The Challenger Sale by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson is an invaluable read for any sales professional wanting to gain a competitive edge. It reveals a totally new approach and way of working with customers – and one that may go against your instinctive thoughts about what works.
This book argues that relationship selling is in decline because it’s not as effective as it used to be. And while relationships with customers are still important, they are the result of sales (not the cause). Instead, what’s working in the new sales environment are sales people who have such a deep understanding of their customer’s business that they can push the customers thinking, and in doing so, teach them new things about how they can be more competitive. In turn, this approach creates loyalty, trust and success.
If you still think successful selling is all about relationship building, read this book to get a fresh perspective on what’s working now. In addition, you’ll discover how you can adapt your skills to ensure you can add more value to your customers than your competitors.
When the bottom fell out of the global economy, the challenge of B2B selling became even more pronounced. Now in a post-recession economy, it seems that different sales skills are succeeding.
The Challenger Sale presents the findings of a survey of hundreds of frontline sales managers across 90 countries – and this research revealed some interesting findings…
To start with, the survey revealed that almost every B2B sales rep falls into one of five profiles. These are:
But what was even more interesting was the fact that “challenger” reps outperformed all others in terms of sales results.
Here’s how the book defines a Challenger:
- Challengers are the debaters on the team. They’ve got a deep understanding of the customer’s business and use that understanding to push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively. They’re not afraid to share their views, even when they’re different and potentially controversial. Challengers are assertive – they tend to “press” customers a little – both on their thinking and around things like pricing.
And when trying to identify the common characteristics of Challenger reps, the following were consistently found:
Digging deeper, it emerged that a Challenger sales rep can do three things within the selling sphere. These three pillars are:
Using strong communication skills, a Challenger is able to develop a deep understanding of the customer and their business. In turn, they’re able to “teach for differentiation”. What this means in practice, is Challengers actually understand their customers’ world better than their customers do, so in turn they’re able to provide trusted advice that teaches them what they should know, but don’t. In turn, this expertise acts to differentiate Challengers from their competitors – after all, it’s not about products (which can often be commoditised), but using expertise and insight as a differentiator. In short, this approach is more about getting customers to think in an entirely new way, as opposed to helping them “discover” what they already know.
Due to the quality of information and understanding of the situation that a Challenger develops, they’re able to tailor a message with precision and for impact. As a result, the sales conversations they engage in are more relevant and appropriate.
Challengers can comfortably take control of the sale because they’re happy to put the necessary pressure on the customer, and talk about payment. And through this pressure, the Challenger rep is able to maintain “constructive tension” during the sales process.
In fact, it’s this “constructive tension” that’s so effective.
Traditionally, relationship building has been thought to be key. And whilst this objective is still relevant (after all, you want your customers to know, like and trust you), relationship building tends to be associated with defusing tension and responding favourably to customers’ demands. But as it turns out, this may not be the quickest route to the sale.
A Challenger Sale takes a different, but more productive tact. The pressure they apply to help drive a close, also helps businesses to solve the problems they’re facing – and in turn, this can make their business more successful and ultimately profitable. In return, the Challenger rep is seen to be more useful and therefore effective.
- Surveys of customers consistently show that they put the highest value on salespeople who make them think, who bring new ideas, who find creative and innovative ways to help the customer’s business. In recent years, customers have been demanding more depth and expertise. They expect salespeople to teach them things they didn’t know. These are the core skills of Challengers.
If you’re stuck in the relationship-building paradigm, this book is well worth a read. After all, once you grasp the value of Challenger sales, it could transform the health of your business in this post-recession economy.
Becoming familiar with the five sales reps profiles is a useful start. This can help you to identify where your own skills as a sales person are. In addition, if you work as part of a team, it’s useful to get a flavour for the combined skill set that you have to work with.
Next, think about how you can introduce some Challenger sales skills into your own technique. Become comfortable with the idea that pressuring and challenging a customer can actually help to drive sales – after all, intuitively you may feel that actively seeking to push a customer out of their comfort zone is counter-productive. But the fact is, the results suggest this is not the case.
Richard Young is Bullhorn CRM’s Director of CRM Sales, EMEA. Richard has built an in-depth knowledge of the CRM industry based on over 20 years of experience. Richard has worked with a diverse range of companies including WPP Group, KPMG, McKinsey & Co., Royal Bank of Scotland, American Express, HP and Mercedes-Benz.
How much do you relate to the Challenger sales methods? What are your thoughts on achieving sales success by teaching, tailoring and taking control? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
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