Original insights in international business and marketing
In many organizations, Sales and Marketing are partnering to reframe the conversations field personnel are having with B2B customers. The days of classic F&B selling are over and are being replaced by a new approach centered on insight sharing. Sales people are starting to change the very nature of the customer relationship from being primarily transactional to one where they are perceived more as trusted advisors. As conversations move up into boardrooms they focus a noticeably less on product portfolios and more on strategic insight sharing and value-based solutions. A key element in all this is the identification of unique business insights which help reframe the customer conversation away from straight product acquisition and price discounting.
So just what are these insights and where are they found? They can be found almost anywhere but are generally uncovered through frequent interactions with a wide range of customers. They are the essence of what sales people encounter every day through customer facing interactions (but often fail to explicitly capture or probe deeper on). Above all, they are the product of deliberate questioning and investigation.
Customer and market insights are not inherently difficult to uncover. They are merely the fruit of sales and marketing executives seeking first to understand customers’ situations before they themselves are understood. Insights are discoverable through the practiced art of asking the right questions (e.g. open ended) and actively listening to what people say. Over multiple conversations it becomes easier to uncover patterns and common threads which can be analyzed and interpreted.
Insights can work on different levels. At a macro or high level they appear more universal like: “A growing number of US companies are turning to in-sourcing by bringing manufacturing back to the States,” or “A rapidly aging population with chronic conditions is threatening to overload healthcare systems.” Finding macro-level insights should primarily be the responsibility of marketing. They are often found through 3rd party research reports, interactions with KOLs, industry experts & publications, national databases, etc… At a more micro or local level it might translate into: “We’re having a difficult time hiring and keeping skilled workers because GE is starting to move production from China back to Kansas City,” or “We are struggling to free up critical care beds which are increasingly taken up with patients with exacerbations of chronic conditions.” These are the types of insights that marketing and sales should collaborate closely on. They can be uncovered through 1:1 interviews, focus groups, sales feedback, market research, research reports and panels/forums/communities.
Since there is no single magic question to uncover latent insights, here are 25 sample questions designed to help stimulate customer conversations and facilitate the acquisition of potential insights. Please note that most of these should be closely followed up with several probing “Whys?” or by asking for specific illustrative examples.
1. What are the themes/issues you keep hearing over and over again in staff or business meetings?
2. Do you have any examples, stories or anecdotes you can share of what your daily reality is like? What are they?
3. What issues or problems plague your customer/employee satisfaction results the most?
4. What are the unseen “icebergs” in your business/organization that you worry are out there?
5. What other business or industry does your current situation remind you/make you think of?
6. In what ways is your business changing the most and the least?
7. What issue is the biggest consumer of your time and/or energy?
8. With businesses everywhere looking to reduce costs, how has your organization put cost savings/reduction initiatives into practice? Which ones are/aren’t working?
9. What aspect of your role do you find the most rewarding?
10. What parts of your business do you feel least equipped to handle?
11. When you meet with colleagues or acquaintances in other organizations, what do you find you have in common?
12. What is your competition doing better than you today?
13. How would you rate your organization’s ability to tackle issue X?
14. What are the most persistent problems or issues you keep wrestling with?
15. If you could gather your entire team/organization to jointly address the biggest headache, what would they pick to focus on?
16. What recent product purchase or service implementation do you remember best? What made it so memorable?
17. What issue or aspect of your role are you most passionate about?
18. What aspect of your role is the most important or critical?
19. Who or what are the greatest casualties of issue X if it doesn’t get resolved?
20. How is success in your business/organization measured?
21. Between “people,” “processes” and “technology/systems” which of these do you find yourself struggling with the most?
22. How well are you delivering on your organizations’ stated objective/mission/vision?
23. What would you have to do or achieve to win your company’s most prestigious award/prize?
24. What topics or skills are you devoting most of your training budget & resources to?
25. What are the 2-3 biggest line items in your annual budget?