In the arena of provocative selling, insights have emerged as the consensus weapon of choice. That’s really no surprise. The term itself seems provocative. It implies knowledge, influence and an eagle-eyed vision toward the future.
Research conducted by my company, Corporate Visions, confirmed just how widespread the use of insights has become. A survey of more than 400 business-to-business marketers and sales professionals found that 81 percent of respondents believe they use an insights-based approach as part of their marketing and sales strategy.
Yet, despite its many positive connotations, and despite all the hype surrounding it, “insights” remains something of a vague term. That’s a problem for companies hoping to incorporate the most influential insights into their customer conversations.
The absence of a concrete definition around the term might lead you to ask the following questions: What makes for a truly powerful insight? What types of insight are best at dislodging your prospect’s status quo and distinguishing your message?
Most importantly, how do you know whether your insights are creating action or just rehashing previously established industry facts and data points – what I call “true but useless” information?
Toward a Sharper Definition
These questions brought me closer to the suspicion that not all insights are created equal. Some are better at creating action than others. Some are better at defeating the status quo than others. Some are better than others at adding uniqueness and urgency to your customer conversations.
To find out what types of insights are most impactful, I started out by bucketing them into four distinct insight categories that companies can create and deliver:
- Anecdotal insights – Created in-house, these insights focus on more tactical, day-to-day issues such as best practices or lessons learned from experiences with customers.
- Authoritative insights – Insights in this category rely on the work of trusted third-party sources such as industry analysts to frame an issue or perspective.
- Current insights – These insights are founded on original, company-generated research or surveys.
- Visionary insights – Like current insights, these are also based on original, company-generated research. However, they also rely on in-house expertise to deliver forward-looking perspectives and interpretations of where the industry’s going next.
At one time or another, you may have incorporated some or all of these insights into your sales enablement tools. But here’s the thing: The insight types outlined above are not equally effective at creating real opportunities in the field. And, interestingly enough, they’re not all delivered with equal frequency.
My company’s survey found that anecdotal insights—the least labor-intensive to develop—are delivered most often. But according to the survey, they were also pegged as the least effective in terms of producing positive selling outcomes.
On the other hand, visionary insights, used the least, are viewed as the most effective category of insight.
So, you can see there’s an inverted logic taking place whereby companies are relying most often on the insights that have the least impact. To really create the urgency and differentiation you need to defeat the status quo and differentiate your solutions, companies need to deliver insights that fall closer to the visionary end of the spectrum.
What I’ve termed “visionary” insights typically feature the following components:
- They’re original, and based on statistically sound primary research that you conduct independently.
- They’re exclusive, belonging to your company alone, which potentially gives you license to stake out unique, counterintuitive perspectives that run against the grain of conventional wisdom.
- They’re forward-looking. The data you harvest from your survey should enable you to develop a future-focused interpretation of industry challenges and trends, helping you shape the conversation and elevate your stature in the market.
In my mind, the best types of insights happen when you’re able to highlight an inconsistency or uncertainty in someone’s current situation. You’ll fail to do that if you’re simply resorting to well-thumbed, third-party research. Worse, by telling a prospect something they already know, you could inadvertently validate their current situation.
To get the most out of your insights-based approach, make sure you build a story founded on the most provocative and differentiated insights possible – that is, the visionary insights that position you as an industry sage.