The Next Big Thing in Sales: How to Hire for Insight Selling

InsightBlogAccording to leading sales pundits like Dave Brock and CEB, the era of insight selling is here. Compared to traditional solutions selling where you present a solution (i.e., a combination of products and services) to the customer’s self-identified need, insight selling requires you to make the customer aware of a previously unknown need.

Insight selling is a direct result of the empowered buyer: as customers are able to conduct their own research into potential solutions themselves, the sales rep’s role as a solution educator is becoming increasingly obsolete.

Instead, salespeople are uniquely positioned to provide their customers with novel information on market trends and best practices due to their access and exposure to a broad range of organizations and industries. To do so, sales reps need to become experts about their customers’ businesses and markets first.

So what are the traits and skills required to develop such insights?

Research shows insight selling requires critical thinking and analytical skills. Insight sellers need to be able to analyze large amounts of data about their customer’s business practices, buying habits and marketplace trends to make sense of the bigger picture.

Furthermore, they need to be able to identify trends and extract the important message from these data. Thus, insight selling places a high cognitive demand on the sales rep and research has demonstrated that cognitive ability (i.e., intelligence) is a significant predictor of job performance (Hunter & Hunter, 1984).

Insight selling also requires curiosity and creativity in order to perceive unexpected connections and discover innovative methods of doing something. Individuals who are intellectually curious, open-minded, and creative tend to be in high in the personality trait Openness to Experience (McCrae, 1987).

In addition, a learning orientation – the motivation to learn, face challenges, and master new material – maps onto insight selling very well. Learning orientation has been found to be correlated with sales performance in general (Sujan, Weitz, & Kumar, 1994) and is likely to be even more important for successful insight selling in particular.

Of course, in order to get buy-in for their insights, salespeople still need to have the traditional people skills of persuasiveness, trustworthiness, and empathy.

In this new age of the sales rep as a “trusted advisor”, organizations that also hire for the characteristics required for insight selling are creating a definite competitive advantage.

Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone
Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min


  • davebrock

    Ji-A: Great post, you’ve really highlighted some of the critical skills/capabilities required for sales people to engage their customers differently! Thanks for the reference, I’m very flattered.

    • Hi Dave, you’re very welcome and thanks so much for your kind words! Your blog is a fantastic learning resource and I always enjoy your thoughtful insights into the world of sales and otherwise.