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CSO 2014: The Challenger Buy

Sales Management

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Every few years, in the sales world, new methodologies come out. Chief Sales Officers and sales leaders struggle with balancing the hype with worthwhile adoption. In the past two years, the latest of these is The Challenger Sale based on survey-oriented research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. The survey conducted and given to sales professionals, found most successful sales professionals succeed by challenging customers with insights intended to change the status quo.

The Challenger Sale is also based on the premise buyers are 57% of the way through the buying cycle before they engage a salesperson. Although this statistic can be challenged, it is a given understanding in 2013 a buyer will conduct some level of digital research before engaging with sales. So, when you add this all up, challenging buyers with insights to disrupt the status quo should result in success.

This may not be a hard absolute truth.

One Point Of View

The Challenger Sale is based on a survey of approximately 6,000 sales professionals. The intent was to find out which sales approach usually wins. I do not doubt the approaches identified can be helpful and can lead to success. At issue, however, is this survey represents a one-sided point of view. It is a point of view from sales within the context of persuasion.

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Additionally, it can be assumed many of the sales professional were thinking in the context of other methodologies they had been trained on when responding. Thus, there are similarities to other methodologies, which have been around for the past twenty years.

Buyer Demands 2014

As sales leaders plan for 2014, a new way of thinking may be required. While insights are important to provide, sales leaders have to prevent falling into the insight-selling trap. This is fraught with danger as sales people are trained and told to lead with insight. The insights however can be nothing more than the usual case study format or white paper format. Buyers can see right through this. Oftentimes, selling organizations suffer from having real insights to deliver due to poor buyer understanding.

Buyer behavior is changing and so are buyer demands. Buyers are expecting firms to understand their situation and offer options as well as new opportunities to evolve their businesses. Sales leader may be best served by thinking differently about which party is actually doing the challenging. This recent interview, on behalf of a B2B organization attempting to understand their customers deeply, indicates this shift:

“With some of our potential suppliers and partners, we began to do something different last year. We opened up a bit more than we had in the past. They were given information and even plans on our development efforts and asked to draw up plans themselves. Another word, come back and tell us how we can improve our plans and help us meet our objectives.” Vice President, Planning and Development

This exemplifies buyers who are going beyond just research and information gathering today. It is taking a proactive stance in challenging suppliers and partners to understand their situation and provide plans on how they can contribute. For sales leaders, it represents a shift in how their sales professionals must be at the ready – to be challenged. In my mind, The Challenger Sale is the status quo within the context of persuasion. What is disrupting this status quo is The Challenger Buy.

Preparing For The Challenger Buy

Contrary to current thinking, although buyers are utilizing available access to information through digital channels for a good portion of their buying cycle, they still value and need direct sales interaction. What is different is these interactions are under the microscope now. When they happen, they have to count. And, sales professionals will be tested as well as challenged by new buyer demand to make a valued contribution.

How can CSO’s and sales leaders adapt to this emerging shift in buying behaviors and buyer demands? The following 2014 steps are suggested:

  1. Learn through buyer insights research. In the past, research was thought of in sales within the framework of sales reps asking questions. No longer. Savvy CSO’s and sales leaders are investing in third-party buyer insights research to gain a deep understanding of buyers and to help inform their future sales strategies. For example, I witnessed two sales leaders this year lead a spirited buyer insights research initiative now paying dividends at year-end.
  2. Design buyer personas for sales. Deep buyer insights can be translated and communicated through buyer personas designed specifically for sales professionals. Providing them with the knowledge they need about buyers and their specific goals.
  3. Identify buying scenarios relevant to buyers. Today’s buyers expect you to know about their situations and know of the scenarios in which you can contribute. A cornerstone of buyer insights research, along with buyer persona development, is identifying the unique scenarios buyers are faced with. For example, a B2B organization I helped recently identified five unique buying scenarios for their services. Three in the mid-market and two at the large enterprise level. This gave sales representative the ability to anticipate what buyers will be facing as well as what they will be challenged with for each unique scenario.
  4. Focus on dialogue around scenarios. Sales representatives lack in training on how to have constructive dialogue when challenged by buyers. Usually, training has been focused on how to present and have conversations, which are product or solution focused. Today’s sales leaders are investing in improving capabilities in having constructive dialogue around understanding of buyer scenarios.

Due to the abundance of information now available, buyers are rapidly evolving at a faster pace than selling organizations. Which means buyers in 2014 will evolve beyond research and information gathering. Deploying more use of system-thinking and situational thinking into their buying decisions.

Real Sales Challenge

In my conversations with sales leaders, it is becoming evident the mountain sales organizations must climb heading into 2014 is how to adapt to a new era of being challenged by buyers. CSO’s and sales leaders will need to rethink and assess what it means to win over customers. Knowing full well when they have the opportunity to dialogue, they have to deliver not perfunctory insights, but understanding and contribution.

It certainly will take deeper understanding of buyers and scenario-based thinking to be at the ready for The Challenger Buy.

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