In Isaiah Berlin's most popular essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” the famous Latvian-British social and political theorist quoted a fragment of ancient Greek: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Since its publication in 1953, this concept has become an intellectual parlor game (something Berlin said himself) that those with a binary view of the universe have used to divide writers, politicians (Kennedy: fox; Nixon: hedgehog), and executives into two neat categories.
What’s forgotten is that Berlin used this ancient aphorism as a way to evaluate Leo Tolstoy. His conclusion? Tolstoy was actually a fox, despite many declarations that would indicate Tolstoy wanted to be a hedgehog. In short, Tolstoy was both — a fox by inclination, but a hedgehog by choice.
B2B marketers want sellers to know lots of things, and they use third-party data providers as part of that desire. At a recent Forrester event, I asked a marketer from a large financial services firm how may data providers they used; she casually replied: “77.” Seventy-seven separate data providers! If only a fraction of this data is provided to sellers, they must feel overwhelmed.
The consultative seller needs both the characteristics of the fox – knowing many things about the buyers, their companies, competition, and industry – and the hedgehog – knowing the one big thing (or maybe a few) that will lead to a sale.
In Give Sellers The Alignment Data They Need To Succeed, I take a look at the various types of data providers, noting that most sophisticated marketers use more than one, and map them against the needs of consultative sellers to have the right sort of nuanced, quality data that will help them engage and advance the sale. That may require knowing many things, like the fox. But it also means offering the right data at the right time to get to the one big thing (the hedgehog’s specialty) to close the sale.
Quantity does not equal quality, but by working with sellers and building a data funnel to continually sift out and filter the right kind of data at the right time, marketers can enable sellers to better align with customers not just with data but with the appropriate information and knowledge to succeed.
(About the author: Steven Wright is an analyst with Forrester Research. This post originally appeared on his Forrester blog, which can be viewed here)
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