Have you nailed Challenger Selling yet?

Manoj Madhusudanan, managing director of InsightBee, argues that sales executives must create engaging conversation by leading with market insights

Manoj Madhusudanan is managing director of InsightBee

Competition in the sales market is fierce. Research suggests that in today’s post-recession market, customers complete nearly 60% of the purchase journey before they even speak to a supplier. This suggests that customers are doing everything possible to find out about competing products and prices to get the best deal. The result of this new breed of increasingly savvy customers is that traditional sales practices have had to change.

Instead of focussing on the features of a specific product, sales executives must now create an engaging conversation by leading with market insights. The Challenger Sale, written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, helped to highlight this issue. The book took its inspiration from a survey of more than 6,000 salespeople selling to B2B customers, conducted by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), which sought to turn conventional sales wisdom on its head.

According to the CEB survey, every B2B sales executive falls into one of five categories. The hard worker, the challenger, the relationship builder, the lone wolf and the problem solver are the broad labels that encapsulate the majority of sales techniques.

Known for showing up early and often working late, ‘the hard worker’ thrives on feedback and development. Being self-motivated, these workers don’t give up easily; they will always go the extra mile to complete a task. On the contrary, focused on developing strong personal and professional relationships, ‘the relationship builder’ strives to meet buyers’ needs wherever possible. Next is the self-assured and immensely confident ‘lone wolf’, who operates independently and relies on instinct. ‘The problem solvers’ are reliable and have a keen attention to detail. They ensure any problems are addressed quickly and thoroughly, and focus on following up post-sales to keep customers happy. The challenger, on the other hand, differentiates himself from the other models by remaining assertive when talking both with customers and their superiors.

How to set yourself apart as a challenger

The main premise of the challenger sales model is that the job of sales execs in today’s market is to challenge their customers to think. Customers empowered by instant access to information must be engaged on a deeper level. Identifying systemic problems, as well as potential opportunities for a business, is therefore an important way for modern sales executives to demonstrate their value. Presenting the key issues and solutions for a business – and especially any that management wasn’t aware of – can help to build a strong relationship very quickly.

Customers empowered by instant access to information must be engaged on a deeper level.

There are three main elements to the challenger sales approach: the sales person must assume a teaching role, provide tailored insights and take charge of the sale.

Teaching the customer about business opportunities, whilst being clear and knowledgeable when highlighting the risks, will certainly pay dividends. This will then allow the sales team to challenge the customer and control the sales process. By challenging their customers, they can set the tone and can steer the conversation about the future of their business. However a pre-requisite of the entire process is being able to fully understand the customer. Only after having a deep understanding of the customer, and their industry, can salespeople offer insights that are really relevant to their business.

Paramount to this approach, therefore, is being able to access effective, concise and relevant research. Possessing the right information on customer executives, organisations or even on an entire industry sector, from validated sources is essential to perfecting the challenger sales technique. Taking this into account will enable you to build a more complete picture of your customers business much faster. In addition, more time dedicated to exploring future business risks and opportunities for your client, will allow your team to set the agenda, reinforcing their status  as a valuable and trusted business partner.

The benefits of adopting a challenger approach are clear to see. In complex sales environments research suggests that challengers close up to 250% more deals than hard workers, problem solvers, and relationship builders combined by shifting their focus from reacting to customer needs to uncovering them.

Introducing sales staff to the challenger approach will mean building a solid foundation of up-to-date, relevant and concise information about every customer, their business and industry as a whole. This will enable sales staff to look beyond what customers think they need and introduce alternatives they haven’t recognised. Challenging the customer’s way of thinking and offering them support throughout the sales process is undoubtedly the direction that sales will continue to take in the future.

This was last published in June 2015

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