Sales for smarties: goodbye solution selling, hello insight selling.

Preamble: birth of a salesman?
I'm not skeptical of sales pitches. I'm paranoid of them. The words "can I help you?" typically evoke anger and avoidance in me, even when I need help. When I walk onto a show floor, I avert eye contact with anyone eager to put the spin on me. I haven't been much better with sales in my day job, either, despite the fact that I've done a fair amount sales enablement over the years. And the fact that marketers tend to dismiss sales hasn't helped my attitude any.

But I'm changing. Partly it's that digital has put me in the driver's seat. These days, it's unlikely that I can be 100% hoodwinked, and salespeople seem to know that. And partly it's that I've now worked with salespeople who are not only incredibly smart, but who are authentic, sophisticated, and, yes, helpful. Very, very helpful.

Now I sometimes not only embrace the enemy, I want to join him or her. Sometimes. More to the point, I want to understand what makes sales tick. So hence why July is officially "sales for smarties" month here at 9 3/4. If any of you have the scoop on state-of-the-art sales, please jump in.

Sales Topic 01: selling not just an answer, but also the question.
The new issue of Harvard Business Review is chock-full of smart sales thinking, plus one personal transformation. The article The End of Solution Sales has flipped my professional perspective upside down. And not just my perspective on sales, either. I now think about marketing, and even business as a whole, differently.

Everyone involved with B2B has asked the question, "What keeps our potential customer up at night?" And after we think we've decoded that, we've all tried our damnedest to spin the best-sounding solution to that insomnia invoker. We desperately want to be the Ambien in their lives.

But they know what's keeping them up. As the article points out, these customers are armed to the teeth with information about that--just like I am now when I shop. So instead, effective sales people now crack what should be keeping those customers up--or even better, thrilling them--but isn't because they don't know about it yet. In other words, you're not merely answering their questions. You're coming up with new questions, ones that your organization can answer.

The authors call this transformation away from solution sales "insight selling." I'm tempted to rename it Donald Rumsfeld selling, since it reflects his brilliant "there are things we don't know, we don't know" statement. (And no, I'm not being sarcastic.) But whatever it's called, it's mighty smart strategy, for sales or otherwise.


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