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Challenger Sales: the key to get more time with decision makers?

ChallengerBookThe search for an innovative and effective methodology to win the complex sale intensifies. B2B sales organizations operate in a highly competitive market in which decision makers’ time and attention has become the new currency. The question of how to get more face time with decision makers and influencers is therefore highly relevant among B2B sales leaders. Can a provocative approach be the most effective path to get meetings with decision makers and win the complex sale?

The Challenger Sales

What sales methodology should the modern B2B sales organization be following when decision maker’s time and attention is scarce? A variety of new alternatives have emerged in the last couple of years. They differ from previous methods in the sense that salespeople share unique insights about customers’ businesses upfront. One methodology has received a lot of attention from the business press and leaders. Developed in 2011 by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson from Corporate Executive Board, “The Challenger Sales” represents an appealing opportunity as it promises to enable access to decision makers and influencers. Because of its relative youth, however, there is still confusion over how to best rip its benefits.

Executive summary

Driven by the amount of online reviews and comments about it, I decided to invest time and read the book myself. If you have the time, I recommend you to buy the book and read it. Those of you with limited time and busy schedules can download an executive summary about Challenger Sales. Here is a brief summary of the research behind the book:

  • Sales organizations depend on a few number of sales reps to succeed. There is a widening performance gap between top and average performers. The gap is bigger in companies with solution selling models.
  • All B2B sales reps fall into the following 5 profiles: The Hard Worker, The Challenger, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf and The Reactive Problem Solver
  • The challenger rep performed best in complex sales.
  • In contrast to the remaining profiles, challenger reps were able to behave in three different ways. They were able to teach prospects something valuable about their business that they didn’t know but should have known, tailor their message to individual drivers and personal objectives and take control of the conversation.
  • It is an organizational capability rather than an individual rep skill. Alignment of sales and marketing efforts are, therefore, central to a successful implementation.
  • Sales innovation is one of the most important attributes among sales managers within “The Challenger Selling Model”. Front-line managers should be able to find innovative ways to remove barriers and keep the sale moving forward.

WHAT IS NEW about challenger sales?

Despite comments about its lack of novelty, I believe (at least to the best of my knowledge) the research contributes to the field of sales with 3 new ideas.

1. To control the sales process upfront in order to push customers in matters of money and ways of thinking. This approach is not often advocated by previous sales methodologies.

2. To deliver a scripted message based on a predefined insight. This view is radically different from carrying sales conversations based on specific customer problems and needs.

3. The view of sales managers as innovators. The proposition that sales managers must find innovative ways to overcome unexpected obstacles broadens the role of sales managers beyond coaching. The authors believe that sales innovation is one of the most critical factors to succeed in a dynamic and uncertain selling landscape.

WHAT is MISSING?

Even though the research introduced new ideas, I get the feeling that something is missing. In my opinion, the results only tell you half the story. It fails to take into account two important aspects: the buyers’ perspective and the context of the sale.

  1. The context: while it is important to know what challenger reps do differently, it is equally important to understand the drivers behind certain behaviors. Why did challengers reps behave in certain ways? Unfortunately, no information was provided about the context of the sale.
  2. The buyer’s perspective: the research only investigates one of the two perspectives involved in a commercial transaction: the seller. To gain a comprehensive understanding about what influences sales performance, the buyer’s perspective needs to be considered.

As a consequence, I have my doubts as to whether the challenger selling model can be equally applicable across a wide spectrum of customers. Different selling approaches are required for different customers at different stages of the buying process. In fact, ProSales research discovered that there is no universal way in which customers buy. According to the research, organizations have 5 purchase decision cultures. Could it be that challengers reps effectively matched the way in which a particular customer segment made purchase decisions?

Reference:

Dixon, M & Adamson, B (2011), ”The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation”.

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