Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Inbound Leads - a Critical Success Factor in The Challenger Sale

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Sep 20, 2012

The Challenger Sale Momentum

The Challenger Selling concept is gaining in popularity based on the number of people joining the LinkedIn Group, the rank of The Challenger Sale book, (currently #2 in Amazon sales and marketing category) and the references to the book on the Internet.

Last week we saw a spat between sales training profesionals in one of the LinkedIn groups, about the veracity of the Challenger model, caused no doubt by the mindshare "Challenger" is generating in the market at the expense of rival approaches.

The Challenger behavior archetype identified in The Challenger Sale research stands out because Challengers produce better results than any other sales behavior type selling complex B2B products and services. Why? Because these individuals bring insight and informed opinion to influence the thinking of buyers and they exert a degree of control on the outcome of a complex B2B buying process.

When do Challengers engage in the Buying Process? 

I was asked this question yesterday by the SVP of a major information services company in conversation about the difficulty of selling a B2B product and services against strong competition in 2012. While I am not affiliated in any way with the CEB, I offered the following.

Challengers are able to influence buyer thinking through their expert opinion and industry insight and are capable of exerting control in moving the buying process along. 

I'll use the IMPACT buying model from the book, "Why Killer Products Don't Sell", which accurately describes a universal buying process, to discuss engagement points. For an in-depth look at the buying process and how buyer behavior is affected by risk, get an instant download of the Killer Products Whitepaper.
buying



As a vendor, you can be engaged in a buying process at any point in the buying cycle, but the closer to the start of the buying process, the higher the odds of succeeding.

Think about it for a moment. You can get married the week after you meet someone, celebrities do it almost daily - we see them on the cover of supermarket comics at the checkout. But this is not normally the case, most marriages begin with a courting period, followed by a formal engagement. Making a complex B2B sale is like getting married, except if you are a celebrity.

The odds of winning a deal you did not initiate are better than marrying Kim Kardashian after dating her for a week, but they are not great.

Mike Bosworth in Customer-Centric Selling suggests that your chances are between zero and 20% of winning an RFP if you did not initiate the discussion. If you initiated the conversation, your chances of winning are up to 80%. (Any update on these numbers would be greatly appreciated, as I suspect they may have changed in the last 10 years)

So is it easier to disrupt status quo thinking as Challengers do, in the Transaction phase after the RFP arrives, or when the buyer recognizes they need to do something to correct a sub-optimal condition at say IDENTIFY or MENTOR at the start of the buying process?  Duh!, it's obvious that it’s easier to influence thinking at the outset and becomes progressively harder as the buying process matures. It's not impossible to turn around an RFP that is written by a competitor, but I wouldn’t want to base my income on winning RFP’s influenced by the competition.

But how to engage earlier in the buying cycle? 

How to Engage Early in the Buying Process

We read about Challenger success in the case studies in The Challenger Sale book, but we don't how the salesperson engaged the buyer.

I don’t have that data, but I suggest that the best odds for Challengers succeeding are as a result of an inbound lead at the outset of the buyer’s journey or through leveraging a client relationship to upsell or cross-sell into an existing account… it’s all about gaining access.

Buyers will research approaches and gather ideas around solving a problem or achieving a goal through an Internet search, long before they are ready to buy. They download whitepapers, E-books and attend Webinars and conferences in return for exchanging their contact details and opting in to receive your communication… and they become leads in an inbound marketing system

Inbound Marketing Creates Challenger Openings

In about 25% of companies surveyed by CSO Insights in 2012 , it's marketing that creates the opportunity and an opening for Challengers, but typically when these leads first convert on your Website, they are initial inquiries and are not sales ready.
inbound leads

At this stage buyers are looking for possible approaches and associated risks, not product. This is the ideal opportunity to begin to influence buyer thinking through a combination of behavior based lead nurturing, until they achieve a “sales ready” lead score, and helpful insight provided by sales professionals who look more like consultants than salespeople to the buyer.
challenger sale
Why is Inbound Marketing Important again? Check these numbers
  • 46% of daily Internet searches are for information on products or services.
  • 70% of the links search users click-on are organic—not paid.
  • 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.
Take-Away: If your business is not ranking well for the words that describe your products and services, then you’re not getting found for them by potential customers either.  

Find out if your Website is Capable of generating Inbound Leads

How can you find out if your company Website is capable of generating inbound leads to feed your Challengers? You can run a free Marketing Grader report to see if you doing enough to bring visitors to your website and fill the top of your sales and marketing funnel. The report tells you how you are doing when it comes to converting traffic into leads and leads into customers and what marketing activities are working (or aren't working)?

If your Website scores less than 70 on Website Grader, the chances are you are not getting enough leads. If you need to generate more inbound leads, I suggest that you give inbound marketing a try.

Get the Inbound Lead Generation E-book

Topics: inbound marketing, killer products, challenger sale

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