In recent years the buzz around solution selling has muted to a low hum or been barely heard at all. In answers to this The Challenger Sale presents new concepts (backed by research) which are very interesting and offer insight into the potential of solution selling that businesses are just beginning to realise. It supports many of my own beliefs about assisting sales people to be in a position where they can be the Challenger, supported by the organisation and with the collaborative input and support from marketing.

This is where this sales and marketing journey has all been leading too, especially so for the complex sale.

The book firstly tackles the myth about what the best performing sales people are supposed to be like, backed up by research from the Sales Executive Council (SEC). Instead of doing research to support a belief, their research was focused on the question – “What is working” and then sought to answer “Why”.

Solution Selling Sales Profiles

Firstly they found that there are actually 5 types of sales people and the one that most companies believe would be their top performer, otherwise known as the relationship builder, actually turns out not to be.

  1. The Hard Worker
  2. The Challenger
  3. The Relationship Builder
  4. The Lone Wolf
  5. The Reactive Problem Solver

Further more the “sales environment” has faced numerous difficulties which had caused those individuals that could perform to be neglected and often shunned because they didn’t fit the conventional profile or the businesses they worked for wasn’t willing to support them or their ideas.

  • Performers are “difficult” people as they create a degree of constructive tension and as such are often misunderstood.
  • Solution selling suffers from “fatigue” due to the never ending rallies of questions and answers and more questions.
  • Metrics have only sought to demonstrate the impact of buying a solution, not changing behaviour which is the total impact.
  • Personalisation and customisation is now expected which further increases complexity of both the offering and sale.
  • More people are involved in the decision making process including 3rd parties.

On further investigation it found that the characteristics of these performers were that they had;

  1. A unique perspective
  2. Strong two way communication
  3. Knowledge about the customers value drivers
  4. The ability to identify economic drivers
  5. Willingness to discuss money constructively

You could go further and say that these individuals possessed more of an entrepreneurial flair than the conventional employee mindset.

The Challenger Sales Approach

These characteristics were then further consolidated into the 4T’s of what is known as the “Challenger” who possesses the ability to;

  • Teach – deliver insight that re-frames the way customers think about their business and needs
  • Tailor – communicate sales messages in the context of the customer
  • Tension constructively – in a way that adds new perspective
  • Take control – openly pursue goals in a direct, but none aggressive way

Please take note of the none aggressive approach. All too often I’ve seen sales teams adopt an aggressive or arrogant style thinking that this was a way to either emulate the leaders in their prospective customers or to show that they were able to take control for their employers. Sales were made and things always went wrong in a big way. Challenging, that creates constructive tension, especially when you are an outsider should be done with control, diplomacy, and empathy.

So how do you create a challenger ?

  1. Not by birth but through the making – education, support and experiences
  2. Its the combination of skills (the 4T’s together) that matter, not the focus on relationships as shown in this article.
  3. It requires organisation capability not just individual skills – and this is where marketing comes in, to help build the “content” for the teaching part and identifying which teaching messages will resonate with which stakeholders. However, whilst most of the above steps are half individual and half organisational the ability to take control largely relies on the individual or “Challenger”.
  4. Transformational change takes time – its a journey not an overnight destination.

Teaching For Differentiation

Is reflective of the modern west which continues to move towards a knowledge based economy and through knowledge and insight you can teach the customer how best they can achieve something more effectively which is a real and immediate issue. Teaching though isn’t good enough unless it actually helps you the supplier and so your teachings should lead to your unique strengths, challenge customer assumptions, catalyse action and scale across customers. The problem is that most companies can’t actually agree on what that their unique values are.

The answer is actually found in my favourite question – “Why should anybody buy from you over anyone else?” or to put it another way “We are the only company that…………………..” (fill in the missing gaps).

Your teachings should include data, information, or insights which you can put in front of your prospective customers that reframes the way they think about their business, how it operates or even how it competes.

ROI tools should therefore be geared towards teaching the cost or loss of not changing behaviour based on the return of pursuing the re-frame, not purchasing your product or service.

It should also be noted that the companies who do best at this approach have learned to segment customers further by needs or behaviour which is called the “buyer persona” in the world of marketing for sales.

Research also showed that if your sales people’s primary goal going into a sales call is to “discover” the customer’s needs, then you’ve lost the battle before you’ve even begun to fight, because, frankly, your customers and prospects don’t want to have that conversation. Go ready to teach.

Tailoring for Resonance

Is matching the priorities and outcome requirements of the individual that you are dealing with to your overall story and what you are able to offer.

Taking Control Of The Sale

For example price discussions should be value focused around what is important about the offering under consideration to the customer or prospective customer.

Most customers though don’t actually know what they need and so Challengers go one step further and actually tell people what they need given their understanding of the situation. Again with control, diplomacy, and empathy. So, how can this be justified.

The Corporate Executive Board, surveyed well over 5,000 individuals at their clients’ customer organisations including everyone from business owners and C-suite executives to end users, purchase influencers, procurement officers, and even third-party consultants to understand what made them loyal to a particular supplier.

challenger sale loyalty drivers

If you review the chart above it clearly shows that the factors that contributed most towards loyalty (over 50%) or the customers willingness to join a supplier on a solutions journey was mainly driven by the purchasing / sales experience delivered by Challengers.

It’s also clear that selling a well-branded, highly differentiated product, supported by higher-than-industry-average service will undoubtedly get you more loyalty or give you the stepping stones to deliver the sales / buying experience to build increased loyalty. So if you’re way behind the competition in any of those earlier steps, that’s probably where you should focus your efforts to begin with.

Loyalty though will not be relevant where prospects or customer place little to no value around what you do. So if your customer is dead set on buying the cheapest option today, then chances are pretty good they’ll be dead set on buying the cheapest option tomorrow as well.

Over half of customer loyalty is a result not of what you sell, but how you sell and I would go further and say that this also extends (and supports sales further) to the way you are marketing yourself which communicates insights, reviews alternatives and warns of the potential dangers ahead. Conventional branding cannot and does not do this.

The bottom line is this, if you’re going to take sixty minutes of your customer’s precious time for a face-to-face meeting, which you’ll need for a complex solution, then you’d better make sure that whatever you do with that time is valuable to your customer. In your customers’ eyes, your primary value as a supplier is your ability to teach them something, not to sell them something otherwise you will be faced with both diminishing value and a scaling back of your sales force or maybe the demise of your entire business.

Get yourself a copy of the The Challenger Sale from Amazon UK or if you’re based in the US use this link instead.

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