There's no shortage of companies that now view insights as a pivotal component of provocative selling. A recent survey by my company, Corporate Visions, found that 81% of companies believe they use an insights-based approach as part of their selling strategy.

That figure says a lot about the popularity of insights. What it doesn't tell us is what companies mean when they say they use an "insights-based" approach. After all, the way companies define and use insights-based selling is liable to vary dramatically from organization to organization.

So, the critical question is what constitutes a powerful insight? What distinguishes powerful insights from less effective ones? And how do you deliver the types of insights most likely to engage prospects and compel them to take action?

To answer any of those questions, you need a more concrete definition of insights—what they are, how they're created, and what effect they have on prospects.

You also need to recognize that, in terms of generating positive selling outcomes, different insight types will exert different degrees of influence.

The best way to think about this topic is to break insights down into different groupings based on specific attributes and scope.

Below, I've identified four categories of insights that tend to crop up in business-to-business marketing collateral.

Anecdotal Insights

Usually developed in-house, anecdotal insights typically focus on day-to-day issues, such as best-practices and lessons learned from customers. Examples may include customer testimonials, case studies, success stories, or even practical advice and guidance provided by users and champions of your solutions.

Drawback: Anecdotal insights tend to be limited in terms of their ability to generate urgency and get prospects to see and feel the need to do something different.

Authoritative Insights

Authoritative insights rely on the work of trusted third parties such as industry analysts, leading consultants, or other respected poll-takers who gather information from research and highlight the most compelling statistics or facts.

Drawback: Once these stats and facts are in the public domain, anybody in the industry can cite the source and weave them into a message. That makes saying something unique and your own difficult. Worse, you might end up telling someone something he or she already knows, which could reinforce the status quo.

Current Insights

Current insights are gleaned from original, company-generated market research and surveys. The idea is to pose questions to the marketplace and/or prospect database and generate enough responses to create a statistically valid survey that reflects current realities of your market.

You can then develop insights by providing commentary on the exclusive data points that have been generated.

Drawback: Although independently generated research is usually a net positive, people may question the credibility of your results if the findings repeatedly lean in favor of your offerings.

Visionary Insights

Like insights belonging to the "current" category, visionary insights are rooted in unique, company-generated research and results.

The crucial difference is that visionary insights feature a different interpretive outlook. Instead of concentrating solely on the current implications of your research, you'll shift your focus to the emerging issues, challenges, and trends your data speaks to. Your content and message will aim to provide forward-looking conversation and perspective on the direction of your market, helping you shape the conversation.

Drawbacks: The challenges are similar to those in the "current" category. Other challenges relate to the inherent difficulties of developing compelling, well-explained, forward-looking analyses of your data.

We provided these categories to participants in our market survey then asked them how frequently each insight type appears in their marketing assets.

The survey revealed that anecdotal insights were used the most, visionary the least.

Participants were then asked how effective they believe each category is at generating better customer conversations and selling outcomes. What we found was that anecdotal insights—the most used—was deemed the least effective, and visionary insights—the least used—was considered to have the most impact.

* * *

Our findings suggest that most companies aren't delivering the types of insights that the market wants and that best move the needle.

Visionary interpretations of your market stand to make the biggest impact, keeping prospects returning to your content, seeking your analysis, and maybe even doing something different because of it.

As our survey shows, the best types of insights expose inconsistencies, uncertainties, or knowledge gaps in your customers' and prospects' current way of thinking. You increase your likelihood of achieving that powerful effect by delivering insights closer to the "visionary" end of the spectrum.

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image of Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer is chief strategy and marketing officer of Corporate Visions Inc. He is the co-author of Customer Message Management and Conversations that Win The Complex Sale,

LinkedIn: Tim Riesterer