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Inside Sales (Aug 22nd, 2019)

Hi Inside Sales subscribers,

Today is our final installment of this month's Book Club with "The Challenger Sale" by Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson. The book's main thesis is that classic relationship building is a losing approach, especially when it comes to selling complex, large-scale business-to-business solutions. You can find the previous pieces here: Edition I, Edtion II

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Would love to hear from readers about what they consider their must-read books on sales and selling. Hit reply and let me know. 


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Chapter 8: The Manager and The Challenger Selling Model 

This chapter takes a look at an important component of any sales organization -- the sales manager. A survey conducted by the authors showed that while the tradition is to move a high-performing sales rep up to manager, the best performing leaders are simply good at managing and not necessarily former salespeople. The survey looked at management fundamentals like reliability, integrity, listening and then more sales-driven attributes like selling, coaching and ownership of territory. 

As far as the selling side of things the survey posits that approximately 25 percent of being a good manager is pure selling ability -- giving customers a unique experience and tailoring pitches to customers' needs. Coaching accounts for 28 percent of manager effectiveness and involves sharing knowledge, skills and insight into the rep's both positive and negative approaches to sales. Finally, the last portion, ownership, weighs in at 45 percent and requires driving the sales process, taking corrective actions and finding creative ways to position an offer. 

The authors then explore the notion of sales "innovation" and how it relates to their findings. Defined here, innovation is all about connecting one's product/services to the unique set of challenges and problems the client is trying to solve and overcoming any hurdles and objections. This is distinct from coaching in that innovation involves getting reps to perform through ever-shifting dynamics and unforeseen events. When a decision-maker has indicated that they are in limbo and essentially entering a "no" decision on a deal a Challenger using innovation will come in and turn things around. How do they do this? They creatively do the following:

  • Investigate -- Identify obstacles, get feedback on what works and what doesn't and figure out how to solve customer pain
  • Create -- Uncover new ways to position the deal, pinpoint the ideal outcome and explore new offers and solutions 
  • Share -- relate new tactics and best practices and create cross-functional relationships within the client's organization 
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Chapter 9: Implementation Lessons from The Early Adopters 

Chapter 9 explores the Challenger implementation for sales, marketing and senior leaders. The authors warn that identifying who is actually a Challenger is not always easy as one top performers is indeed a Challenger and another may be a Lone Wolf. These hyper-individualized sales reps make up a lower proportion of reps overall -- 18 percent -- but make up about 25 percent of the high performers. These salespeople are, however, toxic to sales organizations as they fly solo and do not collaborate which doesn't help the team as a whole. 

Hiring for Challengers can be a difficult but necessary proposition. As the sales reps naturally churn, bringing in Challengers to replace them is predicated upon asking the right questions in the screening and interview process. Questions like, "Can you describe a time when you got a customer to think of a problem or a need differently?" are greater ways to uncover the Challenger within. Another way to build a Challenger-driven team is to train the existing reps to adhere to the model. This requires large-scale behavior change from reps and weighs heavily on the leading and development team (if they exist, otherwise it's up to the sales leaders). The most successful companies are doing three things to boost sales training: getting reps excited before the training even begins; using experiential learning as a way to get reps real-time exposure to the model; utilizing consistently applied certifications programs over time. 

The marketing team must get involved as well for the Challenger Model as the sales and this team needs to work hand-in-hand to be successful. Marketing should help a company take on a customer-centric approach as well as an insight-centric view. Savvy marketers know that they have Challengers right now out in the field that are teaching customer brand new ideas and concepts and they should learn from and tailor messaging around these distinctive ideas. Words like "unique", "leading", "best" and "solution" are so over-used a buyer will lump your company in with the rest of them as you are telling them you are just like everyone else. In order to truly distinguish yourself from the competition, the marketing team should create messaging that doesn't describe differentiation but instead shows the value it brings to the customer. A marketer can do this by being memorable, not agreeable and by building a pitch that leads to a solution and not with it. 

Finally, senior leaders need to get involved with the goal of an approximately 80% adoption rate at implementation. The C-Suite must understand that 100 percent adoption is nearly impossible and, in actuality, that is okay. The other 20% may be Lone Wolves and simply may not want to change their methodology. And in reality, if they are hitting their quotas there is really no need to convert the stubborn. The authors recommend a slow, pilot-based roll-out to get to the 80% adoption rate. Things to consider dring the rollout: How big the group is that will adopt, who the early adopters are, which metrics make sense to measure the effectiveness of the rollout and what was learned during the process to hone the adoption program in the future. 

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In the afterword, the authors explore other areas where the Challenger Model makes sense outside of sales and marketing. They found that through their extensive surveys that the human resources (HR) department can utilize this methodology when applied appropriately. The survey said that a recruiter's ability to be a "trusted advisor" (sound familiar?) accounted for 55 percent of effectiveness. This was compared to 33 percent effectiveness for pipeline management and 15 percent for the recruiting process. IT was another area that could benefit from the Challenger Sale methods. Business customers want IT to bring them new ideas, approaches and solutions to problems they didn't know they had. 

Another area the methodology works is in PR/Communications. Communication can use a problem-solving approach to strengthen the quality of messaging and helps the world see the whole organization as a consultative partner out to solve business problems. R&D is also an interesting area to apply these principals. By looking at the roster of current customers and one's that they want to bring on board, The R&D department can get ahead of the curve and have forward-thinking/groundbreaking problems solved, perhaps, before the problems actually exist. The authors found that R&D departments that excel in transformational ideas bring products to the market 11% faster than the competitors. The reason behind this, they found, is that well-scoped products that are ahead of market needs necessitate less work in the long run. 

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William Wallace is a sales veteran and journalist with years of experience in such diverse realms as High-Performance Computing, Big Data, education software and SaaS products. When not hunting for the next sales/business opportunity, he is a self-professed foodie and published writer with an abiding passion for all forms of expression.

Editor: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).

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