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Insight Selling and Challenger Sales – two methodologies to win the complex sales

booksSales organizations need to adapt to a new reality. A hyper-competitive reality in which access to decision makers’ attention is scarce. Since 2011, two research-based methodologies about how to win the complex sales have been developed. Challenger Sales argues that relationship building is no longer an effective method to win complex sales. Instead a provocative approach should be adopted. On the other hand, Insight Selling advises that the best approach is to collaborate with buyers towards a common goal. Therefore, trust and personal relationships are essential. Which one is right? Is one of them better than the other one? Well, the truth is that both are right and wrong.

executive summary: Insight Selling

In a previous post, I wrote an executive summary as well as my thoughts on Challenger Sales. For the purposes of this post, I thought it would be interesting to review and compare a methodology that proposes a different perspective: Insight Selling.

Like Challenger Sales, Insight Selling presents a research-based approach to win complex B2B sales. As opposed to Challenger Sales, it was developed based on research from the buyers’ perspective. Developed in 2014 by Rain Group’s Mike Schultz and John Doerr, it argues that relationships are everything but dead. As a matter of fact, a sales person’s ability to build personal connections and trust is the foundation and a prerequisite to win sales.

So, what do B2B salespeople need to do to win the sale? If you want to gain a detailed understanding of the main ideas behind Insight Selling, you can download an executive summary of the book. Otherwise, the following 3 points provide you with a high level overview.

1. The need for sellers’ insight is greater than ever

To begin with, the authors argue that despite easy access to information, buyers are highly dependent on salespeople’s insight to make the right decision. Even when information can be easily accessed, buyers find the information is incomplete, bias or inconsistent. As a consequence, the demand for advice from a trustworthy and likeable source increases. The demand for salespeople’s industry expertise and knowledge about customers’ businesses is greater than ever.

2. Salespeople are part of the value creation process

Furthermore, the research suggests that sales winners did more than advising prospects with valuable insights. They were able to lead and persuade buyers to act upon their advice. They achieved this by gaining buyers’ commitment to collaborate towards a common goal: to develop the best solution. In that sense, sales winners were not just selling value but were creating value during interactions.

3. Sales winners followed an incremental 3-step process:

Interestingly, all behavioral factors that set sales winners apart were grouped into a three-step model. In what appears to be a systematic process, sales winners managed to Connect, Convince and Collaborate.

  • Connect: The first step can be seen as the price of entry. First and foremost, sales winners were able to connect with buyers at a personal level. They built personal connections and established themselves as a trustworthy source. Afterwards, they shared valuable insights with buyers. Insights about buyers’ businesses, which they have not previously thought about.
  • Convince: In the second step, sales winners executed activities with the aim to convince buyers. They were able to justify the return on investment and to persuade buyers about the need to change. Moreover, they visualized the gains and the consequences of not acting, lowered or removed risk perceptions and demonstrated how they are the best choice among alternatives.
  • Collaborate: Finally, sales winners collaborated with buyers. In this last step, they  proactively lead buyers into action. They were able to gain commitment to collaborate and to develop the best solution with direct input from buyers.

How is iNSIGHT SELLING different from Challenger Sales?

After reviewing Insight Selling and Challenger Sales, one thing is clear. Both share the view that salespeople should proactively identify opportunities or problems before buyers know about them. Although the methodologies agree in that particular area, they are by no means alike. In the table below, you can find 5 areas in which they differ the most:

Challenger Insight Selling
Source of value The business impact of the commercial insight. All the seller brings to the table.The business impact of the insight + the value of the supplier + sellers’ themselves.
Sellers’ autonomy or degree of flexibility over the content of the conversation LowSellers follow pre-scripted interactions and present predefined insights developed by the organization HighIndividual sellers can apply their own judgment during conversations.
Role of the sales person To sell value by delivering and communicating the insight in an assertive way. Sellers are part of the value creation process. Therefore they are irreplaceable.
Role of relationships Earned as reward from doing business. A consequence. A prerequisite to get the business
Critical interface Emphasizes intra-organizational alignment Emphasizes inter-organizational alignment

Both are right and wrong

Many books about sales methodologies have been published since 2011. Nonetheless, Challenger Sales and Insight Selling captured a lot of attention from the business press. Some organizations have embraced Challenger Sales or Insight Selling, while others have embraced a combination of both. While I am sure each methodology has strong supporters and advocates, the truth is that both Challenger Sales and Insight Selling are right and wrong.

Whether Challenger Sales is more effective or not depends on its degree of alignment with the way buyers make purchase decisions. It will make little sense to try Insight Selling or Challenger Sales with customers who expect a transactional relationship. Nor will it make sense to invest time and resources to identify disruptive insights if the potential gains do not justify the costs of engaging in this activity.

In the same way, it will be counterproductive to use Insight Selling when the sales model is built on selling a standardized and scalable product or service. What I am trying to say is that the one-size-fits-all approach is no longer a choice. Sales leaders must adopt the methodology that best matches both the customer’s buying process and their sales model.

Source: Schultz, Mike, and John E. Doerr. “Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently”. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.


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