Our customers want insights–they want to learn more about what they could achieve, how they can improve, why they might change! In my experience, this has always been critical to engaging customers. Today, it’s just as critical, perhaps more so, because if we aren’t providing it, they can find it elsewhere.
But Insight and Challenging the customer to think differently is not the goal, it’s only the beginning. Insight helps the customer to understand new possibilities and should instigate change. But that’s just the starting point. The goal, as it is in any selling or buying situation is to help the customer achieve outcomes!
Too often, with all the hype about insight and challenging, I think we lose sight of this. When I talk to people about Challenger Selling, too many are left with the impression (I’m certain unintended by the authors) that, after providing Insight, the customer is wowed, and immediately signs a purchase order.
Providing insight and challenging the customer is just the starting point. Insights, without translating them into results is just dreaming.
So providing insight is just the start of the journey, all the hard work follows. At this point, it becomes about helping the customer buy, then after they buy helping assure they achieve the outcomes they expected.
Once we have incited the customer to change, they still have to buy. But this is the point where we can maximize our value creation–far beyond just providing insight. Let’s think about it a bit. One of the responses we hope to get in providing customers insight is, “I’ve never thought of that before!” Properly, with insight we are trying to get the customer to think differently.
But here’s where the big challenge comes in. If they have never thought about it before, but now they want to move forward, they probably are absolutely clueless about how they should buy! Stands to reason doesn’t it? This is where great sales professionals really make a difference, they help the customer figure out how they should buy.
Evaluating alternatives and vendors is just a part of the buying process. The customers must organize themselves. They must align the interests and agendas of all the people involved in the buying process and impacted by the decision. The customer must lock in on what they want to achieve, and why.
Despite all the claims about no longer needing to do needs identification with Challenger, the reality is the customer has to do this! In determining the outcomes they hope to achieve and how they will achieve them, they need to determine their needs, they need to define the problems they are trying to solve, they need to develop a plan for solving those problems—which may include evaluating alternative solutions.
Facilitating the customer buying process has always been a critical element of value creation and differentiation for top sales professionals. Challenging them, providing insight through the entire buying process is the leadership that great sales people provide. For example, Are they asking themselves the right questions? Are the engaging the right people? Are they understanding what it takes to achieve the desired outcomes, are they understanding and managing the risks? Are they investing in developing a plan that enables them to achieve the outcomes—identifying and committing the right resources, developing the right implementation and project plans. The list can go on.
This is where the value of the challenging sales person really comes to the front. This is where great sales people differentiate themselves from everyone else. They realize challenging and insight doesn’t stop when the customer says, “Yes, we should do this!” But challenging and insight continues through the entire buying process and is demonstrated through the leadership the sales professional provides in helping the customer buy.
The great sales people don’t get the customer to think differently at the beginning, then go back to normal business. They get people to think differently and better through the entire buying process.
But it doesn’t stop there. The real challenger sales person is driven by results and outcomes—customer results and outcomes. While they may not be directly involved in the project implementation, they stay engaged. They make sure the customer doesn’t deviate from their plan–cheating themselves of the results and outcomes. They make sure their own company lives up to it’s commitments in helping the customer achieve the results and outcomes expected.
Challenging and providing insight is critical in engaging the customer, to incite change and to initiate new buying processes. But we can’t stop there–we have to help the customer achieve the outcomes and results they dream of. This means guiding them through the buying and implementation process.
Without this, we are just sharing dreams with the customer. Without providing the subsequent leadership, the customer will find someone who will.
Challenging the customer is critical! But it’s not just at the start, it continues through the entire process. It’s what the customer needs, it’s what they value, it’s what truly differentiates the Challenger.
Questions we need to be asking ourselves:
If we have succeeded in challenging the customer and inciting them to change, how do we help them achieve the outcomes?
How do we engage the customer in thinking differently through their buying process?
What insight can we offer through each part of the buying process?
How do we make sure the customer is prepared to achieve the outcomes they expect?