The Insight Driven Organization


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It’s clear that our customers want to be engaged differently. High performing marketing and sales organizations are reshaping themselves to respond with Insight. Insight is critical, our customers want fresh ideas, they want to improve their businesses, they want to find new opportunities, they want to become more efficient and effective. I’m not sure how new this is–I think customers have always wanted these things, I think they may be manifesting it differently.

High performing sales and marketing teams are stepping up, they are providing insights–but I worry how long can this be sustained?

Sales and marketing are the “face” of the insights our organizations develop. By themselves, marketing and sales cannot sustain this march to engaging the customer differently. For any organization to sustain bringing insights to the customer, engaging the customer in new ways, we have to become Insight Driven Organizations. The whole corporation has to be organized around the issue of “how do we help our customers grow and improve.” Our business strategies, our product development strategies, our customer service, finance, manufacturing, operations have to be organized around the singular mission, how do we help our customers grow and improve?

I suppose the Insight Driven Organization doesn’t look much different than the Customer-centric organization. At their cores, each is driven by an intensity around the customer experience. Market/Product strategists are engaged in understanding the customers and their customers. They understanding the forces that are shaping their markets and industries, they are constantly talking, exploring and collaborating on ideas. What are the opportunities, what are the trends, what are the big problems to be solved? What can we do in helping our customers solve them?

Product development takes those ideas to start shaping solutions to bring to market–but their process is different than normal product development. The customer is deeply involved in the process, in product definition, in reviewing specs, in testing. Customer service is engaging customers to define not “delightful customer service experiences,” but “Effortless Customer Experiences.” Procurement organizations behave differently, often seeking to become “Customers of Choice,” because they know string supply partners are critical to the organization’s ability to serve their own customers. HR is bringing the right talent into the organization. Legal, Finance, Manufacturing all have their role in sustaining the Insight Driven or Customer Centric Organization.

Knowledge flows freely between functions within the organizations, silos are broken down. Knowledge flow freely to and from partners, suppliers and customers. Collaboration, mutual learning, co-creation become standard operating procedure–not just internally, but with customers, suppliers and partners.

Insight is great, but Insight has a shelf life quickly becoming Hindsight. Sales and marketing alone cannot continue to deliver fresh Insights to customers without the rest of the organization supporting them. To sustain our customers’ voracious appetites to learn and improve, our organizations have to be structured to provide a continual flow of Insight supported by powerful answers and solutions. We have to become Insight Driven Organizations.

Where does it start? It can start in any part of the organization. We see great successes in sales today. But to sustain this over time, to keep Insight from becoming yesterday’s buzzword, the whole organization must be transformed. And that can only come from the top–from a deep commitment to being Insight Driven, Customer-centric–from the board, through top management, and down through every part of the organization.

We’ve seen a lot of discussion around Insight Selling. We’ve seen organizations starting to produce profound results by changing the way marketing and sales engage customers through Insight. But none of this will be sustained until the entire company is transformed to become an Insight Driven Organization.

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.


  1. Hi Dave,

    Like your musing here on insight. I am very very WORRIED insight is losing the essence of its meaning. By becoming the latest buzzword, it will be attached to all things as most fads in business tend to emerge. I am not sure I buy into such a buzzword as Insight Selling. Lately, I am seeing basic sales intelligence being called buyer insight – this is another example of trying to “sell” insight as the latest buzzword.

    Customers and buyers are always on the sidelines, watching what is developing. Thus, caution should be exercised here – the buzz about “insight” could be so loud – customers no longer trust the validity of any offered for it will be seen as a sales gimmick.

    What I like, which you hit on, is more of a purpose to me. Our purpose is to help our customers grow and improve as you mention. Thus, we must also be purpose-driven. Insight is one means of helping companies fulfill this purpose and help their customers fulfill their goals. It must be delivered with a strong tie to a purpose – backed by visible and apparent understanding. In other words, customers know you have done your homework.

    Lastly, the true power of insight is not insight itself. But, the ability to turn insight into powerful foresight. Foresight which allows for a new vision of a future, which transforms both the selling and the buying organization.

    Thanks Dave – as always – for thoughtful articles.


  2. The challenge some organizations have with insights is that they cannot be directly tied to customer experience, new concept or messaging initiatives, employee behavior, or to individual touchpoint elements on a granular basis. The company can be insights-driven, but it needs to around be real-world business goals and corresponding actions goals as well:

  3. Tony and Michael: Thanks for your great comments, sorry about my delay in responding.

    Yes, Insight has become the buzzword of the past couple of years—looks not to die out for a couple of years, though I am lobbying heavily for “supercalifragilistic……” Has a nice ring to it.

    Seriously, there is way too much focus on Insight and not enough on establishing conversations with customers that result in action and change.

    We have to, as Tony suggests, be purpose driven—what are we trying to achieve for the customer, what are we trying to achieve for our company, what are we trying to achieve for ourselves—-all have to be aligned or we will not be successful.

  4. I think insights are important, and for those who like the so-called “challenger” model, you can’t do much without fresh insights to dazzle your customers.

    But I think many if not most customers/prospects are wary (and weary) of sales reps bringing gifts otherwise known as insights. It’s pretentious to assume a new relationship will develop because you show up and have some insight you claim will “transform” your customer’s business. Even if you’re right, the customer’s ego won’t easily accept that some outsider has the key to success.

    A more reliable strategy, in my view, is as Michael suggested, goal-driven sales. The goal being the customer’s goal, in case that wasn’t clear.

    If you’re in a position where customer always believes you’re helping them achieve their goals, you’ll get first crack at selling something.

    I do agree there is a place for insight, and top-performing reps with established relationships should bring new ideas to their customers. Sometimes insights are the key to solving customer problems, but not always. Flogging the “insight” horse as the only key to sales performance is not the answer.

    What do buyers expect and value? I tried to answer that question in my article: B2B Sellers, Wake Up! Adopt Buyer Experience Management, or Get a Pink Slip from Customer 2.0

    Here’s an excerpt. You’ll notice the focus on the buyer’s priorities and problems. Insight is not the only or even the most important thing, according to buyer research.

    What do Buyers Expect and Value?

    Let’s start with what buyers don’t want. I believe it’s a huge mistake to attempt to take “control of the customer conversation” as the Challenger book’s subtitle implies. For heaven’s sake, buyers are fed up with sellers pushing and dominating the conversation! In part, that’s why they are opting out of the seller contact in the early stages of the buying journey.

    A Forrester Research study found that buying executives valued sales interactions that focus on solving their problems: “The overwhelming majority (63%) of executives surveyed agreed that a salesperson who understood their business problems and offered a clear path to solving them was valuable.”

    Christine Crandell’s F100 study uncovered these buyer’s expectations:

    Have a long-term partner orientation; Act like a trusted business advisor; Always have a sense of urgency and care; Be relevant and credible; Set realistic expectations; Be transparent and forthright; Honor your word; Be fair and flexible; Maintain a positive & broad reputation; Be consistent and predictable; Focus on overall success vs. a transaction; Products perform “as advertised”

    John Holland’s CustomerCentric Selling® selling behaviors include:

    Converse situationally; Ask relevant questions; Solutions focused; Target business people; Relate product usage; Manage their managers; and Empower buyer to achieve goals; Solve problems; Satisfy needs.”

    Long-term partner. Solve problems. Trusted advisor. Reviewing the terms on these lists, along with CEB’s loyalty drivers already mentioned, I see more similarities than differences. One thing I don’t see is any evidence that buyers want sellers to “control” the conversation. Perhaps “lead” the conversation is a more useful goal.

  5. Bob,

    You articulated a point very well. For most organizations, the view of buyer insight research and buyer persona development has been about profiling. This is incorrect. Personas in general and buyer personas specifically are designed to focus on the goals of buyers. Communicated through archetypes. In essence, uncovering the goal-directed buying behaviors of buyers.

    Buyer insight research and buyer persona development are designed for what you described – and is a purpose to me – to understand the goals of customers and buyers and to help them achieve specific goals. Goals are multi-dimensional and buyers often have a hard time articulating them in depth. This is the real value of buyer insight research. To uncover the not-so-obvious goals of buyers. They exist on many levels and once uncovered- can result in deep profound insight and breakthrough strategies for organizations.

    I believe companies can only deliver real insight once this understanding about buyer goals is achieved. Otherwise, I do believe “insight” delivered by both marketing and sales will be seen as gimmicky and of no real value. As mentioned earlier – I am very concerned about the de-valuation of the concept of insight itself – due to expedient and unthoughtful attempts to market and sell “insight” as if it were a product. I don’t believe buyers will not see it for what it truly can look like – a gimmick.


  6. This is a great discussion. Like you, I’ve been concerned with the misinterpretation or devaluing of the concept of Insight. Too, often, it is simply packaged as “Dear Occupant,” which is just another, perhaps, a little more sophisticated, level of the standard pitch. Customers see through this quickly.

    Real insight is based on understanding the customer (enterprise and individual) and engaging them in discussions specific to them about the issues they are concerned about.

    This is something that can’t be “trained” in a 2 day workshop, but requires deep research into customers, industries, personas and the company and people themselves.

    The good news is, properly used, there are many tools that can be leveraged to help sales, marketing and others do this.

    However, I’d like to shift the conversation. We seem to have gotten sidetracked on the misuse of insight by sales and marketing.

    Whether you call it Insight Driven or Customercentric, I think there is real power in applying these principles to the organization. How our product development teams develop priorities for new products, how they engage customers in that process, how the rest of the organization does the same thing provides great power. It puts the customer at the center of everything the organization does.


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