Most B2B companies recognize the importance of stepping inside the shoes of the customer. By walking a mile in customers’ shoes, sales and marketing professionals are able to more effectively appreciate and identify customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. When in-tune with these critical pulse points, they can then better predict which customers are likely to respond most favorably to certain products and offerings.
In order to gain customer insights, many companies dole out inordinate amounts of money commissioning customer surveys, focus groups, and other market research initiatives. They then leverage the findings as part of a “solution selling” approach, a methodology frequently employed across sales organizations (a reported 1 million sales people are trained in solution sales). In a nutshell, solution selling involves identifying customers’ pain points and then positioning a product or service as a solution to address these pain points.
While solution selling was once effective, it’s time has peaked (after all, the methodology has been around since 1988 when Mike Bosworth developed the methodology based on his experiences at Xerox). Several key changes in the landscape of B2B sales have contributed to the obsolescence of solution sales. Today, an estimated 60% of the B2B purchasing process is completed before a customer even has a conversation with a supplier. More so than ever before consumers are in-tune with their pain points and do their research to find their own solutions.
This changing B2B sales ecosystem has called for the end of solution sales and the emergence of “insight selling.” Whereas solution selling focuses on a specific product or service, insight selling focuses on the customer. It involves making customers aware of needs they may not even be aware of themselves and then aligning the product or service as a solution uniquely suited to meet these needs. Insight selling is effective because it involves proactively providing insights to customers – rather than extracting them. Insight selling is centered around the belief that the most successful sales reps are those who are a source of information and best practices for their customers.
The most effective B2B sellers have been quick to abandon solution selling in favor of insight selling. Spending money on traditional market research doesn’t cut it anymore. Case in point: a study by BCG involving more than 90 companies found no correlation between spending on customer insights (as a percentage of sales) and customer centricity (defined as the percentage of business decisions influenced by customer insights). Insight selling is grounded in customer-centricity. When sales professionals take time to understand a customer’s business and industry and pinpoint the specific issues they are facing, they quickly gain credibility, create interest, generate deeper dialogues, and, eventually, are better able to compel customers to take action.
In sharp contrast to solution sales, insight selling forces sales professionals to reflect upon market research and customer insights. This penchant is hard to come by – only 47% of businesses do it. When sales professionals invest time to reflect on customer insights, they are better able to identify customers’ unrecognized needs and determine the most pressing areas of concern or improvement for a business. Armed with this critical intel, sales professionals are able to effectively position their product or service as a solution to help close gaps. Insights create “useful value” for customers as they cannot be gleaned through any other channel (according to Forrester Research, a mere 1 in 8 B2B sales meetings generate useful value for the prospect). Ultimately, insight selling becomes a core competitive advantage for companies.
It’s time to big farewell to insight selling and embrace insight sales. Customers are demanding more and more from sales professionals. It’s high time we start coaching customers through the selling process (insight selling) rather than having the customer coach us (solution selling). It’s the type of approach that professional service and consulting firms have employed for decades – and with remarkable success.