The Challenger Sale is Wrong: Q&A with RAIN Group’s Mike Schultz


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Mike_Schultz_new_headshotWhile the majority of the B2B sales world continues to embrace the Challenger Sale model and methodology, a quiet minority isn’t so sure. The team at RAIN Group offers an alternative perspective on their blog and in their own white papers, so I asked their president Mike Schultz to explain his ideas further.

It seems that everyone is on the Challenger Sale bandwagon right now, but you’re clearly thinking differently. What in your opinion is wrong with the Challenger premise?
First, let me first say that I like a lot of the substance of the approach. Sellers should focus on adding value with ideas, sellers should teach buyers new ways of thinking, and they should push back on buyers when they might not be going down fruitful paths—these are all good things.

However, there’s already a long research history to suggest these kinds of sellers and behaviors will be successful.

As far as thinking differently, here are 3 things to chew on:

  • As we wrote here, the five sales rep profiles seem to be a false contrast. It’s a foregone conclusion that the winner keeps coming up a challenger. We know, and have known for a long time, many of these characteristics are part of what makes up a successful seller.
  • The authors have popularized the ideas partially through the Harvard Business Review in articles like “The End of Solution Sales” and “Selling Is Not About Relationships.” Our What Sales Winners Do Differently research showed quite the opposite. While solution selling and relationship approaches need to evolve, dismissing the concepts wholesale is dangerous.
  • We found that one of the areas that most separates sales winners from second-place finishers was whether buyers perceived the sellers to collaborate with them. We’ve now surveyed close to 500 people who have told us the concepts of “collaborate” and “challenge”—in tone and definition—are more antonym than synonym. Words have meaning. They drive mindset and behavior. This is an important distinction.

Almost every sales environment is unique—the customer, selling environment, internal culture, etc. How does a sales leader ascertain and determine which sales methodology makes most sense for them?
Get to know the method deeply and understand how the method will come to life through training and implementation. Methods can look similar on their faces, and one training company can look like the next, but there are dramatic differences when you become intimately familiar with the details.

As for getting to know the method deeply, get the answers to the following questions at least: How does the method handle prospecting? Needs discovery? Educating with new ideas? Presentation and facilitation? Negotiation and objections? Winning the business? How does it handle strategic account management? How does it handle inbound and outbound selling? Sales management and coaching? Channel sales? Working with purchasing and mid-level buyers? Selling to the most senior executives?

Then there’s the learning. How is it rolled out? What blended learning and eLearning is available? How does the curriculum work? How can it be customized for greatest learning and sales impact at your organization? How does reinforcement work? How does it integrate with CRM technology?

Finally, there’s a “feel” thing. Lots of companies get excited about a method, but the partnership between the two organizations doesn’t pan out. Make sure you get a good feel for the people you’ll work with to bring it all alive.

Talk a little more about risk reduction—why is this so important and why is it so often overlooked in the sales process?
Salespeople are often told to sell the return on investment (ROI) of their product/service. Focus on results and impact. Do whatever you need to do to make the prospect believe they can make their money back and then some. Unfortunately, this has led companies to share (and promise) some wild results. Buyers have been burned and are skeptical as a result. They don’t believe they’ll get what they expect or are promised by buyers.

Risk reduction is about helping the buyer believe the return is worth the risk. The seller must establish her (and her company’s) credibility and experience in the buyer’s industry, be honest and responsive, and help the buyer avoid any obstacles in the buying process. If a buyer doesn’t believe the results are possible or they believe working with your company could be a liability, you’ll either lose to your competitor or to no decision.

Too often, sales strategies basically stop at the sale and fail to take into account new customer engagement, retention and loyalty. Even if the sales organization doesn’t own a retention goal, how can they impact it on the front end more effectively?

In our research, we looked at what sellers do to win the current sale, but also identified the behaviors they exhibit and actions they can take to maximize client satisfaction with the buying process, client loyalty, and client willingness to give referrals.

The factors that led to increased buyer loyalty were overall perception of value and trust. The sellers who can sell the overall value—of the offerings, of the company, of themselves, and of the eventual business impact they will have on their customers businesses and lives—keep clients loyal. Buyers were likely to be loyal when they believed the sellers were professional, that they inspired confidence, had experience, and were trustworthy overall. So the more sellers can work on their own skills in leading executive conversations, their own knowledge and expertise, and their own reliability as people, the more buyers will come back to them and buy regardless of whether the product itself is differentiated from others.

Can you give me an example of an organization doing particularly well in your opinion right now, based on their methodology, strategy and execution, and why?
Most people wouldn’t know them, but Woodard & Curran is a major player in the engineering industry. They built a process that made value creation through collaboration and educating with new ideas come alive at their company. And they implemented it with engineering precision.

Turns out, it worked. As for results, after implementing RAIN Group’s strategic account management process, Woodard & Curran saw significant growth in the named strategic accounts associated with the program. Through the recession, the 4-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of Woodard & Curran was 7% across the board. However, in the named accounts where RAIN Group’s strategic account management method was applied, the 4-year CAGR was a whopping 110%. In a single account alone, sales grew from a quarter of a million dollars to $3.5 million as a direct result of implementing the strategic account plan. Woodard & Curran has a strong team and involved leadership which, when combined with reinforcement and accountability, puts them on track to do some pretty amazing things.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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