Are You a Challenger?

The profession of sales continues to evolve. With that evolution comes new thinking about how best to approach the process of selling our products and services. Being in the business of working with sales teams to up their game, I stay on top of new ideas and trends in the industry. I heard about the book The Challenger Sale earlier this year and recently made the time to read it.

The authors, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson wanted to understand what top performing sales reps are doing that their average performing peers are not. That led to an intensive study of thousands of sales reps across multiple geographies and industries. They investigated the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors to get to the heart of what really sets the top performers apart.

The core insight from the book is that the best salespeople aren’t just building relationships with customers. The best salespeople challenge them. The traits of the Challenger were identified as someone who:

  • Offers the customer unique insights and perspectives that the customer had not considered.
  • Has strong communication skills and is very good at engaging in two-way dialog
  • Takes the time to really understand the customer’s value drivers
  • Is able to identify the economic drivers in the customer’s business
  • Has no problem discussing money
  • Is comfortable putting pressure on the customer to take action

Though it goes against traditional sales wisdom, the research showed that relationship builders – the people we typically believe make the best salespeople – actually performed the lowest in complex sales situations. Yes, building relationships is important, but relying on the people skills alone isn’t going to cut it.

Sales success isn’t about what you sell, it is how you sell that makes the difference. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know What also needs to evolve is how salespeople engage with a prospect from the very beginning. Most of us learned a solution selling approach and we were taught the importance of uncovering needs and pain points by asking a series of questions, so that we could more successfully demonstrate how our products and services could solve them.

At SCS, we don’t believe that approach makes sense anymore. With so much information available to us through the Internet, social networks and business intelligence tools, we shouldn’t be wasting our prospects time with “fact finding”, and it turns out that the Challenger rep doesn’t approach the sale this way. Sure, you might need to confirm information that you’ve uncovered, but what sense does it make to ask questions that you can find the answers to with a little bit of time invested?

What I loved about the book is that it supports our philosophies about more effective ways to sell. We hadn’t coined a fancy term for the salespeople that are the highest performers, but we certainly have been working with our clients to help all their sales folks to develop the traits and approach to the sales process, as I noted above. I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Challenger Sale. It is worth the read and may open your eyes to the fact that your best salespeople are likely not who you think they are.

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