Many passionate discussions on the relevance of The Challenger Sale are currently going on. Many very valuable thoughts were already shared from Dave Brock, Linda Richardson, Jonathan Farrington – just to name a few.
How to implement challenger behaviors and how not to do it, what’s actually missing, … and of course, many thoughts on the questionable HBR article regarding the “death of solution selling” were also shared, sometimes in a very violant way. The scene has a topic.
So far, I was in an observing position, still thinking about the relevance of the research results and my own conclusions. On the one hand, I really like all the research results on the challenger rep. It’s fascinating to learn, which sales behaviors are very successful and why, and what those sales people do differently: “Mediocrity comes in multiple flavors.”
On the other hand, I’m missing something. I’m missing a strong conceptual foundation in order to get approaches like this implemented – successfully. Implementation and execution are the moments of truth for every new approach.
That’s where the rubber meets the road – or not.
The Challenger Sale is all about sales behaviors. There is nothing wrong with that, absolutely not. Sales behaviors are what our customers experience having conversations with sales people. Sales behaviors are how conversations are experienced by our customers – their buying experience. Our customers decide what’s valuable for them, and they have clear expectations, what they want to get out of a conversations with a vendor. So far, so good.
But a selling system requires a bit more than sales behaviors, right? There are many other elements to be considered and to be designed, such as selling strategies, selling methodologies, a sales process connected to the customer’s journey, design points for demand generation programs, account management frameworks, pipeline and sales management processes – and a clear approach on buyer persona, buyer roles, role maps, and of course, content, messaging, training and coaching approaches, etc.
How do the challenger research results fit into these elements?
First, I couldn’t see that the challenger behaviors are mapped to defined stages along the customer’s journey. How does a challenger conversation look like at very early stages along the customer’s journey and how does it look like later?
Imagine these scenarios:
The customer didn’t identify a certain problem or challenge so far, which could be an ideal situation to create a new opportunity by working with value hypotheses.
The customer already recognized the problem, but didn’t see the whole impact. A perfect situation to come up with different case studies and insights to show the whole impact, to work on urgency, and to show first future visions of success.
The customer is aware of the problem / the challenge and its impact: In that case, considerations regarding solutions are already made, a vision of the desired future and the first steps to get there are defined. The sales person can chime in and try to change the game – if necessary – with challenger skills and new insights.
How is the choreography changing along the customer’s journey for different selling situations? Is the challenger sales rep only focused on a specific scenario?
Second, I couldn’t find a link to a framework of buyer persona, buyer roles – you name it.
The recent HBR article “The end of solution sales” mentions specific customer profiles, the challenger sales rep prefers to get in touch with – they call them the Go-Getters, Teachers and Sceptics. These profiles are also only based on behaviors and attitudes of people.
I’m missing a link to buyer roles and their altitude levels. Here is why:
Imagine a VP for network operations and the corresponding SME for network operations, imagine the SVP of a business unit and a VP shared services and a CIO. All these roles have, depending on their altitude level, different expectations, different challenges to master and they get measured differently. So, their expected outcomes will look differently.
The related value messages have to be different for these different roles. And they will have to be adjusted along the customer’s journey. We will see dynamic value messages, because people can change their views along the process – a very normal procedure, happens in every big deal more than once.
Depending on the complexity of a vendor’s portfolio, the typical executive owner can be found on different altitude levels and in different roles. These dimensions regarding buyer roles/persona are currently not considered – unfortunately.
So, the Challenger Sale’s behavior profiles for stakeholders are actually the third dimension, an important dimension. But it’s not the only one.
I’m missing a foundation like that. Frameworks like that are critical success factors for every successful relationship management, which is still the foundation, also for a challenger sales rep. I would argue, that the challenger sales rep’s success is based on a successful relationship management. It will never replace that, it will always build on that foundation.
Now, my question to the challenger experts:
Which buyer roles (not profiles!) are addressed by the challenger rep? What if the relevant stakeholders don’t have the preferred challenger stakeholder profiles?
Third, it’s about the missing integration into an account management framework. For me, an account management framework should cover a few core elements, such as a clear account definition, an account segmentation process, an operationalized account planning process including vision and strategies focused on new business generation, based on an outside-in principle, a defined link to the sales process for execution, a relationship management layer, account dashboards and a strategic review process. Many issues to be addressed, let’s just take a few:
Account segments: How do we allocate challenger behaviors to different account segments? Let’s assume a vendor has different account segments for strategic accounts, large accounts, young and strong growing accounts and accounts that are more focused on transactional business, etc. All these account segments will require different growth strategies from enlarge existing contracts with existing budget centers to different ways of cross selling and different new business strategies. These different growth strategies require different skills and competencies. So, for which account growth strategies and for which segments are the challenger behaviors mandatory, for which segments optional?
And do we have account segments we possibly won’t need challenger skills? Also, the very special topic of strategic account planning – what’s the challenger rep’s impact, specifically? How do we run an account team? What’s the challenger’s role in an account team? Or do we manage challengers in a solution sales or a business development team?
In the meantime, I developed my own ideas on how to connect the dots between the behavior related challenger research results and all these elements of a selling organization.
What are your ideas and experiences?
Chime and share your thoughts.
We aren’t done yet…that was part 1!
Part 2 will be about The Challenger Sale and the questionable story about the “death of solution selling” and my thoughts on that…