Lean Salespeople are Challengers, not Problem Solvers


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One of my favorite books last year was The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. The authors summed up much of what I have been trying to say for the past several years in a much more compelling and concise way than I ever could. I encourage you to read the book. I have the Kindle Version and audio version of the book (I like it).

At the heart of their research is the Sales Person and Sales Manager. First, let me explain the five types of sales people that you will recognize in an instant.

  1. Hard Worker: Show up early, stay late and always willing to put the extra effort.
  2. Relationship Builder: Strong personal and professional relationships and advocates for the customer.
  3. Lone Wolf: Follow their own instincts instead of the rules, they just gitter done.
  4. Reactive Problem Solver: Tend to focus on heavily on post-sales follow-up ensure promises are kept.
  5. The Challenger: Assertive and have a deep understanding of customer’s business.

Many would look at this mix and think how they have a few of each type. In fact, the study shows that the average salesperson is spread across all five areas. As the authors say, “mediocrity comes in multiple flavors.” What is so revealing in the study is that 40% of the top (star) performers are The Challenger model. The attributes of The Challenger were further broken down into six significant factors:

  1. Offers the customer unique perspectives
  2. Have strong 2-way communication skills
  3. Knows the individual customers value drivers
  4. Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business
  5. Is comfortable discussing money
  6. Can pressure the customer

These factors correlate to how the challenger creates sales. They are willing to challenge a customer, and their thinking to create new opportunities through more effectiveness or innovative ways of thinking. In other words, they are making the customer more profitable with different ideas. Another surprising truth is that this also relates to sales managers. The sales manager role is not resource allocation but assisting sales people in innovative ways of getting a deal done. The authors define this innovative thinking in this way.

This is about creatively connecting the suppliers existing capabilities to each customer’s unique environment and then presenting those capabilities to the customer through the specific lens of whatever customer obstacle is keeping that deal from closing.

What is happening in the world of sales is that we are on the edge (or maybe already there) of a collaborative way of selling. We no longer can just sell to a customer; we have to understand our customer’s business and our customers customer’s business. The only way that I believe possible is if we are participating at the point of use of our product or service (Lean Thinking with Service Dominant Logic) .

When most people think about Lean, they view Lean only from a problem solving perspective, that 5 Why stuff. In that context, a Lean sales person would assume the role of an expert solving a problem for someone. If we view it from The Challenger perspective, we would just be average utilizing Lean Sales and Marketing. When I apply Lean to Sales and Marketing, I view Lean as a knowledge building exercise. It is the deeper understanding of the customer business that we achieve through the methods of PDCA and EDCA. We are exploring opportunities and helping the customer become more efficient or create better opportunities. It is not the role or expert that you must take. Experts are only average sales people. You must allow your customer to become your Sensei and learn their business from their perspective. This opens up the role of The Challenger Sale, which happens to be the most productive type of salesperson.

Would you like to learn more about this subject?

Lean Thinking with Service Dominant Logic

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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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