i²: Intent and Insight  
by Bob Heckman
Author of Boardroom Selling


The ultimate litmus test in the world of sales is whether or not your customers and prospects believe you and your organization bring value to them. If you do, you’ll have an opportunity to compete for the business. If not, you fail.  

To demonstrate that value in a clear and practical way, you must cultivate what I call i², or “intent” and “insight”.  


Intent can be defined as a zealous commitment to the needs of your client.  That means, instead of thinking about what you would like to sell, great salespeople focus on what their clients really need.  You must be willing to listen and learn, to invest the time it takes to truly understand your customer’s situation. A quick way to think about your company’s value is to ask yourself-- what problem can we help the prospect solve? Or what opportunity you can help them capitalize on? Problems and opportunities, its that simple. People buy because they have a problem or an opportunity.   

Intent means you deploy your company’s capabilities, skills and resources on behalf of your client.  It means you will go the extra mile to ensure the quality of your product or service, the speed of your delivery and the competitiveness of your pricing. It means you care about your client and feel that only when they succeed, you succeed. That may sound trite, but companies that do it well become winners in the marketplace. Those that don’t, fall by the wayside. 

In his wonderful business seminars, Dr. Mahan Khalsa says our Intent should not be to sell, but to help our client succeed.  That advice echoes well-known speaker Zig Ziglar’s observation that” the best way to get what you want is to help a lot of other people get what they want”. Both of these acknowledged experts tell us that a client or prospect can tell quickly if we’re there just to “tell our story” or if we are really sincere in our Intent to help them improve their business performance. 

Prove to your clients you intend to help them succeed. Certainly the quality of your solution is critical in helping them succeed. New ideas that drive revenue or cut costs are always appreciated. In addition, showing them that you care by an introduction to a business associate who may need your client’s products or services. It could be simply mentioning the quality of product your customer manufactures when the opportunity presents itself. Perhaps identifying a good candidate for a job opening at your prospect’s company is the value-add.   Should you earn a fee when you do these things? Nope. Your reward will come through stronger relationships with people who can say ”Yes or No” to important decisions. Your Intent is to help them succeed. 

An executive of a large services company asked me if I would mind interviewing a candidate he was considering. He felt I knew his organization and he wanted an informed outsider’s viewpoint.  I was glad to help and conducted the interview and provided feedback. Did I receive a fee for my services? No, because my Intent is to help his company be successful and I’m not in the Executive Search business. But it sure didn’t hurt my rapport with the executive! 


Insight is a key strength of any great salesperson or sales organization.  Before we can help a prospect or customer, we must understand their needs, craft a solution, and then chart a path that connects the two.  Insight means more than assembling a binder full of facts. It requires good thinking, sound judgment and the ability to listen. 

No surprise, developing insight also takes hard work and commitment and not every salesperson is willing to make the effort.  But the great ones do.  

Insight into the customer or prospect’s organization is mandatory. But let’s take it a step further. Let’s provide Insight into what other high-performing companies are doing to improve. These are commonly called Best Practices. Smart business people demand that you know their company, the industry, AND what other market leaders are doing. The key is to select the most relevant Best Practices and assist the customer or prospect in understanding how to apply the principles. 

In addition to new ideas and the sharing of Best Practices, Insight can be as simple as understanding the customer or prospect’s culture and making certain that your solution is appropriate. For example, you may be presenting a technology that your prospect isn’t currently using. Therefore, additional training sessions might be called for, or an internal help desk for fast response during the initial days of implementation. Perhaps assisting the customer with an internal communication plan to announce the new service before launching it to their customers.  

Lastly, we’ll translate our solutions into direct and measurable benefits for our customers.  Those are the fundamentals of Insight.  The world’s best salespeople and sales organizations live and breathe these basics.  If you hope to join their ranks, you’ll want to demonstrate that not only do you know your own services, but you have insight into the client and their industry. 

A Lesson 

Here’s an example of Intent and Insight from the real world: 

When I was with Accenture (formerly  Andersen Consulting) years ago, we debriefed an existing client at a giant life insurance company after losing a potential new engagement to one of our competitors.  The President of the company was blunt in his assessment. 

“You answered the proposal well enough,” he said. “But given your people, your experience and your reputation, we quite frankly thought you would have brought us something more.” 

We answered the RFP, but we did not apply the rules of Intent and Insight, so we lost the business. We could have brought more to the client, but failed to do it. Don’t make the same mistake!

Bob Heckman spent almost 20 years at IBM and Accenture in senior Business Development roles. His first book, Boardroom Selling, is scheduled for release in April, 2004. He can be reached at 214-668-1284 or at his web site, www.thebookonsales.com.


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