Thought Leadership vs Commercial Insight: The Hard Truth

Thought Leadership vs Commercial Insight: The Hard Truth

Today’s sales leaders and marketers spend a great deal of time discussing the changes in customer buying behavior. Customers are engaging later in their buying journey, bringing more stakeholders to the table and spending less time with sellers. 

A few key questions come up frequently. “How do we respond to these changes to get attention?” “How do we flex to a more informed buyer?” As a reactive solution, many organizations double down with more of what they already provide - “thought leadership” - and hope they just might get lucky engaging customers with it. 

Why Thought Leadership?

This begs the question, “what is the goal of thought leadership?”  To establish credibility? Build rapport? Increase sales? If it’s only the first two, it can likely get you there.  If it’s the third, it never will – not in today’s environment.  Why is that? Because, thought leadership is so often teaching just for teaching’s sake.

It’s sharing a future state idea that serves to make the seller look smart and endear himself/herself to the customer.  But the result is also a customer who is now even more overwhelmed with information; much of that information being “nice-to-know” and leading to a perceived offering that is only nice-to-have.

If not thought leadership, what can cause a shift from “nice-to-have” to “must have”?

Build Commercial Insight

There are a few nuanced differences between thought leadership and commercial insight, but it’s easiest to understand them by thinking about a customer mindset shift from what we call ‘A State’ to ‘B State,’

Though now an independent organization, Challenger was once part of CEB, now Gartner. The following snip-it from their blog post gives a great synopsis of the difference between thought leadership and commercial insight.

“Rarely will thought leadership alone cause customers to change their views or prompt immediate action,” says David Anderson, practice leader at Gartner. “Instead, sales leaders must arm reps with commercial insight to push beyond presenting a new idea to actually undermine an existing one.” 

Commercial insight is typically developed by combining information, such as facts, data, industry trends, experiences and observations with customer needs, like business growth, increasing profits and reducing attrition, to create a unique conclusion. Organizations that effectively deploy insights to deliver effective messages increase the likelihood of closing high-margin deals and improving long-term customer loyalty.

The ‘A State’ is the current thinking that must be broken down and reframed, the ‘B State’ is the destination the customer is led to. The crux of the message is not where you could be going, but why it’s important to leave where you are.  If you get that nuance right, you’ll find customers much more eager to listen to you.

The ‘Commercial’ part of Commercial Insight is when the B state syncs directly with your value proposition and unique differentiators.  It locks in the commercial opportunity when you answer both the question, “here’s what you need to do differently” and “this is how we can help.”

Commercial insight is credibility

Because thought leadership is essential for establishing credibility in the industry, it does have its place,  but thought leadership absent commercial insight is no longer the best way to set yourself apart from the competition, move customers to action, and generate commercial outcomes.

Commercial insight gives sellers a chance to cut through the noise and speak directly to the customer, the pain they’re experiencing, and how specifically they might alleviate it.