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Discovering the Ground Truth

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
May 24, 2010

The ground truth is information that is gathered on location, rather than from up above. The military uses this idea to describe the tactical realities on the ground in contrast to what their reports or briefings may have provided. It stands for the idea that there is an objective reality independent of some evidential claims that we might be making.

As we diagnose and complete a needs analysis with our dream clients, we often collect a lot of information that helps us to design a solution that will achieve better outcomes. But much of the time that information we collect is incomplete, biased, and just plain wrong; it doesn’t provide us with the ground truth. More still, not collecting the right information, the ground truth, is often our fault as salespeople.

The Problem with Decision-Makers

We have been taught that we should start selling as high up the organizational chart as we possible can, regardless of whether or not that is where we may be most likely to find dissatisfaction.

When we do find dissatisfaction, the information we obtain often contains exactly the information we need in order to make a business case for the people in the C-suite, while completely ignoring the ground truth as it exists for the stakeholders and end users who will be most affected by changing to our product or service.

Ignoring the ground truth often leads to the creation of expectations that are difficult or impossible to meet, problems executing the solution because we are missing information, and resistance from the very groups our solutions are designed to help.

The Problem with Stakeholders and End Users

More often than not you can get to the ground truth by spending your time two or three levels down in an organization with the people who are every day dealing with the business challenges your solution is designed to improve. They can—and will—provide you with a wealth of information if you spend your time listening.

But the view of the stakeholders and end users isn’t complete either. The ground truth for the end users and stakeholders is often divorced from the constraints and realities that make up the ground truth for the executives in the C-suites.

Because these two groups of people work for the same company, and although they work in the same building, doesn’t in any way mean that they both have the same understanding of their business challenge—or what it will take to make an improvement.

Finding the Ground Truth

These two groups may have very different ground truths. As a salesperson, we are required to understand the ground truth of both of these groups, and winning means finding a way to improve the business outcomes for both the C-suites and end users. Winning deals often means presenting your story in way that includes and deals with the ground truth as both groups know it—even though they may have had no idea what the truth was for the other group before you began your sales process.

Being effective in diagnosing and building a solution for your dream client often means negotiating between these groups to build a solution that is acceptable to both groups and that considers the ground truth for both.

But in order to build the right solution, you first have to diagnose the organization, not just the decision-maker. This means getting your boots on the ground where the trouble exists and discovering the ground truth, from the C-suites to the end user.


Too often we trade building the right solution for our dream clients for building a solution for one group within our clients. By not diagnosing the entire organization to discover the ground truth, we often miss the mark with our solutions, risking losing the deal, setting unrealistic expectations, ignoring the constraints that prevent better outcomes, and creating resistance from the very groups we build our solutions to help.


    1. Why isn’t it enough to capture the picture of the problem from the C-suite, even if it is enough to win the deal?

    1. How do you diagnose the whole organization, instead of simply a decision-maker or decision-influencer?

    1. How do you ensure that you have captured the ground truth before you recommend and present our solution?

  1. How do you effectively negotiate between groups to ensure that your change effort builds better outcomes for both groups when their ideas about a solution conflict?

Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on May 24, 2010

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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