Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Challenger, Insight and Consultative Selling vs. Transactional Sales

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Dec 18, 2012

10 Trends every Sales Exec Must Know for 2013 - CEB

B2B Sales people are struggling with only 58% of B2B reps making quota in 2015. This problem is getting worse as fewer salespeople are able to make their numbers. Is it because they are weaker than in the past, or is it because the market has changed? The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) has been studying sales performance in depth for the past 4 years and the conclusion is that there is a permanent change in the way people buy and and the old models of selling are no longer effective.

This is the second part of the CEB article published several weeks ago, entitled "10 Trends Every Sales Exec Must Know For 2013" 
This is an important article and worth reading. The remaining 5 points excerpted for our discussion below, were published in this article on the CEB main blog, The Last 5 Trends Every Sales Exec Must Know for 2013.

The key insights in this current article:

6. Your customer becomes your biggest competition.

More specifically, your customer’s ability to learn what their business needs are, and options to act on those needs. We call this the “1 in 3” problem and here’s why: customers that are now able to learn on their own (or with a consultant’s support) are also able to arrive at a requirement set without supplier input. For example, they dictate the uptime requirements, the performance thresholds, the expected SLA's, and other criteria. They winnow a list of potential suppliers down to the top 3 that best meet these performance thresholds. Then they call you in to present. Congrats you’re in the consideration set! And so what do you do? You highlight your performance against their criteria. “Well we see that you require 95% uptime, we can deliver 98%. And we see that you need 30,000 units output, but our innovative technology delivers 33,000.” To which the customer replies, “yes, we already know that, but we only need 95% uptime and 30,000 units output, and all the companies in consideration deliver that. So……let’s talk price.” In this world, consideration equals commoditization. There are two vitally important takeaways from this trend:

First, this underscores why the Insight Selling Method™ is so important. Insights which you can teach customers are differentiated, and have the ability revise the purchase criteria, mitigating the “1 in 3” problem. I’ve discussed this in trend #1 and my colleague Brent Adamson has explored this challenge extensively here (this is another must read once you’ve finished this post).
Second, this highlights how the customer has taken this new information advantage and used it (as they should) to their benefit. If they can rely on social networks and third party consultants to force us into a price war, they’d be foolish not to do that.
We are losing this information game to customers.

The best sellers, however, are taking this information disparity right back to customers. Our data shows us that the best reps are conducting deep opportunity/account due diligence with one specific goal: learn something about customers that the customers themselves haven’t realized. This isn’t information in the public filing statement, annual review, or company website.

This is information that exists in the deep inner workings of customer organizations. Information that “Talkers” dish out. Information that purchase consultants divulge. [NOTE: This is NOT unethical information or insider secrets.] It is a much deeper understanding of what’s happening in the customer business that often requires outside intervention to even realize. When this context is combined with powerful insights, customers have little choice but to at least listen and learn from suppliers. And that mitigates the “1 in 3” challenge. Sellers who choose to arbitrarily “spray” insights at customers risk harming the relationship permanently, but those who properly tailor those insights in a meaningful and economically-grounded ways will beat the “1 in 3” problem.

Salespeople in the future will behave more like consultants

We have heard and seen plenty of horror stories of sales reps spraying insights that have no relevance to the problems or goals of the customer or their organization. This is just poor preparation and poor technique. Challenger or not, these reps are on the path to exiting the profession without coaching, new tools, techniques and behavior change.

True insights require deep knowledge of the customers business that cannot be easily derived from public sources....it has to come from within. This means due diligence could take weeks - instead of a few hours prior to a sales call with a key executive. Sourcing insightful information from peers, outsiders, former employees, underlings and even corporate purchasing....anyone that could help give you insight. Dominic Rowsell refers to this as a "deep-dive into the World of the buyer" in his book Why Killer Product's Don't Sell, which analyzes the new buyer behavior and defines value-created selling as the way to engage buyers early in the buying cycle, when they may be unaware of the opportunity or are researching directions, ideas and risks in the Identify and Mentor phases of the IMPACT buying cycle.

Buying Cycle

Value Created Selling Definition: The supplier reveals unforeseen risk or opportunity for the customer (thus creating new value for them) and will assume some kind of responsibility to realize the return. 

The customer is studying its strategic options. The starting point for sales here is the perspective that the supplier has of the customers market, organization, culture, operations, and strategy. The supplier will be able to see things that the customer cannot possibly see itself, so the sales engagement is more likely to be initiated by the supplier and supported by thought-leadership marketing and industry insights. The customer will not be out looking for a supplier because it probably doesn't realize that a product exists to satisfy a requirement that it is only just realizing it has.
The supplier will need to grab the attention of a mentor with an opinion about the customers organization and issues in the customer's market. Early meetings will be a conversation of possibilities and not a discussion of products or solutions. For emerging products, the product's existence is not well understood by all customers and market isn't sufficiently developed for the analysts to create a comparison matrix. Therefore, I.T. may be uncomfortable with purchasing it. And they may even block it. 
(Download the white-paper, "Why Killer Product's Don't Sell")

7. Early sales stages get an overhaul. 

Keeping in line with our research underlying the importance of teaching insights to customers, the sales process must evolve. Most organizations have a sales process oriented to identification of needs and alignment of solutions to those needs. Typically stages 1 and 2 are some derivative of understands needs (or, recognize needs from the buyer perspective) and qualifies opportunity (or, evaluate options from the buyer perspective). The sales activities inherent in these stages walk salespeople directly into the “1 in 3” problem articulated in trend #6, above. Why? They are engineered to sniff out and sell into established demand. These are instances where the customer has identified a need and is determining options. Creating emerging demand is the correct goal. And that happens well before the traditional stages 1 and 2. This is often considered marketing’s domain – a place where sales need not go. But increasingly, the best sellers are actively teaching where customers are passively learning.

Therefore, sales stages that support teaching (from the sales perspective) and learning (from the buyer perspective) are required. Implications for rewriting the top of funnel activities are considerable and I won’t go into much detail with this blog post. [SEC members can check out our Demand Shaping Toolkit, which compiles the best of dozens of star reps’ thoughts on early stage engagement into a comprehensive tool.] But here’s one of the most important implications: you can’t simply expect sellers to teach as an incremental stage without rewriting the understand/recognize needs stage. Why not? If you don’t rewrite that stage, sellers will regress right back to selling into the “1 in 3” problem.

It’ll reinforce sales based on established demand, and as my colleague Brent Adamson has coined, “put your salespeople on a train to RFP station.” Contrary to what many believe, this is why the Insight Selling Method™ approach can’t simply be “overlaid” on top of existing sales methods. It requires rewriting the DNA of the sales process, most notably in the early stages, with a series of trickle-down implications throughout the remainder of the sales process. Organizations that get this right, will have to burn many (not all, but many) of the long-standing bridges of traditional solution sales techniques.

Sales and Marketing work in lock-step on lead generation

Challengers source their own leads - this comes with the territory, I'm told by a CEB insider. But when thinking about scaling a model like Challenger to the core team, inbound leads generated through publishing thought leading content in forums, where it will be found by prospective buyers will become critical.

Remember, the buyer is not yet looking for your products or services, but this is how most Websites in the World exist today...they are product and services showcases.
Thought leadership content requires crystal clear message clarity on how products can be used to create value in context and this requires input from thought leaders in your company to create and share ideas around how the innovation can be used - then published in blogs, whitepapers, EBooks and videos.

Organic leads are the fruit of publishing thought leading content and are the measure of successful long-term inbound marketing efforts. There are many ways to generate leads, but when 70% of links that buyers click on are organic when researching products and services, inbound organic leads are a core marketing objective. Sales and marketing will agree lead generation SLA's lead-scoring, hand-off and nurturing paths and work together to introduce leads to appropriately trained and skilled reps who are seeking to influence thinking vs. sell products and services.

Value-created/Insight selling/Challenger selling requires a different way of forecasting, funding, managing and compensation salespeople. This is because of longer and riskier sales cycles - as interest is developed prior to demand (through teaching). As a result, selling will start earlier in buying cycles and they will be longer and riskier than selling transactionally to established procurement cycles. How do you account for a salesperson's time and effort, when they may invest many months prior to a sniff of any revenue?
 

8. Identification of where customers learn. 

For the past year, we’ve been sharing our most recent research entitled “Getting in Early.” One of the critical questions we ask our members is this – do you know where your customers learn? Not learning about a purchase, but passively learning about new ways to manage their business.

The instinctive reaction is “of course” –  that is, until you really think about it. Then an unsettled feeling takes over. If you’re like most heads of sales, you and your team, likely don’t know. It’s likely some mix of social media, other peer networks, consultants, salespeople and vendors, maybe professional conferences or trade shows.

The reality is that customers are constantly learning. They don’t manage their business in a static manner; a significant part of any business stakeholder’s job is to find ways to improve their business whether they’re an end-user of products or a CXO. Now let’s just assume that you have a good understanding of where customers are indeed passively learning. Do you think your salespeople are actively teaching there?

Understanding where your customers learn starts with simply asking them. In the first handful of conversations, you’ll learn a tremendous amount about the information sources they trust and engage, and the multitude of sources they tune out and consider noise. You don’t need to engage your market research team to do this, at least not initially. Just ask. Then ask yourself how much permission and opportunity you’re affording your sales force to be part of those conversations.

Just Ask and Listen

Colleague and friend Adam Zais at Wistia recently shared this story from a call he made at GE. 
"Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was working for a CRM vendor. This was during a period when CRM-oriented trade shows were popular. At one such event, we registered a booth visit from someone who worked a major division of GE. As luck would have it the lead flowed to me.

Naturally, I followed up with the contact immediately. By phone. In that first call, I learn that they want to solve a very specific problem, that they’re actively looking at vendors (yes, he told me who I would be competing against), that they have a very specific deadline for a purchase decision, and that there is complete “buy-in” from top management because Jack Welch was coming back in three months to hear what they’ve done to solve this problem.
All I did was ask a couple of “open-probe” type questions, by the way. After he got done laying this all out for me all I did was ask what he wanted to do next. He asked if we would come out for a meeting in which we would also demonstrate the product. No fool I...I said that I’d be happy to.

Interlude - a couple of points to make at this part of the story (in no particular order):

1. I didn’t “challenge” the buyer, as proposed by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in a new book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation
2. I didn’t pitch the product.
3. I didn’t ask a bunch of SPIN selling or Baseline selling questions about budget, stakeholders, etc.
4. I didn’t bargain for access to “power”
5. I didn’t try to diagnose the need.
6. I didn’t try to establish value.
7. I didn’t try to “deliver an experience that delivers on my company’s brand promise”
8. I didn’t “network the pain” a la Solution Selling, or Miller Heiman
9. I didn’t do anything that Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, etc. suggest that I should do at this point.
All I did was LISTEN! I know....shocking!

Where I Learned About Black Belts and Purchasing

A little background. GE is a company that is serious about the whole Six-Sigma thing. Right after my first phone call with them, I read as much about the company, Jack Welch, this division, and Six Sigma as I could get my hands on. I had tapped my network to talk to people I knew who knew about this stuff and who had had previous experience working with and selling to GE.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I had better keep my fat mouth shut and listen insanely carefully to each and every GE person I was going to meet. I went “all in” on this approach when my guy introduced me to the purchasing guy and says that he’ll be back to get me in a bit.

He shakes my hand, hands me his card which states prominently that he’s a Master Black Belt in buying, and asks me to take a seat. I look around his office. He’s got multiple awards, citations, plaques, and so on that celebrate his longtime service to the company, his success, and his obvious mastery of this field. I am completely over-matched. I turn to him, smile slightly, and say the only thing that makes sense in a situation like that.

I said, “please don’t hurt me.” Well, this cracks him up, the ice is broken and he must have decided to take pity on me because he basically gives me the “scoop” for how to “sell” to GE. A set of rules, if you will. That are totally non-negotiable or flexible. Step out of bounds and you’re essentially out of the running. My contact re-joins us at this time and there must have been some unseen secret signal between them because he echoes what the guy said and adds some more detail of his own from his perspective of being the leader of the project / initiative. We send a few minutes just shooting the breeze about stuff from our personal lives before we end for the day.
Conclusion: Deep insight can come from anywhere, you need to ask the right questions intelligently and listen.

9. Big data exposes a significant talent gap. 

At CEB we are fortunate to have a strong cross-functional perspective on what the best companies do. Our IT practice has intensively studied the promise of big data, and recognized that it has been met with an equally large degree of paralysis and low ROI.  As our CEO, Tom Monahan, said in a recent interview with Consulting Magazine, “Companies’ love affair with big data has proven fickle. It’s no coincidence that the organizations with the biggest IT and analytics budgets over the last five years are the ones that have gotten into the most trouble.”

The amount of big data facing nearly any function – even sales – has placed a higher cognitive burden on all those who use and rely upon this data. This includes sales operations teams, managers, and even sales professionals.
The problem is that few have the skills to understand what data truly suggests and how to take action on that data. I had an interesting conversation with a Head of Sales from a major electronics company earlier this year. His team sells into big box retailers (the CPG world will know this problem all too well, though it applies more broadly).
He said that the influx of data his team was now able to share with their retail channel partners was absolutely overwhelming. Sales conversations had evolved into data dumps, where account managers basically handed over a giant report to retail partners. The partners expected this, the account managers accommodated.

What was entirely lost was the story within the data, and the implications for the retailer – and ultimately the value prop of this electronics company. Data is not insight, nor is insight merely data. The best companies will invest in the proper capabilities for interpreting big data, making sense of the numbers, and providing clear action steps.

This doesn’t mean all sales professionals or heads of sales ops will need these data interpretation skills, but it does mean that individuals with this skill set are either hired or this capability is outsourced. As salesanalytics gains moment, this will become increasingly important for the sales management function.

Insights from Big Data will need to come from outside your organization

I asked Shirish Netke, a former colleague at big data specialist Amberoon to comment on big data from his perspective.

"Big data by itself has little value for sales and marketing. The more valuable aspect of big data are the unique insights which are the basis of actions and results. A business perspective solution for sales and marketing combines data insights with contextual tribal knowledge to recommend a course of actions. Most organizations will have to outsource the interpretation of data and recommendation of actions to an external entity. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, data interpretation skills are hard to develop internally. Secondly, a third party can benchmark an organization across data from a large number of companies and provide that to individual companies. 
 
The biggest issue for sales and marketing functionaries is to figure out what solutions to use, implementing a process to measure results, reinforce actions that lead to good results and eliminate actions that are associated with poor results. This requires a culture of experimentation and continual adaptation in a changing business environment. Companies that can incorporate this into their sales and marketing process will have a competitive advantage.

10. Personal rep branding is embraced. 

Admittedly social selling has become all the rage, and having devoted a significant amount of time and energy to the topic through 2011 and early 2012, we’d like to think we helped accelerate this trend.

While individual reps are starting to embody social selling, organizations are apprehensive to embrace the notion that reps can, and even should, have their own personal brand in their markets. Social media provides a hugely powerful platform for accessing customers as they learn.

Companies like IBM have been lead-steerers for the rest of the sales community time and time again – and their work in the social selling space is no different. They’ve implemented an approach where messages are pre-built and scaled for use in social media by marketing teams, but individual reps broadcast these messages to the market in such a way that identity and personal brand still matter. This is just the start however.

Organizations will invest in building rep competency for selling in through social media and other highly-networked channels. While not perfect, metrics such as Klout score (a measure of social media influence) will start to gain momentum in dashboards. In fact, organizations like Network Hardware Resale are using Klout scores and other metrics to allocate territory based on social media proximity. It’s a fascinating idea – one that is likely years off for many companies – but underscores the importance of sellers having access to customers as they learn, yet again.

Conclusion

Don't put your son or daughter in sales, they will probably fail. B2B Sales is anything but business as usual as the research from CEB indicates. Deep restructuring has to occur on the vendor/supply side and new engagement models invented, that closely integrate marketing and sales to serve transformed buyer behavior.

Likely engagement models will serve two types of buyers. A transactional fulfilment model, where buyers know what they want and salespeople serve the role of facilitators in the buying process, whose goal is to get the business at the best margin on offer.

The other model is that of the consultant/challenger salesperson, who is operating in front of demand and creating insight, mindshare and momentum for change in the buying organization. These salespeople are capable of catalyzing a buying cycle and influencing buying process to win new business at favorable margins.

Much work needs to be done to reorganize sales and marketing to equip salespeople with the tools and skills to succeed in these new engagement models. A better understanding of how companies buy is a good place to start and the Killer Products Whitepaper is an excellent primer on buying behavior.


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