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The Challenger Sale

The Challenger SaleThere are two types of personality profile tests: the kind you take for fun on Facebook, and the kind that offers real insights to help you drive revenue.

The Challenger Sale, a book profiling the five types of sales professionals, is the latter type. Written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB (now Gartner), it is a fresh take on the sales process, well-grounded in research, with a wealth of actionable suggestions.

Buyers today are different than buyers 20, 10, or even five years ago. They are well informed, make group purchasing decisions, and no longer rely on or trust sales representatives to provide the information they need. In short, they expect more. “Today’s customers don’t need sales reps in the same way they used to; they now wait until they are 57% through the purchase process before contacting Sales. Buyers do independent research and set their own purchase criteria, all before the first seller interaction.”

customer's first meaning contact with salesperson

Because of this shift in the buying process, sellers and entrepreneurs need to change the way they engage with buyers. Dixon & Adamson group sellers into five profiles:

  • The Hard Worker – always goes the extra mile, doesn’t give up easily, self-motivated, interested in feedback and development
  • The Relationship Builder – develops strong customer advocates, generous in giving time to help others, gets along with everyone
  • The Lone Wolf – Follows own instincts, self-assured, independent
  • The Problem Solver – Reliably responds, ensures that all problems are solved, detail oriented
  • The Challenger – Always has a different view of the world, understands the customer’s business, loves to debate, pushes the customer

Based on the predominant view of the “key to successful sales,” we’d expect the Relationship Builder to consistently have higher revenue and to score higher on client satisfaction surveys. He would be followed by the Hard Worker or maybe the Problem Solver. However, research shows that this isn’t the case.

Dixon and Adamson analyzed 6,000 sales representatives across diverse organization types, including inbound, outbound, and field sales reps. Based on performance and client feedback, the authors found that the Challenger profile consistently had the best results because it is best suited for today’s complex, holistic sales processes.

There are three steps to the Challenger sales approach (also known as solution selling), described in the book as “teach, tailor, and take control.” Initially, the sales rep needs to distinguish themselves as the authority in the area in question. This is the “teach” phase. It is critical that the rep be able to bring fresh, new ways of thinking to the client. The second phase is the “tailor” phase. Here, the sales rep shows he’s knowledgeable about the client’s unique business drivers and needs. Finally, in the “take control” phase, the rep pushes the client and confidently discusses money and next steps.

When you contrast this sales process with a traditional value proposition pitch, it’s easy to see why the old process no longer resonates. In the old sales model, the rep starts out trying to build credibility by talking about awards won, years of experience, and notable achievements. That’s table stakes in today’s market. Next, the rep might go into his product features and benefits the — inevitable PowerPoint snoozefest. He might close with a case study. In the new era of fast-paced sales, we don’t have that much time to capture the attention of our audience.

Challengers start by discussing the disruption in the market. They bring a wealth of knowledge about industry trends and relate them to the client’s pain points. They can explain how they can quickly and effectively solve the client’s pain in new and innovative ways that will put the client ahead of their competition. They can articulate a complex solution in simple terms and then swagger into the close. How could the client say “no”?

How can entrepreneurs leverage this mental model in their organizations? Use the Challenger model as a general presentation guide. Whether you’re pitching to partners, investors, or new clients, this same approach will work. Think about structuring your presentation deck into five sections:

  • The disruption in the marketplace
  • The challenges this is causing for your audience
  • What the end state should look like
  • How you can get them there
  • Next steps

Stop talking about yourself and your company. Start thinking of your presentation as a mirror of the customer’s challenges, hopes, and needs. Ditch the old school value prop deck and start bringing true value into your client conversations with solution selling models.

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