Challenging Traditional Sales Myths


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As many of you know, I am a big fan of Matt Dixon’s work, book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.  I had the pleasure interviewing Matt and split the interview into 2 parts. Last week, Need Customers, Create an Effortless Experience was about his latest book, The Effortless Experience and the second will be tomorrow concentrating on The Challenger Sale.

My Thoughts about The Challenger Sale: Lean Salespeople are Challengers, not Problem Solvers

An excerpt from the podcast:

Joe: Starting with The Challenger Sale, it really blew away some traditional sales myths. Can you just give a quick summary for a few of the people that haven’t read it?

Matt: Yes, of course. The Challenger Sale research started back when it was really the depth of the downturn Joe. It was back in late 2008, early 2009. We’re a member-based organization. We work with about 1,000 heads of sales around the world – all B2B – and we take our research marching orders, my team does, from those 1,000 chief sales officers. At that time as you can imagine, it was really a bad time to be in sales because none of your customers wanted to buy a darn thing from you. It was the world in which our clients, heads of sales around the world, were coming back to us and saying, “Hey the thing we really need help with right now is trying to figure out why it is that in this really, really tough selling environment we find that most of our salespeople are missing quota by a wide, wide margin. We are just hemorrhaging right now. Still there are a couple of folks on the team who continue to be bringing in the number. In fact, some of them bring in deals, in business that we would dream of even in the best of times. What is it that those select few star performers are doing that we can actually learn from, kind of bottle and export to everyone else? Hopefully that will be kind of a tide that would lift all boats because gosh we really need the help right now. It’s just a tough time in sales.Challenger

What we found when we went out and did the research – we started analyzing data on about 1,000 different sales reps across geography and industry, again all B2B. Since then the dataset has expanded to about 35,000 people around the world. We continue to run and validate the model. The story remained very consistent from the initial kind of data that we did. What we found were two things. One, we found that all salespeople at the end of the day, fall into one of five selling profiles. These are statistically defined sales profiles.

I could talk to you more about how we did the research if you want, but at the end of the day you’ve got five tested sellers, you’ve got hard workers – these are nose to the grindstone type sellers – you’ve got challengers – these are sort of the debaters on the team. They got a provocative point of view and not afraid to use it to push the customer bid outside their comfort zone. You’ve got relationship builders and those guys are all about kind acquiescence doing whatever the customer wants, sitting on the customer side of the table, advocating for the customer inside the supplier organization or the vendor organization. You’ve got lone wolves. Lone wolves are some of the prima donnas of the sales organization. They march to the beat of their own drummer. They don’t follow the sales process. They don’t file their expense reports sometimes. As I often joke, they sell things you don’t even make and then they ask for forgiveness afterwards, and many companies let them get away with it because they hit their number consistently or exceed it. Then you have problem solvers. Problem solvers are sort of customer service reps than sales reps closing. They’re more interested in post-deal execution than in getting the next deal through the sales pipeline.

While that’s kind of academically interesting, the second big finding was the big shocker. When you look at the performance of these different profiles, when you map it up against sales performance, you find that one of these profiles; the challenger performs heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to who are the high performers in the dataset. They are the top 20% of your sellers. We find that nearly 40% of those people fall into that challenger profile.

The bigger surprise Joe was that the one that comes in dead last out of those five is actually the relationship builder profile. This was a big shock to heads of sales who’ve always I think lived by that notion that people sell to people and at the end of the day, even in business-to-business, selling is about the relationships you have with your customers. What it really forced us to do was to rethink what happened in the dynamic with the customer, how the currency of the relationship has really changed.

That’s led us on just a fascinating journey, part of which is documented in the Challenger Sale and some of which is in research we’ve done over the past four or five years since the original challenger study to understand what best salespeople are doing differently in an age where customers can kind of go out and learn on their own. They don’t need that talking brochure salesperson anymore because they can go out and learn all kinds of things about their own needs, and to find those needs and figure out what’s keeping them up at night all on their own. And then they can go figure out, “Who are the suppliers that can help me to scratch those itches, to solve those business challenges?” How do they stack relative to one another?” and they really start to engage the salesperson later and later in the purchase journey. We found that the challenger salespeople are really the ones in this world where customers are out there learning on their own, are really able to kind of reverse that trend and avoid that sort of price-driven commoditized sales trap that is really plaguing today’s salesperson.

Joe: Since you written the book, I’m sure you’ve learned more and did further research, are you confirming this? Has your mind changed at all since your book has been written?….You have to wait for the podcast.

My Thoughts about The Challenger Sale: Lean Salespeople are Challengers, not Problem Solvers

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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