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Insight Alone Isn't Challenging Enough

In selling, the latest rage is “customer insight.”

Consider what leading sales experts have to say about this emerging essential.

From Changing the Sales Conversation by Linda Richardson: “Client insight is a marketing term that refers to the data that is gathered about clients to predict their future needs and shape their current ones… You job is to ensure the insights you bring to your clients are relevant and specific to them.”

From Anthony Iannarino: “Insight is the highest rung on the ladder (so far as we can see from here). But you can't stand on that rung until you’ve climbed up using all of the lower rungs. You need business acumen and situational knowledge. This isn’t easy to acquire, and it should be a top priority for your personal and professional development.”

From Insight Selling by John Doerr and Mike Schultz: “Not only do sales winners sell differently, they sell radically differently, than second-place finishers. Today’s sales winners harness the power of ideas.”

So much stock has been put into customer insight that the authors of The Challenger Sale went so far as to say that solution selling and relationship selling were dead, giving rise to insight selling as the new imperative.

Researchers and experts generally agree, even if there is some departure on how extreme this trend may or may not be. The fact is that buyers do, indeed, value sellers who bring insights and those who ask questions to promote self-discovery of new insights.

In addition to bringing insights, however, buyers still want trust-based relationships with sellers and solutions developed in collaboration with sellers.

Insights + Relationships + Solutions = Sales. But, wait, that’s not all.

The term “insight” may be too narrow to adequately describe what your buyers want when they say they want to be challenged. Technically, the definition of “insight” is to apprehend the true nature of something, to intuitively understand, to discern the underlying or inner truth, to perceive the motivational forces behind one’s actions or thoughts.

Developing insight, then, requires empathy and patience to look beyond the obvious. It requires superior listening and question-asking skills plus the ability to assimilate data points and subtle emotional cues to draw conclusions.

With insight, a seller gets a closer look at the buyer and the situation at hand. In a hurry-up world, this is a gift to time-pressed buyers who may not be able to gather their own thoughts and develop their own insights.

But in this strictest sense of the word, some gaps remain.  With insight alone, your buyer won't get everything they want from you.

Insight is about looking inward. It deals with the known variables and uses, albeit at a deeper level, what is already apparent.

Using insight alone would be the equivalent of being near-sighted, able to see near things more clearly than distant ones. This myopic view is inadequate in sales.

Buyers want sellers to bring more than insight. The sales experts who are using the term “insight” mean it in a much broader sense, and it’s important for sellers to understand the full meaning of the buzz term “insight selling” so they do not over-rely on too narrow a view.

In addition to insight, sellers need additional sight lines and perspectives.

Outsight is a seldom-used word, being popularized more in the field of leadership than in sales, thanks to the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Outsight is defined as the act of perceiving external things. Research shows that innovation to bring new ideas, methods and solutions into use is absolutely dependent on an individual’s outsight.

With outsight, a seller is able to cross-apply what is learned in one situation to effectively impact another. Outsight brings new, different and inspiring possibilities into view. Outsight breaks through the here-and-now status quo.

Outsight gives a seller a far-sighted view, an ability to see things in the distance more clearly than near ones. From the buyer’s point of view, this is preferred over near-sightedness.

To develop outsight, sellers need to expand their own horizons. Being open-minded, continually seeking opportunities to learn and remaining curious will help sellers to gain outsight. Jill Konrath’s book, Agile Selling, makes a strong case for both insight and outsight. She writes “Buyers expect you to understand their business, direction, challenges, processes, and relationship history.” In other words, sellers need to look backwards and forwards to bring more to the table.

In addition to the broad outlook, your buyers need you to access resight when needed. That’s another seldom-used (but legitimate!) word meaning an ability to see something narrowly and directly. Resight is useful in those times when you need to laser in on what’s key. It is not unlike bombsight which refers to the instrument used when aiming at well-defined targets. Your buyers would like for you to do this, too, at times.

Of course, hindsight is also important. To look back at a situation, ascertain what happened and fully understand the impact gives you credibility with your buyers.

And then there’s foresight. Unfair as it may seem, buyers demand this, too. They want sellers to articulate the ROI in ways that would require a crystal ball. They request guarantees of performance. They expect the seller’s insight and outsight to work together to anticipate and stave off future problems.

This is where you can create the greatest value and differentiation. By looking broadly and continuously at your buyer’s present and future needs, you will develop an expansive 20/20 vision and a seeming clairvoyance that makes you an irreplaceable resource. You will also be able to focus in on a narrower view and pinpoint what matters most. You will be able to effectively challenge buyers and move them forward.

Insight, outsight, resight, bombsight, hindsight, foresight… And just one more. With all this sight, your buyers also expect you to take oversight or watchful care of the investments they make with you. With your eyes wide open, you will be capable of doing so.

The CONNECT2Sell Blog has been discontinued as our focus has shifted to leadership at every level. Research with buyers demonstrates that buyers respond favorably when sellers show up as leaders. If you'd like to step into your full potential as a leader (and boost sales!), take a look at our free and affordable courses on