The Intersection Of Seth Godin And Challenger And Insight Driven Sales


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For some time, I’ve had the famous Jack Nicholson/Tom Cruise scene in “A Few Good Men” playing in my mind when I think of delivering Insight to customers.

You know the scene I’m talking about, it’s where Tom Cruise is cross examining Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan Jesup and Nicholson delivers his soliloquy, “You can’t handle the truth!”

I tend to think, as well intended we may be, however eloquently we may express it, however personalized our insight might be, many customers just can’t handle the truth—or they aren’t yet Insight Ready.  That is they aren’t at a point where they can hear it, internalize it, evaluate it, and act on it.  Consequently, many of our efforts at delivering insight fall on deaf or unprepared ears.

I’ve been toying with the idea of customer readiness or customer maturity in delivering insight, but haven’t found a construct to explain it until reading Seth’s post today:  “How Idea Adoption Works.”

His variant of the Rogers Production Adoption Curve gives us a powerful way to think of how we develop insight, how we identify and target customers who may be insight ready, and mistakes we make in delivering insight.Seth Godin Idea Adoption

People and organizations tend to be at different places in their ability to hear and adopt new ideas.  Seth identifies Fringe, Risky, New, Hot, Mass, Always.  It’s important to understand and recognize this in our Insight Delivery strategies.

I think many organizations get Insight development and delivery wrong.  They work intently on developing insights, develop sales and marketing programs for communicating insight, then hit everyone in the world with the same “insight campaign.”  The more sophisticated will do the research personalizing the insight to a market, customer segment, specific companies, specific personas, or a combination of these.

Yet too often, their efforts fall flat.  Sales people get their teeth kicked in, scurry back to their offices to lick their wounds, declaring, “This Insight stuff is bulls#$t!”

Frankly,  I think they are right.  Too often, we deliver insight to customers who “Can’t handle the truth!”  It’s not because they are bad people or terrible business professionals, it’s just they are at differing points in their ability to adopt ideas.

For us to be effective in developing, communicating, and having an impact on customers with our insights, we have to be more refined in our approach.  We need to target customers who are insight ready, and not waste our time, relationship equity, and efforts with customers who aren’t there yet.

Leveraging the production adoption curve, we can learn a lot about developing and delivering insight to insight ready customers.

The first question is, “How do we even recognized and develop insights of our own?”  I think it comes from our Fringe and Risky customers.  It’s those people who are at the bleeding edge of ideas, who are discovering answers to questions or issues we may not have even thought of.  They are the people we learn from about the real application and value of the solutions we bring to the market.  They are our collaborators, formally or informally, in testing and refining both our ideas and solutions.  Rather than delivering Insight to them, it’s they who are probably giving us Insight we didn’t recognize about our own solutions, products, and services.  Hopefully, our product managers and developers have identified and embraced these people and organizations.

While these customers are our source of insights, they are probably terrible references for us.  They are well known and recognized within their markets, industries, and segments.  But the reaction of every other customer is, “Well…….they are, ughh……..well they’re really different.  It doesn’t really apply to us.”

We then start testing our premises and insights on those people and organizations that fit into the “New” category of the model.  These people are the early adopters, they are nimble, fast movers, change ready.  They are open to new ideas, methods, opportunities and approaches (not just ours but everyone’s).  We can learn a lot about our insights, we can test and validate our insights with this category of customers.  We have to be careful, because they can be a little flighty or their attentions may shift quickly, so we have to manage them and our engagement carefully, making sure we both produce results, and we have thoroughly tested and evaluated our insights.

The “Hot” segment is where the real excitement is.  It’s those customers who’ve perhaps been a little skeptical, but have been attentive to changes in their business, markets, and customers.  They may not be able to put their finger on the issues, they may not be able to articulate them, but they have a sense there may be a different, better way.   It’s these customers that get that “Aha” moment when we first deliver our Insights.

When we launch our initiatives, when we want to maximize our success and impact, it’s these customers we need to focus on.

The fringe and risky customers are already on to the next thing.  Our messages and Insight are wasted on the Mass and Always segments because they aren’t ready.  Even if we approach them, they can’t handle the truth.

Gaining adoption, gaining success and traction with our insights in the New segment is critical to our growth and success.  It’s these customers that become the reference points.  It’s these customers that are the thought leaders and opinion shapers for the rest of the market.  This is where we mature our Insights, this is where the whole industry starts taking notice of the changes and results these customers achieve through our Insight.  It’s in this segment that we will have the strongest pushback, perhaps the greatest skepticism.  We need to be prepared to get very deep with these customers in communicating, defending, helping them internalize the insight.  Only our “A” efforts count here, without it, we will fail to capitalize on the opportunity.  It’s here where Insight blossoms and grows, or becomes an interesting idea.

Once we have great traction with these customers, we rapidly scale and grow into the mass markets–but only after we have traction, solid references, and great experience in the new markets.  Our Insight becomes more broadly accepted, we don’t necessarily have to worry so much about getting interest, but helping people and organizations translate it into what it means for them, how they can adopt it and grow.  We’re not so focused on delivering insight, but helping people make it real for their organizations.

The final stage, Always, customers buy because they have to.  The selling effort here is very different, it’s probably less an Insight driven sale, but more of a traditional needs/problem solving based buying process.

If we are to get the most out of our Insight or Challenger selling approaches, I think we have to be very focused on customer targeting, customer readiness, and customer maturity.  I think we waste a lot of time and effort trying to deliver insight or challenge customers who aren’t ready.  The idea adoption model provides a great framework for assessing our own strategies, developing and delivering our own Insights.

This applies to both our Insight based sales and marketing initiatives.  Our marketing programs need to be tuned to the customer maturity and Idea readiness.  What we communicate, how we communicate, how we engage must be tuned to where they are in their ability to understand, hear, and internalize new ideas.  We can only tell them the truth when they are ready to listen to the truth.

A bit separately, we have to be cautious about the application of this model.  It’s actually a pretty dynamic model.  People and organizations change, at one time, in different areas they may occupy different places in this model.  For certain types of issues/ideas, they may be Fringe and Risky adopters.  But at a different point in time, or with different ideas, they may fall into the Hot or Mass categories.  As we look at our customers and apply this model, we really have to know them and be fluid in our approach.

I’m still toying with these ideas and trying to build them.  I’d love your feedback.

Finally, for a slight diversion, I’ve included that famous exchange between Nicholson and Cruise.  It’s one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.  Enjoy!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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