Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

The Challenger Sale - A Management Consultant's Perspective

Posted by Kathleen Carr on Wed, Mar 13, 2013

The Challenger Sale

This book was a breath of fresh air with insights on how customers buy, what they value from a professional sales person and how today's top performing sales professionals behave.  

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, targets the aspiring sales professional and sales leader. However, it is much more. 

The book’s message is one of marketing strategy and tactics - how to attract, build and sustain customer relationships that result in sales.  You may have a killer product, but we all know they don't sell themselves and success in the market through getting your killer product/service sold is the critical factor for survival.   

Old Wine in New Bottles?

The skeptic surfaced in me as I began reading the categorization of sales behavior types, - everything old is new again, but I disciplined myself to read on.  The findings are consistent with my experience in sales and as a management consultant....but again this is hardly earth shattering.  

The book describes, in detail, the attributes that define “Challenger behavior.”  As I read on, I found the research evidence to be insightful, credible and compelling and it resonated with me. 
Of the five sales behaviors profiled, for more complex sales, the “Challenger” seriously out-performed all others.

Reframing the Sales Training Argument

The Corporate Executive Board has been effective in applying "Challenger selling" methods to the sales performance industry and is indeed disrupting the status-quo thinking and established players in the market, even though it is one of a number of marketing and sales companies with a "disruptive" sales message and method.



Based on the evidence, there is a compelling case supporting the development of Challenger capabilities in sales organizations within B2B technology and services companies. 

Changing Sales Behavior Requires Investment and Effort

In my 20+ years of management consulting, working on large corporate change initiatives and business start-ups, I often encountered dysfunction and disconnect between Sales and Marketing. 
Even more damaging was the frequent disconnect between the “C” suite and an understanding of what a professional sales capability requires and may accomplish for the company.  

In complex B2B sales, building a professional sales capability is a competitive advantage.

As a consultant, I worked with business leaders who believed they could impact results, simply by turning the “quota and commission dial.”  Without investment in a marketing capability to generate leads and the knowledge and skills to engage, influence and generate sales, the result I witnessed was a loss of people, customers and earnings.... and subsequent dismissal of the executive in question.

A professional sales capability is an investment. Where and how to invest and ensuring the company functions with a killer sales capability is the business of the “C” suite.
 

Challenger Requires a Shared Company Vision

Later chapters in The Challenger Sale examine the factors for effective sales leaders and link the Challenger attributes to what is required to coach, develop and enable success in sales. 
The authors also comment on information linking “Challenger” attributes to those departments serving internal customers - marketing, HR, IT.  

“The CIO Executive Board found that between 2007 and 2009, the percentage of business leaders rating their IT departments as “effective” at applying IT capabilities to business needs actually declined”. . . . “In a 2009 survey of more than 5,000 end users, we found that a stunning 76 percent disagreed with the statement their job performance had improved because of new systems delivered by IT.” 

Could this perception be an expectation that the system is the solution?

Functions in silos are leading to disconnects in implementation of technology.
What is needed is a shared vision and culture of collaboration; all areas of the business with a Challenger focus - one of how to create value for customers.
This focus emanates from "C" suite leaders. In the current business era, there is an imperative that Marketing, HR, Sales and IT work to a shared business strategy, vision and culture.   

Conclusion

In my early 20s, I discovered a sales role was the way to advance my career. 
As a woman in an incumbent sales force of men, I determined to build the knowledge and communications skills that would lead to credibility and success. I was determined and it worked. 
I moved into leadership roles in Marketing and subsequently became a management consultant using the knowledge, skills and experience I gained as a sales professional.  As the “Challenger” describes, I found confidence and courage in competence.  

I believe The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation is a blueprint for building success in the marketplace.  It may not be easy – it will be effective!

Kathleen Carr is an experienced International Management Consultant.

Challenge Status-quo thinking with Visual Storytelling
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Topics: challenger sale, challenging status quo, complex b2b

The Bonfire of the Challenger Salesman - my worst sales call

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

I still cringe when I think about it. One of the worst experiences in a 30-year career and it was entirely my fault. Only in sales are you able to make a bad call and move on to the next one, with almost no repercussion – hopefully having learned a lesson.

Background

MicroStrategy in the late 1990's and early 2000's was successful in selling Business Intelligence software into the retail vertical and had secured a number of high profile retail customers. I had been successful in data warehousing sales at premium supermarket operators on the US West Coat at Safeway and American Stores and had worked with partner NCR in the retail market for the past year.

Flush with the success of engineering the biggest deal in MicroStrategy history, an OEM deal to NCR and recent success in the supermarket business at Safeway, we visited the CIO of a rack and stack supermarket operator.  
The meeting goal was to introduce MicroStrategy and share how our retail clients were using data warehousing and analytics in their supermarket business using MicroStrategy analytics in partnership with IBM to better manage their inventory, avoid stock-outs and improve margin.

After the greeting formalities, I opened the sales call with an introduction to the recent work we had done in data warehousing at high-end retail customers and the investments they had made and the results they were seeing. I could see the buyer getting uncomfortable in his chair before I had finished my introduction.

He then launched into an angry tirade about how they were a pennies on the dollar retailer and they had no interest in doing what Safeway or anyone else were doing. Their customers wanted to buy groceries at the lowest cost. They had no interest in category management or householding or market-basket analysis. Their business model was to buy low and sell low….at which point he got up and walked out of the meeting….the meeting had lasted less than 5 minutes.

What Happened?

  • My selling style has always been assertive and it has at times been deliberately provocative, which is why The Challenger Sale caught my attention.
  • In this call on a retailer at the opposite end of the market to my former clients, Safeway and American Stores, I came across as arrogant and condescending in my brilliant and challenging opening.
  • The Challenger Sale is great in theory. In practice you need empathy and sensitivity or it can blow up in your face, just like it did for me.

Lessons learned

  1. Before you open your mouth about product or launch into your Challenger idea, you had better have established rapport to the point the buyer is ready to listen to your message. 
  2. Know your customers business… it was clear that I had not done sufficient homework on the customer….they were technology laggards and data warehousing was still in the early adopter phase. IBM invited us into the meeting, but it was a meeting we should never have attended.
  3. Empathy is a natural human trait, but for some, it is undeveloped or suppressed due to circumstance and environment and has to learned in a voyage of self-discovery. My wife told me I had no empathy and this call triggered a journey of self discovery, starting with a series of sessions with a psycho-therapist.
  4. Communication and rapport skills are assumed to be innate for anyone in sales; in reality, most salespeople grossly overestimate their ability to connect at an emotional level and truly listen. 
  5. NLP Practitioner training would be a good start for anyone in sales or presales struggling with empathy, sensitivity or connecting emotionally with others and it will serve them well outside their business life. 
I have integrated important communication and language concepts from NLP as well as sales survival skills in an adaptive elearning course for anyone wanting to communicate more effectively and connect emotionally with buyers.
Click here for a free trial.
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Topics: challenger sale, sales, soft skills, rapport, empathy

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.




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.


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.

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
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Topics: inbound marketing, killer products, challenger sale

A New Guide to Selling Killer-Products the Way Customers Buy (video)

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, May 14, 2012

Got a Killer-Product, but having trouble achieving its and your companies' potential?
These 6 short videos (hosted on Wistia) were produced by Dominic Rowsell of Hot Rivet. Dominic is author and copyright holder of " Why Killer Products Don't Sell".

In this series, Dominic provides new insights on buying behavior as he explains that there are four and only four buying cultures and suggests how to adapt B2B selling to match how customers buy. He explores the IMPACT (Identify-Mentor-Position-Assessment-Case-Transaction) buying process that every B2B transaction will go through, from initial idea to a purchase order.

If you are interested in The Challenger Sale method, you will see some very clear parallels in the Value-Created Selling model as the Mentor phase in the IMPACT buying process is typically where Challengers engage.

Regardless of your company and its stage in the technology adoption life-cycle, the IMPACT cycle and four buying cultures are relevant and useful for marketers and sellers to understand how people buy and what is needed to move a deal through each stage in the buying cycle.

Introduction to the Four Buying Cultures

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Topics: killer products, challenger sale, selling early adopters

The Challenger Sale - Book Review

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Mar 15, 2012

The Challenger Sale (TCS), by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson is an important book for sales professionals and sales managers involved in complex B2B sales as it proves that a number of commonly held beliefs about sales behavior are obsolete. 
Its successor, (read my book review) The Challenger Customer - Book Review is even more valluable for marketers and sales enblement professionals as it inherits many of the concepts in this work and applies the sale level of rigor to examing how companies buy. The insights are worth ten times the price of the book.

Unlike many other "how-to-sell" books based on theories and ideas on improving sales performance, The Challenger Sale is underpinned by rich and extensive data from more than 6,000 sales professionals from more than 100 member companies, gathered over the past four years.

You are a Prospect for Challenger Sales Training

I don't have a problem (other reviewers did have), that TCS is produced by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and that the CEB is a member organization providing for-profit sales training for its members. They want to sell you Challenger Sales Development Services...in the same way every other author of sales performance literature wants to sell their services. It happens that we are very much aligned in our view of the sea-change that has occurred in buyer behavior and the need for new approaches in engaging buyers at the moments of truth when face-face.

If you are selling complex software, enterprise hardware or services in a B2B environment and haven't read The Challenger Sale yet, then perhaps this article might convince you it's worth reading at least once...regardless of where you get your sales development services.
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Topics: sales performance, challenger sale, B2B selling process

Challenger Selling & Whiteboard Storytelling - a perfect combination

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Dec 12, 2011

I've just finished reading and recommend a new book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Addington entitled "The Challenger Sale”; I enjoyed the quality of the writing and the research underpinning the work.  

The challenger sales type has been identified as the most effective in complex B2B selling and was the only sales cohort from the extensive research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board to achieve success during the downturn. Figuring out what Challengers are doing differently, cloning that behavior and recruiting and training more challenger types is a priority recommendation in this book. 
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Topics: killer products, Artesian Solutions, challenger sale, whiteboardselling, challenger selling

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