The Challenger Sale – Building the Insight Generation Machine

The Challenger Sale – Building the Insight Generation Machine is similar to the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.  Specifically, the business translation for the Challenger Sales – Building the Insight Generation machine is that it takes the organization, as a whole, to transition Challenger Sales Reps to commercial teaching.

In the Challenger Sale methodology, the sales conversation consists of three parts: 1) unique benefits, 2) significant customer insights, and 3) a tightly packaged teaching choreography. All three of these parts require the active involvement of the entire organization.

The Challenger Sale - Commercial Teachings-3-StepsThe Challenger Sales proposes a 6 step process to develop a best in class teaching pitch.  Even though each step is well thought out and necessary, some organizations 6 steps is a little overwhelming.  As a result, some organizations choose to simplify the 6 step process into 3 steps:

  1. Provide customers with challenging insights that they would not have otherwise thought of on their own
  2. Quantitatively assess the impact and help them internalize the impact for both the organization and themselves
  3. When the time is right, introduce the organization’s solution and connect the dots as to why it provides the best course of action

The most important concept to grasp is that the entire approach is based on leading a customer “to” rather than leading “with”.  In a sense, it is similar to teaching someone to fish versus catching a fish for them.  While this sales approach requires more time and patience, the end result is that the customer becomes a believer, internalizes the insights and and becomes an evangelist for the solution.

The focus is on individual sales rep performance and the blueprint for success.  Having a managed, repeatable process (versus a lone wolf sales process) means everyone involved must be on the same page.  In short, a lot of the work that is typically executed in the middle or end of the sales process has to be addressed much earlier.  The result is that the target market is tighter, the velocity of deals is greater and the conversion rates between the sales pipeline stages are higher.  Contrast this to a typical sales process where numerous resources and cycles are exerted on opportunities that are pushed out in the sales forecast and/or result in no decision.  In the final analysis, it’s always better to do the homework upfront rather than resort to a strategy based on hope.

What is sometimes hard for sales leadership and sales teams is the fact that they depend on the entire organization for their success. It’s not only about individual sales skills – it’s about organizational capabilities as well.  In particular, the synchronization and integration required between sales and marketing is huge.  And, if an organization suffers from political challenges, it is necessary to sort this out in advance.  While it is possible to use this process as a driving force to start fresh, it places a great deal of undue stress on the process.  The corporate culture emanates from the top, and executive leadership and sponsorship will be required to successfully implement this transformation.  The results will go beyond financial metrics as a team culture will emerge.

Challenger Sale – The Transition to Commercial Teaching

The transition to commercial teaching is actually easier than the transition sales organizations made in the past from transactional selling to solution selling.

In transactional selling, sales reps were focused on learning and pushing features and benefits. Marketing organizations created messages of faster, better and cheaper with the idea that customers would get on this treadmill of needing the latest version simply because it was the latest version and XX% better than the old product.

The Challenger Sale - Sales ApproachesCompare that to the solution selling where sales reps were trained to probe customers by asking numerous questions to understand and playback to a customer that they understand the customer’s pain.  The “if-then” statement was simply stated as if, “I understand your pain so I am in the best position to propose a solution.”  Some believe that solution selling is real-time product customization.  Some sales reps were very successful at this sale method but it was a very tall task as the sales rep had to be very quick on their feet and figure things out on the fly. This meant putting a solution together and pitching it in a way that compelled the customer to buy.  This phenomenon explains why the minority of reps exceed quota.

Commercial Teaching reduces the burden on the sales rep to be successful. Commercial Teaching requires the entire organization to build the story, develop the sales tools and deliver the training to sales reps in order to share commercial insight.  In this scenario, the sales reps’ role shifts form discovering unmet needs (by probing with questions) to guiding a conversation that allows the customer to realize new insights about their business.  Another way to look at it is that the organization builds a playbook and the sales team executes the play.  Note that while all other functions in the organization have a role in the design, development and execution of the play, but the sales rep runs point, like a quarterback, on the delivery to the customer.

Commercial Teaching reins in sales conversations much like bumpers on a bowling alley.  Let’s be clear, there are always exceptions and it is always possible for a sales conversation to go sideways, but this approach, when all sales conversations are viewed on a curve, typically produces a bell curve where the vast majority stay on track.  As always, there are some sales reps that are just the best. One can pick their percentage: 10%, 20% or whatever — and these reps will always do everything better.  The question is, how does an organization empower the other reps to meet or exceed quota by not holding down the top performers – and enhancing them as well?  Here’s how:

Challenger Sale – Pre-Scope Customer Needs

It is unproductive to have a sales rep start with a blank sheet of paper for each and every customer.  The organization, collectively, performs this analysis, and Sales and Marketing do a significantly better job on segmentation and customer analysis.  This change in process will significantly reduce the burden on the sales and marketing teams by providing a laser focus that decreases the “bad leads” and the disharmony between the two organizations.

The Challenger Sale - Commercial Teachings

Challenger Sale – Pre-Scripted Sales Conversations

Next, the sales conversation is pre-scripted.  Since the segmentation analysis was performed with Sales and Marketing, it is much more like shooting fish in a barrel—there is a homogeneous market segment.  In other words, the sales and marketing teams sat down and identified key criteria that would allow the identification of a prospect with a high propensity to purchase the solution.  With that end goal in mind, the sales and marketing teams reverse engineer the process to build a sales conversation that will lead a prospect down the path of enlightenment.

Granted the sales rep still has to interact with the customer on their turf — answering questions and adapting to unanticipated objections — but the opening hypothesis is laid out and scripted as well as the entire sales process.  The methodology, sales tools and corresponding training is synchronized and each sales rep has been certified to their understanding of the process and their ability to execute against it.  Since this is a managed and repeatable process, sales reps will become even better at execution as the talking points are the same and they will be able to enrich their delivery with each new insight learned from customers.

Challenger Sale – Pre-Defined Solution

This may sound “one size fits all” but since the organization has gone to great lengths with customer analysis and segmentation, there should not be a great deal of swing in the definition of overall solution—within 10-20%.  As a result, the sales rep knows the solution walking in the door.  The hard part is for the sales rep to open up the customer’s eyes to what could be and then connect the dots so the customer puts it together—like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

The approach does not demean the role of a sales rep, rather it simplifies the process as compared to the transformation required from transactional selling to solution selling.  Rather than empower reps with their ability to ask good questions of the right people and piece it together, the organization prepares the sales team for battle with a play that has been scripted, vetted, resourced and proactively supported. This greatly increases the probability that the sales rep will be successful.

Challenger Sale – Orchestration of the Entire Organization

The Challenger Sale - Marketing Sales IntergationAs mentioned earlier, Commercial Teaching requires the orchestration of an entire organization.  In particular, Sales and Marketing need to align around some core capabilities:

1. The identification of benefits that are unique, in the customer’s eyes, and are defendable

2. The development of insight that is meaningful, relevant and financially impactful to a customer

3. Present insights in compelling way that allow a sales rep to lead a customer to this epiphany

4. Resource and train sales reps to challenge customers

Sales and Marketing have to unite and be truly integrated for this approach to be successful.  In B2B selling, the inability of Sales and Marketing to work well together is one of the largest obstacles an organization faces in acquiring and retaining customers.  It’s important to note what Commercial Teaching is NOT.  Commercial Teaching will not fix a dysfunctional organization.  Commercial Teaching provides a road map for integrating an organization around the core activities that truly matter to acquire customers using a managed and repeatable process.  One best practice is for Sales and marketing to jointly build a demand generation and a demand management plan to outline objectives, strategies, roles, responsibilities, systems and processes.


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