to think and feel that the offering is right for them. As the old adage goes, “No one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart!”

Harris provides a basic formula for creating an insight scenario that mirrors many story guidelines: answer why, provide context, introduce a complication and a villain, and create a turning point that leads to resolution. The main difference is that insight scenarios always end the same way: “So that’s Maxine’s story. What’s yours?”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

It’s Not about You (or your product)

"Before customers can appreciate ‘Why You?’ they first have to answer ‘Why Change?’ and ‘Why Now?’"
- Insight Selling, page 46

This quote really hit home for me. I am self-employed and thus constantly looking to interact with potential customers. I’ve read dozens of books on marketing, sales, branding – all of which emphasize the importance of being able to differentiate yourself from your competitors; the ‘Why you?’ question. The insight nestled in this quote, however, reminded me that while all three questions need to be answered in a sales conversation, the latter ones need to be asked and answered first. “Why change?” and “Why now?” are now key questions in my needs assessment thinking process and client conversations.

Insight Selling demonstrates the power of providing prospective customers with “more than just information”. As Harris notes, “Delivering insight through an insight scenario is not an end: It is simply a means to hearing the buyer’s story.” Insight scenarios are intended to foster dialog between you, the seller, and the potential buyer, with no pre-set agendas or outcomes. These conversation starters are meant to help you discover and understand the potential customer’s current buying vision. Once you do, you’ll be able to use what you learned to shine a light onto the customer’s path so they can better see both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead on their road to success.

Are you using stories to better connect with and understand potential customers? What tips do you have for using stories in the sales cycle?

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Dianne Coppola

ABOUT Dianne Coppola

I am passionate about leadership development, change management, community collaboration and…reading! I’ve been writing for the Actionable Book Club since 2014 and love to share my book insights with folks like you...
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