If I asked you what the No. 1 reason is that buyers buy from certain sellers versus others, what would you say?
If you’re anything like my clients, you might start talking about the quality of your products, the intelligence and experience of your people, or how your firm delivers a truly unique and valuable experience to the client.
The problem is, you’d largely be wrong.
You see, all of those things are important, but they don’t make the difference between buying from you or buying from someone else. They’re generic. You can make those claims, but so can your competitors. And they do.
So what does make the difference? Sellers who educate the buyer with new ideas and perspectives — or what we’ve come to call “insight selling.”
In the recent research for our book on “Insight Selling,” we uncovered 10 factors that make B2B buyers prefer to buy from one firm versus another.
The good news? Many of those factors are related to how the individual seller interacts with them during the buying process.
But that’s not all. In addition to how the seller interacts with the buyer, it’s also about what happens during that interaction. Specifically, it’s about how the seller is able to educate the buyer and gradually introduce new, fresh insights into the conversation.
The problem is, insight selling can be costly to actually implement. It can take a lot of time, money and effort, and the initial payoff can take a while to materialize.
However, in working with our clients we discovered there are ways to “lighten the load” — to facilitate the process in such a way that you can get started with insight selling in a dramatically faster and easier way.
1. Make sure you actually deliver NEW insights
When I’m in a room speaking about insight selling, many people start talking about content marketing and thought leadership. Where both of those are a part of insight selling, there’s more to it than that.
In order to be effective, insights delivered to buyers need to actually be new. They need to be groundbreaking. Fresh. Innovative. They need to tell the buyer — or help them see — something that is truly new and exciting.
In other words, when you are thinking about ways in which to educate your buyer with ideas and perspectives, just make sure they are truly new and groundbreaking. Not something the buyer could have picked up in the latest copy of HBR, or in your competitor’s white paper.
2. Start when the buying journey starts
According to Sirius Decisions, “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. (Our) research shows that online searches are executives’ first course of action (just like everyone else).“
Much like Sirius Decisions, we don’t believe this means that sellers are excluded from that first 67% of the buying cycle. We believe sellers have an active role to play, right from the start. But that role is different from what you’d expect.
Whether it’s through being active on LinkedIn groups, writing guest posts for industry blogs, producing your own video series or simply sending interesting, thought-provoking pieces of content to your early-stage prospects, your job as a seller in the first 2/3 of the buying journey is simple: to educate your buyer and stand out as a thought leader.
3. Focus on interaction AND opportunity insights
In the research at RAIN Group, we identified two forms of insight that sellers commonly use when interacting with buyers.
The first, most commonly thought of form are opportunity insights: things like exciting new research, data, facts and figures. New models, methodologies and approaches. Opportunity insights focus on delivering groundbreaking new ideas and perspectives directly related to the problem, challenge or deal that’s on the table.
But there is a second, equally important category of insights: interaction insights. Interaction insights are what happens when the seller helps the buyer gain new perspectives on old problems, become aware of opportunities they were previously unaware of and develop bold new ideas for addressing their challenges. The key is that, with interaction insights, it’s the interaction between the buyer and seller itself that leads to the development of the insight.
4. Talk about the upside – but cover risk as well
When I speak about insight selling, many people get very excited about the prospect of educating their buyers with new ideas. Many people naturally want to be seen as thought leaders — especially those in sales — delivering groundbreaking new opportunities that buyers never dreamed possible.
But there is a slight nuance that I’d like to point your attention to: insight selling is not only about looking at the upside, like new and innovative ways in which a product can help your clients. It’s also about pointing out risks that the client was previously unaware of, and introducing exciting ways to mitigate and reduce that risk.
In our research on insight selling, we found that “helped me avoid potential pitfalls” was highly ranked in the Top 10 factors that help buyers decide to buy, and to buy from you.
5. Make it continuous and small steps
A common misconception about insight selling is that it’s about delivering jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring insights that literally transform a buyer’s view of the world right then and there. That rarely happens, if ever.
Instead, what tends to happen is that the seller introduces small, yet important insights into the conversation at various points in time. Over the course of a few weeks or months, a seller may introduce up to a dozen or even more insights for the buyer — each one of them small, but each one building on the previous one.
The end result is that the buyer sees the seller as a thought leader, and experienced voice and — over time — a trusted adviser.
6. Mix up your sources
Producing the kind of content, data and thought leadership that allows sellers to deliver these new insights, ideas and perspectives can be expensive, labor-intensive and complex. Many firms (especially smaller ones) tend to shy away from the investment it really takes, thereby largely missing out on the benefits of insight selling.
But no one said you have to do everything yourself. There are many credible, experienced and well-respected voices out there, whose research and content you can leverage during the buying cycle. Industry experts. Analyst firms. Benchmark reports. Government data.
If anything, when you mix up the various sources of insights, this makes you stand out even more. If you’re not simply sharing your own content, it makes buyers perceive you as more independent and more credible.
In 2015 and beyond, a new approach to selling is needed. Buyer behavior has dramatically shifted, and will never return to what it once was (unless someone pulls the plug on the Internet itself). Sellers need to respond by acting as thought leaders, educating buyers with new ideas and perspectives, and delivering interaction and opportunity insights throughout the buying cycle.
But even if this means a dramatically different approach to selling, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any ways to make the process easier. By combining some of the principles I have outlined here, firms and their sellers can adopt this new way of selling in a relatively straightforward, easy-to-implement way.
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