Career Advice

Why Insight Is Urgent for Today’s Sales Team

Published on the Huffington Post earlier today

A year ago I wrote
about the economy’s gradual turn out of a recession, and the pressure
that the recovery put on sales teams to understand not just their
customers — but their customers’ customers. Fortunately, the economic
recovery has continued and many sales teams within our economy’s biggest
companies still find themselves in a position of being understaffed,
under competitive pressure and struggling to make the kind of
methodology transformation in their customer interactions necessary to
achieve their urgent sales productivity goals.

The reason for this is because the kind of customer focus that comes
from understanding your customer’s customer is only part of the
equation. Companies also have to ensure that their sales teams are
equipped with the skills to put this knowledge into action and this need
is being answered by a new boom-time in sales methodology consulting
from creatively named systems such as the Corporate Executive Board’s ‘The Challenger Sale’, The TAS Group’s ‘Target Account Selling’, Miller Heiman’s “Strategic Selling”, etc.

What these and similar frameworks have in common is the expectation
that salespeople will perform to a higher standard of insight and
analysis. Specifically, these modern approaches all require that
salespeople will educate themselves and get to know their customers
extremely well.

Pre-recession, the assumption was that salespeople could do well
enough by building relationships, recognizing opportunities as they
presented themselves and pushing hard to close deals through enthusiasm
and perseverance.

But what all these sales methodologies teach us is that a
salesperson’s responsibility extends to understanding her customers’
business well enough to be able to challenge that customer’s assumptions
about his own (internal) operations and (external) markets. As a CEB study
found, in today’s hypercompetitive market it turns out that the
salesperson that usually wins is not the one with the best customer
relationship, but the one who can teach the customer something that he
didn’t already know about his market, opportunities or risks. The
winning sales rep needs to know enough about the customer’s customer
to i) suggest a prescription for action, ii) describe the risks of
inaction, and iii) so reflect the urgency of acting sooner rather than

While today’s salesperson doesn’t actually need to drive the
customer’s ship, she needs to be ready to provide some pretty
enlightened navigation. This requires an in-depth knowledge of not one,
not two, but three steps of the value chain: her own portfolio of
products and services, her customer’s solution, and her customer’s
customers’ businesses and growth opportunities.

The insight gap is challenging many sales teams today but strong
enterprise sales leaders are investing in the knowledge and systems for
their sales teams to bridge the gap.