The Features and Benefits Trap
Not long ago, sales representatives were the sole keepers of valuable product and market information. However, today’s savvy buyers have learned to easily gather their own information, putting them in the position of dictating their needs to potential vendors.
Many vendors have been forced into a commodity-like atmosphere, having to prove that their features and benefits exceed those of their competitors. Sellers have struggled for “competitive parity” of features and benefits, resulting in lower growth, lower prices and increased pressure on sales leaders.
To differentiate themselves, sales leaders turned to a broader solution focus that incorporated a strong product and service portfolio. While valuable, it added complexity for buyers who do not have the bandwidth, making it more difficult to make important decisions.
Unfortunately, as business complexity grows, focusing only on how features and benefits provide standard solutions still will not solve what customers are really looking for: a trusted provider with deep insights about their complex issues.
The Emerging Transformation: Insight-led Sales
The shift from selling on features and benefits to becoming a trusted advisor is an enormous leap for many sales organizations. Achieving the role of “trusted advisor” transforms the sales rep from being product-focused to helping customers sort through complexity to achieve desired outcomes.
The new advisory role requires higher-value dialog with senior buyers, understanding of complex issues by Sales, capturing insights and developing unique solutions that eventually form the basis of a trusted relationship. When done effectively, insight-led selling can lead to sustained share and margin gains. When done ineffectively, it becomes costly, disruptive and can potentially harm the valuable customer relationship. Getting it right requires coordinating efforts from across your organization.
Ultimately, insight-led selling changes your sales proposition from purely product-focused to customer problem-focused. Adding value is at the core of insight-led selling, as we have seen on hundreds of consulting projects with Global 2,000 companies. The two key challenges that sales leaders must address:
- Developing a sustained flow of insights
- Maximizing the impact of insights in the sales process
Addressing these challenges helps companies not only create a trusted advisor relationship but grow profitability and ensure customer retention during times of great change.
A sustainable insight development process requires collaboration across several roles and functions, including:
- Sales Representatives
- Marketing Analytics Group
- Sales Training Group
- Data-Mining Team
- Vertical Marketing Experts
- Sales Specialists/Overlays
- Sales Strategy/Planning Team
- First Line Manager Coaching
As a group, these roles help to define customers’ core challenges, potential product or service solutions, incorporate data analysis insights for products and target markets, strategy adoption, training and planning. These roles also contribute to instilling a customer-first attitude and coordinating decision-making. Training and enablement tools are also a core piece to ensure the entire sales organization fully aligns under the umbrella of “trusted advisor.”
Streamlining the 8 Insight-led Processes
The insight-led sales process requires not only skills but coordinated processes across the organization including sales, marketing, training and analytics. There are eight key processes to address:
The “Insight Gardener” Nurtures Success
Best-practice companies use an “insight gardener” approach to:
- Plant seeds by assigning on-going accountability for insight development
- Nurture insight sources through cross-functional groups
- Prune operational perspectives to identify breakthrough insights
- Grow new insights from previous ideas and revelations
- Harvest and disseminate workable insights through a systematized process.
This approach helps sales leaders capture ideas, put them into action and refine their methods over time.
These “Insight Gardener” groups are often located in Marketing, with regular input form Sales and Product groups. They have strong leadership over their charter, including sales personnel who have the capacity to focus on generating new and fresh insights ─ a truly full-time effort.
The result of this focused attention is management of insight development with the inputs, processes, steps, quality control and constant user readjustment based on user feedback. This approach is commonly found in other areas of the vendor organization that when streamlined can result in a truly knowledgeable, insight-driven customer advisor.
Insight-led Customer Relationships are Critical
Insight-driven selling has never been more important. As companies re-align their organizations to become more customer-driven, insight-led selling is a proven way to enhance client relationships for the long term while growing revenue. For more information, contact us to speak with a practice leader.
Authored by The Alexander Group, Inc.®