The Keys to Insight Selling: How to Make Your Message Stick

April 10, 2014

Today, customers are more informed than ever. They’ve visited your website, done their research, and already know the business benefits of your product (and your competitors’), often before you even speak with them. In order to set yourself apart and achieve customer buy-in, you can no longer rely solely on technical features or business benefits.
Instead, you need to start employing the keys to Insight Selling — appealing to both the rational and emotional sides of your customers in order to truly resonate and drive the sale home.
Michael Harris, the CEO of Insight Demand and author of Insight Selling: Sell Value and Differentiate Your Product with Insight Scenarios, says storytelling and appealing to your customers’ emotion will make your messaging 20x stickier. In this week’s Labcast, he explains the impact of insight selling, how to incorporate “insight scenarios” into your sales strategy, and three ways to transform your salespeople into trusted advisors for your customers.

This Week’s Guest

“A story is a fact wrapped in emotion. That makes it memorable, and that makes your sales sticky so that long after the facts and figures of your PowerPoint presentation have been forgotten…you know [you delivered] a good story because they can then tell it to someone else.”

— Michael Harris, CEO at Insight Demand

Key Takeaways

  • The key concept behind Insight Selling: What exactly is Insight Selling? It involves appealing to both your customers rational and emotional sides in order to illustrate the value of your product or solution. [2:00]
  • How to overcome the fear of change: The fear of change can be one of the biggest barriers to customer buy in. Show your customers how your product can resolve an even bigger concern: the fear of the status quo. [6:20]
  • Not convinced on the power of emotion? Try this quick thought experiment. [8:30]
  • Insight Scenarios: The key to getting customers to believe in your product. [11:45]
  • 3 ways to help your salespeople become trusted advisors:
    • It’s all about making your salespeople smarter. Try to get your customers to use your product for 6 months. [13:00]
    • Put them in the role of customer service. The more they learn on the back end, the more successful they’ll be on the front end. [13:15]
    • Get your best salespeople to share their insight scenarios with the rest of your team. [13:30]
  • Why storytelling is like jazz: There’s no formula for insight scenarios. You’ve got to improvise and make sure your voice comes across. [14:30]
  • Why storytelling is 20x stickier: Storytelling makes your messaging stick in your customers’ minds. This quick experiment proves why. [15:20]

Listen Here

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Announcer: This is Labcast, insights and ideas for the expansion-stage senior manager. Hosted by OpenView Labs.
Jonathan: Hello everyone and welcome to Labcast from OpenView. Today we have Michael Harris with us. Michael is the CEO at Insight Demand, which is an insight selling sales training company.
He’s also the author of the new book Insight Selling: Sell Value and Differentiate Your Product with Insight Scenarios. It’s a great book and I definitely recommend it. You can check it out. It’s available on
So, Michael, I’m really happy to have you here with us today.
Michael: Thank you. I’m honored to be here.
Jonathan: I’m really excited to talk about the book and some of the key concepts. I think our audience is definitely familiar and very interested in the concept of insight selling. It’s something that has been taking the sales world by storm the past couple of years. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your thoughts on it and why it’s so important for salespeople today.
Michael: Okay, sure. Well, I’ll do that right away. I think insights are key right now. I think buying has changed, so selling has to change. I know that when I get sick, the day before I go and visit the doctor I immediately go onto the computer. I visit WebMD and I try to immediately become an expert. Of course, I don’t become an expert, but I think I do.
Jonathan: Absolutely.
Michael: And I analyze my symptoms. I figure out what I need. So, by the time it rolls around that I walk into the doctor’s office I’m pretty much looking for him just to write me a prescription for what I want.
If he did that, you know, he wouldn’t be doing his job properly. Just like salespeople wouldn’t be doing their job properly with their customers. His job is to provide me with the optimum solution.
Now, if what I was looking for was simple then, sure, you don’t even need a salesperson or a doctor. I should just buy it online. But, if it’s complex I think you can pretty much rely on the inability of patients or of customers to have the time or expertise to really do a proper diagnosis and really do a proper analysis of the vendors and offerings that are out there.
What the doctor needs to do and what the salesperson needs to do is re-teach what their customer has learned online so that they end up with the right solution. That’s what I think is so important about insight selling today.

Jonathan: Right. That’s such a great point. One thing that really jumped out for me in your book is something that’s a concept that we’ve been talking about in some previous podcasts. It’s actually this idea that you need to be selling not just to the rational side of your buyers. So, not just focusing on those benefits of the product and just the business benefits, not just your technical features, but you also need to be appealing to the emotional side, too.
That’s something that you definitely tackle in the book. I think you make a lot of really good, interesting points.
Michael: Yeah. I guess we write about sometimes what we most need to learn. This was a really difficult topic for me. Because I’m quite rational. I worked on Wall Street for 14 years.
When I chose my daughter’s school just a couple of years ago going through grade six into grade seven I put together an Excel spreadsheet to pick the school with a matrix of all the criteria I was looking for so she could get into a great university.
But, you find out life doesn’t always work like that. None of the schools really spoke to me. My rational decision criteria wasn’t working.
In the end I picked a school that didn’t feature on any of the criteria. The school just spoke to me. That really got me thinking that, you know, we don’t make the rational decisions like we think we do. Yet, we’ve been conditioned to think that for 2500 years going all the way back to Plato where he said that man is rational and it’s our emotions that get in the way of rational decision making.
That’s what I always thought on Wall Street, that serious businesspeople of course wouldn’t bring emotion into the decision criteria. But, today with neuroscience we can finally break open that black box of our minds and see what really inspires people to make decisions.
There’s a really interesting study out there that was done by Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, in 1982 when he had a patient by the name of Eliot who came and saw him. This patient had a brain tumor. They removed the brain tumor.
The only part of the brain they removed was the emotional part of the brain. This patient Eliot had an extremely high I.Q. So, the conventional wisdom was hey, if we remove the emotional part of the brain, and if that’s the part that gets in the way of making rational decisions, then this guy’s just become a decision genius.
Jonathan: Right, right.
Michael: What happened is actually quite sad. Eliot actually got caught in paralysis for analysis.
Jonathan: Wow.
Michael: His I.Q. was still the same, but he couldn’t even make the most rudimentary decisions. He couldn’t decide on whether to choose a blue or a black pen. There’s a video clip of him on YouTube trying to pick the best restaurant, and he’s going through this elaborate decision criteria of what restaurant to pick, and yet he never comes to a conclusion.
Because what they’ve actually been able to prove is emotions don’t get in the way of making rational decisions. They’re a vital component of making rational decisions.
Jonathan: That’s fascinating, and it makes sense when you think about it. I mean you can do all the research you want. It can be presented with all the facts and all the details. In the end what gives you that nudge to actually take a leap often is something that’s emotional.
One thing that’s, I think, also interesting coming at it from the flip side a lot of times that barrier that’s causing us not to take the leap is emotional as well. It’s fear, you know, fear of the unknown, fear of change. So, it really does make sense that your sales and marketing materials really have to address those things.
Michael: Well, Jonathan, I think that’s fascinating. Because I think you picked on a really interesting point in terms of it’s the emotional fear of failure that is very strong in the customer’s mind. If we only provide them with rational reasons on why to buy our product we all know that people are uninspired to act on reason alone. You know, they do need those emotional reasons. If we don’t provide them with that then the only thing that feels real is the fear of change.
So, what we have to do is make the fear of the status quo seem more scary than the fear of buying or change. I think that’s extremely important. I know I learned this in one of my many episodes of my mid-life crisis where I was teaching myself to learn to do a standing back tuck, back flip. Don’t ask why.
Jonathan: Wow.
Michael: It’s embarrassing. But, I went to a gym to learn to do this. For the life of me I couldn’t do the back tuck without my coach spotting me in spite of the encouraging words that my coach would give me, like “Come on Michael, don’t be such a wimp, you don’t need me to spot you.”
You’re doing a back tuck. Fine. The worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to land on your knees. For crying out loud, it’s a padded floor.
But, you know, in spite of all the logical reasons that he was giving me it just couldn’t overcome my emotional fear of breaking my neck. Just like I was afraid of breaking my neck, I think customers are afraid of losing their job if they make the wrong buying decision. So, they need those other reasons as well to get them over that fear. Otherwise, that’s the only emotional feeling that they have.
Jonathan: All right. It’s a very real fear, especially for B2B buyers making million dollar decisions in some cases. I think you’re absolutely right.
Michael: Let’s do a thought experiment.
Jonathan: Okay.
Michael: Imagine you or some of your listeners out there, you’re a regional VP of sales for Software U.S.A., Inc.
Jonathan: Okay.
Michael: And you’re walking over the Waterloo Bridge in London, England. It’s a sunny April morning. You’ve just spent $1000 on your wardrobe because you’re off to the biggest interview of your life to run the European operations. This would just be a fantastic opportunity.
As the sun’s beating down on your face you look down, see a puddle, sidestep the puddle, and out of the corner of your eye you see a girl jump off the bridge. Without even thinking you run to the other side of the bridge and you dive into the water. As you’re walking out of the river, and you hear your very expensive $300 shoes go squish, squish, squish, and your whole suit is ruined that you spent over $1000 on, that doesn’t bother you. Because as you look down into her eyes you realize she’s about the same age as your daughter.
Now, that’s an insight scenario. Let’s compare that to a facts and figures scenario. The next day after a very wet but successful interview you’re in the hotel bar. You’re flipping through “The Economist” magazine as you enjoy a drink.
As you’re just about to finish the drink you come across an advertisement for the relief victims of the Indonesian tsunami. They’re providing you a whole host of facts and figures. For the fraction of what you spent on your wardrobe you could save hundreds of lives.
They tell you all about the airlifts of medicine, of medical supplies, and of water purification. But, none of that really grabs you, and as you look at your watch you realize you better get going, and off you go to the airport.
What story motivates you more?
Jonathan: Obviously, it’s the first one for sure.
Michael: It is the first one. The question is, why is that. I think the reason why is that facts and figures don’t feel real. They don’t feel like you can’t see them and you can’t touch them. So, they don’t feel like they touch you or affect you directly or indirectly.
Jonathan: Right.
Michael: And without context you’re leaving it up to the buyer to figure out why they need your stuff, or even worse, why they should care. That’s why one story about a little girl falling off the bridge has a hundred times more impact than all the facts and figures, and it’s more likely to get you to act.
Charities don’t let this go unnoticed. Charity letters that are about one person versus many pull two times the donations.

Interested in learning more about insight selling and challenger selling?

tombstone-e1357328724127 Why Solution Selling is Dead

Jonathan: Wow, wow. I mean it makes sense when you pointed it out. But, it is really interesting.
Another thing that pops out in those scenarios is in both you’re invited to be able to do the right thing, to feel good about what you’re doing. But, in the first one it really is more clear just with your descriptions and everything how you have the potential to be a hero, which is something really interesting.
I think there are definitely opportunities for sales and marketing people to be shaping their content to really present scenarios like this.
Michael: That’s what I have really come to appreciate. Because to me a story… I call them insight scenarios. The reason I call them that is often people think they already tell stories. But, when I hear them, they could be a lot better. By creating an insight scenario… There’s nothing worse than being told a story that’s a little bit dull.
Jonathan: Right.
Michael: But, if it’s an insight scenario really what you’re doing is you’re taking a sales insight. You’re looking for where the biggest gap is between what the customer believes today and what they need to believe to buy your product. Then, you’re closing that gap with a story. Because of that it has a much greater impact and makes a story much more interesting, which I think is critically important.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Do you have any suggestions? This is great advice for particularly motivated salespeople to pick up on their own to put forth the effort to improve their own selling activities and to really improve their own behaviors. Do you have any tips for organizations that want to try to implement this in a more kind of structured across the board, you know, I want to help my whole team do this?
Michael: Yeah. I think everyone wants their salespeople to be trusted advisors, but there’s no shortcut there. A CRM system’s not going to do it.
Jonathan: Right.
Michael: A sales process isn’t going to do it. Really, what’s going to do it is making your salespeople smarter. The best sale we could ever make is to have our customers use our stuff for six months. Because then really they discover on their own terms the value of your offering.
The second best way is to put your salespeople in the role of customer service people to really work with the customers for a couple of years to have them help your customers use their stuff. Because the more you learn on the back end the better you are on the front end. But, that’s pretty expensive sales training.
Probably the third best way to do it, and the way that I would suggest, is to take those people who have these stories – and these are your successful salespeople because they’re already making sales today – or your customer facing salespeople and get the stories from them. Then, put those into a consistent format that then can be shared with the other salespeople. But, it’s more than just teaching them to tell someone else’s story. The salespeople need to make that story their own.
Jonathan: Right. That’s a very key point. I mean it sounds like a good approach in terms of all teams have those all-star reps that are doing the right thing anyway. You really want the other reps to be able to replicate those behaviors.
You bring up a good point that you can give them the tools, but everyone needs to make these stories their own. Because we can tell. This seems like something incredibly useful. Hard to script. You can’t just hand out a script of this and expect it to work as effectively as getting someone to do it more naturally.
Michael: I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s why often having the salespeople do them in bullet point format works quite well. Because there’s a difference between going to the symphony and listening to jazz. I think telling stories are more like playing jazz, where you’ve got to improvise.
Because really what you’re looking for is the heart of the story, and the heart of the story comes from the heart of the person that’s telling it. They have to put themselves in the stories if they’re actually there and then describe what’s happening.
Jonathan: Right. We’re kind of running out of time here, but one other thing I wanted to hit on. The book has some great recommendations around doing this. It also has some really compelling evidence of the impact this can do. One stat that jumped out at me was that actually messaging can be 20% stickier with a story. Can you talk a little bit about that finding?
Michael: It’s actually 20 times, but we don’t really have time to get into the research. Here’s what we have time for. I would ask that all of the listeners right now just take ten seconds. Write down on a piece of paper in front of you the five most significant events in your life. Just take a couple of seconds to write that down.
Jonathan: I’m going to do this, too.
Michael: Okay. Now, you might have gotten to five. You might have gotten to the third point. It really doesn’t matter. Now I want to ask you a question. Each of those points, were they emotionally charged?
Jonathan: Yeah.
Michael: That’s why you remember them. There’s an interesting study that’s been done on this in the University of California where a doctor injected rats with strychnine, which is a poison but it also substitutes adrenaline. They found that rats remembered better if they were injected with this with going through a maze.
But, the really odd thing is they found that it worked better if they did it after the event to be remembered instead of before. That seems weird until you look at it in an evolutionary context. You think you’re going through the savannah in Africa thousands of years ago. You come across a lion that comes out of a cave. You quickly run and hide behind a rock.
As you’re hiding behind the rock you’re emotionally charged. Your heart is beating. And, your adrenaline’s pumping like crazy. What you’re doing is remembering not to go past that point again.
That’s why it’s so important to wrap your sales insights in emotion. That’s really all the story is – a fact wrapped in emotion. Because that makes it memorable, and that makes your sales sticky so that long after the facts and figures of your PowerPoint presentation has been forgotten, if you tell them a story they’ll remember that. You know it was a good story when they can then tell it to someone else.
Jonathan: Right. Well, that’s great. Michael, I really appreciate you taking the time, again. Is there… People can go to your website, obviously. Are there other places people can go to reach out and connect with you?
insight selling bookMichael: Yeah, sure. My website is a good place to go. But, I wrote my book not as a teaser for my workshops. I wrote my book to stand alone.
If you have companies that don’t have enough funds to bring someone in right now, they’re more than welcome to use my book. Not only do I talk about what insight selling is, not only do I describe the best way to deliver insights, but I also describe in great detail in terms of how they can put together their own insight scenarios.
Jonathan: That’s great. Well, Michael, again, I really appreciate you taking the time. I definitely recommend the book to everyone. Thank you again. I’m looking forward to following up and doing this again sometime soon.
Image by Tom Morris


Michael Harris is the CEO at Insight Demand <a href="">Insight Demand</a>. Previously, he was a Business Partner at CustomerCentric Selling.