One of the most popular business books in the past decade is The Challenger Sale. This Corporate Executive Board tome has served as a model for many firms looking to take their sales process to the next level.The subtitle is, “Taking Control of the Customer Conversation”.
A number of companies have bought into The Challenger model and made investments to try and implement it as a selling approach. While that is a difficult proposition, implementing Challenger as a business development approach to get appointments has been a huge challenge (pun intended).
The book talks about how the most successful B2B sellers aren’t those that build relationships and answer the most questions; but are those that challenge the prospect’s thought process and view on the business issue at hand.To compete and win, a successful sales person will teach the customer something new (“I never thought of it this way”), tailor the conversation to make it relevant and take control of the journey by leading the buyer through the process.
The biggest problem isn’t deploying Challenger’s “teach, tailor and take control” model, it’s having enough opportunities to do so. If you don’t have an audience to challenge, it doesn’t matter what technique or sales methodology use — including Challenger.
We’ve seen a lot of organizations try to apply the Challenger principles to their prospecting cycles, with little success. The reason is quite simple. To “teach” someone something, they have to be in a position to “learn” something.It is next to impossible for them to learn a new point of view in an email, voicemail or 75 second prospecting call that interrupts the prospect when they were likely doing and thinking about something else the minute before the phone rang.
Furthermore, without the input from the prospect about their current challenges and environment, it is difficult to “tailor” the dialogue any deeper than relevant reference accounts.“Taking control” of the sales process means you have to establish significant credibility — much more than can be done with prospecting communication.
The key to successful prospecting for Challenger opportunities starts with segregating prospecting from selling and focusing on the business value (and not the feature/function) of your solution. If you look at prospecting strictly as finding the right person who cares the underlying business problem you solve and getting the attention of that person, then you can set up a forum for meaningful exchange (a sales appointment).
We are big fans of Challenger and use the principles every day in our selling, but not in our prospecting.One of the common things we “teach” is that beyond the simple metrics of dials, connects, phone time and conversion percentages, there are more appropriate leading indicators (like contacts per account, touches per task and touches per contact) that are better indicators of outreach quality and predictors of rep success.
We do this teaching and tailoring on the first sales appointment.To get the appointment, we use our own, different prospecting approach that segregates prospecting from selling. Then you are able to generate more first conversations and opportunities to “challenge” the prospect with the unique value your solution brings to market.
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