Book Review: The Collaborative Sale


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When Eads and Sullivan, the owners of the Solution Selling methodology, came out with a new book, I jumped at the chance to read it. The book is great and you should read it.


Some History:

I read, and was trained on, Solution Selling in 1994, twenty years ago. As a sales rep/manager/VP of sales I used this method for 10 years. It contributed a lot to my success. However, around 2005-2006 it stopped working for me, and I think for a lot of people. Top producers started migrating to a new way of selling, which focused on proactively identifying a problem for a client before they knew they had one. This later became known as Provocation Selling, then The Challenger Sale, and now what is known as Insight Selling.

The “smart” people declared Solution Selling dead. However, Eads and his company, Sales Performance International had a franchise to protect so he released The New Solution Selling in 2003. It became a best seller. The majority of B2B sales forces had not recognized the new buying behavior of B2B decision makers. A fresh coat of paint on Solution Selling made sense to these sales forces. 300,000 copies were sold.

The great recession of 2008 hit and companies started missing the number. In 2010/11, after the worst was behind us, executives started seeking a new way to sell for it was time to grow again. Into this void Adamson and Dixon of CEB, brilliantly repacked Geoffrey Moore’s Provocative Selling into The Challenger Sale. The desire for something new was so great that The Challenger Sale took off. Heads of sales across the world piled onto “solution selling is dead” as a way to justify a big expense to implement Challenger Selling.

Fast forward to 2014. We now have 2 years of history, and hundreds of Challenger Sale implementations, to analyze. Guess what? It was not the silver bullet many hoped it would be. There are more failed implementations than there are successful ones. Why? Challenger started as a concept, became a philosophy, and is now trying to be a methodology. It is very young. A few years from now, after the pioneers take all the arrows in the back, it will be an excellent approach. I believe in it and commend CEB for having the courage to rapidly iterate the offering based on failure based learnings. And I want to remind everyone, the authors were upfront about this. Adamson and Dixon never claimed Challenger would be the answer to your prayers.

What does this have to do with The Collaborative Sale?

Eads and Sullivan have decided to offer an alternative. A second act if you will. After taking an enormous amount of criticism, some issued by me and my firm, they present something to think about in The Collaborative Sale.

Here are some highlights:

  • Sellers and buyers have moved from competing with one another to collaborating with each other to accomplish a common goal. This is in stark contrast to challenging someone, or provoking them.
  • Marketing and sales work together collaboratively. They are not separate links in a chain. This accelerates the time it takes to create compelling content.
  • Buyer 2.0 is a comparison shopper. Creating a net new need in the eyes of the customer could result in you becoming a lead generator for your competitors.
  • Sales people are micro marketers. CMOs need to embrace the concept of the sales force being a marketing channel, similar to email, text, or your website. Sales rep prospecting should contribute approximately 70% of the leads on behalf of the marketing department.

These are just a few of the great concepts of this book. I could go on and on.

In an effort to write a balanced review, if I was to offer any critical feedback it would be this:

  1. It is highly unlikely for a customer to have one buying process. Do you buy a house and a sandwich using the same buying process? No. Therefore, one standard sales process is not going to work as the authors point out. A sales methodology applied across “common buyer scenarios” is an outdated, top down, waterfall approach. The authors suggest using several sales playbooks, which are bottoms up and super light. This will drive sales rep adoption. I agree but they lost me on automating it with technology. It is hard enough to get reps to adopt a sales methodology. Requiring the field to adopt technology automation on top of this is a bad idea. It will reduce rep adoption. I realize the software obsessed culture we live in will kill me for saying this but someone has to. Anyone enjoy using CRM?
  2. The examples are not great. For example, highlighting a Microsoft case study from 2006 is not very useful. The world was very different back then and Microsoft has a reputation of being a below average sales force.

But I am nitpicking. The book is fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sales effectiveness is hard. Eads and Sullivan have been around the block. They have earned the right for you to consider their point of view. Keep an open mind and give it a read.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Greg Alexander
Greg Alexander serves as CEO of Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a sales and marketing consultancy focused exclusively on helping B2B companies exceed their revenue targets. In 2012, Alexander was named as one of the top 25 sales minds online by OpenView Partners. Sales and Marketing Management Magazine named Alexander "Sales Manager of the Year".


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