Are Your Salespeople Challenging Their Prospects to Do Better?


Share on LinkedIn

There’s been a great deal of well-justified praise for the recently published “The Challenger Sale”. It’s been described by no less an authority than Neil Rackham – author of SPIN Selling – as “the most important advance in selling for many years”. It identifies the research-proven winning behaviours of today’s most successful sales people. And it poses an obvious question: are your sales people challenging their prospects to do better?

Underpinned by extensive research

the challenger sale taking control of the customer conversationSponsored by the Corporate Executive Board, the extensive research that underpins the book clearly illustrates the key factor that affects sales outcomes in high-value, complex B2B buying environments above all others. And it isn’t your company or your brand, or your product or service offering, or your pricing policies – although these all have some part to play.

No – the single most powerful influence on the purchase experience (and your chances of winning or losing any opportunity) is the quality of the sales conversation. It’s a point I’ve made before, and it’s a point that I will undoubtedly return to again. But what did the thousands of respondents to the Corporate Executive Board’s survey say about the qualities they most valued in a sales person?

Relationship building and hard work alone won’t get you there

Perhaps regrettably for sales organisations that have stressed the value of relationship building or hard work, it wasn’t how affable the sales person was, or even how responsive they were to the prospect’s every whim. Far more important was the sales person’s ability to teach them something new, unexpected and valuable.

These prospects hated being overtly sold to (and particularly disliked high pressure sales techniques), but they loved learning something new. They hated having their time wasted, but they enjoyed having their perceptions challenged in a constructive way. In summary, the book claims, your prospects are saying “Stop wasting my time. Challenge me. Teach me something new” – and if I can one more another request, “don’t be boring”.

Characteristics of a world-class sales experience

When pressed, the survey audience – your target customers – identified five key characteristics of a world-class sales experience:

  • The sales person offers unique and valuable perspectives on the market
  • The sales person educates me on new issues and outcomes
  • The sales person helps me navigate alternatives
  • The sales person helps me avoid potential land mines
  • The sales person offers on-going advice or consultation

Unfortunately, classic solution selling techniques – based on a “20-question” needs discovery process – are unlikely to achieve these outcomes. In fact, they are likely to fail miserably if the customer genuinely doesn’t recognise that they have an issue, hasn’t acknowledged the consequences, or doesn’t know what they think they need.

Challenging your prospects to do better

What today’s top-performing sales people do particularly well is that – rather than digging around for obvious or even latent needs – they help their customers to figure out exactly what they really need. They challenge their prospects to do better – and they show them how it might be accomplished, and act as the prospect’s partner on their performance improvement journey.

I’m going to be returning to this subject in future articles. But for the moment, I want to challenge you to answer this question: Are your sales people spending most of their time responding to what the prospects say they believe they need – or are they helping their prospects recognise that they have the potential to do far better? Are they sharing something so valuable with their prospects that the customer would have been prepared to pay for the conversation itself? And if not – and if nothing changes – can you realistically expect your sales performance to do anything other than decline?

Start your performance improvement journey

You might find it useful to start your sales and marketing performance improvement journey by benchmarking your current policies against those we’ve observed in many of today’s top-performing organisations. You can take the 10-minute test here. Let me know how you get along.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here