As we discussed in part 1: The Challenger Sale provides a broad range of valuable, very interesting research results and insights on sales behaviors – what are successful behaviors, what’s not working anymore and and what are the behaviors that lead to high performance. Let’s think about that for a moment: How can a behavior-based approach lead to the death of a selling strategy which has a totally different design point?
Maybe that’s only me, but I don’t feel very comfortable with that.
Let’s focus on the evolution of sales, and then let’s discuss the conclusions.
Product selling is focused on what a product is. That worked pretty well, especially for products without a big need for complex knowledge transfer. It worked also pretty well before the buyer could gather all this information online. Now, that’s going to be transactional business and we need to design this business as efficient as possible, with lean integrated processes from prospect to contract, with process automation technologies, inside sales etc.
Solution selling is focused on how to solve customer problems and how to create a measurable result regarding the solved problem. The solution sales based value messages explain what a solution does (to address a specific problem or challenge).
There is often one big confusion: What are we talking about – are we talking about vendor solutions or about customer solutions? Didn’t too many vendors just change the label? Didn’t too many vendors just try to sell their (!) solutions as they sold their products?
Outcome selling or result selling, is the next level of the selling evolution.
The focus is on the customer’s desired business outcomes, which means to think about how to improve the main customer business drivers, which is often only possible if we as a vendor really understand the business models our customers have with their customers. The outcome selling based value messages are focused on what a tailored approach means for the customer business results – and not what it does and not what it is – that’s backup information.
So what? The main difference between solution and outcome selling is, from what a solution does to solve a specific problem to what a solution or a tailored business approach means in terms of business outcomes, business results. Both selling strategies have a solution in mind, but with a different purpose. If implemented the right way, it’s always about the customer’s solution to solve a problem, to master a challenge or to drive a specific business outcome. Defining solution selling from the vendor’s portfolio of products and services, from the inside to the outside, was probably never a very successful and sustainable idea. Because – as we know from a variety of research results – customers don’t care. They don’t care, what we offer as packaged, bundled solutions. They value, if vendors can map their capabilities to their specific problems and challenges, and they value if a vendor can develop a shared vision of success with them, to drive their outcomes. That’s valuable and that makes a difference for them – if we show what it means for them, not what it is or what it does.
From my point of view, it’s pretty obvious, that we need a variety of challenger skills for different selling strategies and different selling situations – to create customer value regarding their specific business challenges, to drive their business outcomes, to create a shared vision of success. But, let’s avoid to pronounce solution selling dead, because:
First, it’s strange for me to promote a behavior-oriented approach – which is actually valuable – and declare at the same time the end a solution selling, which has a totally different design point. For me, that devaluates the initial research value.
Second – yes, it’s true that many organizations implemented solution selling the wrong way, from the inside to the outside, based on their own set of solutions. It’s also true that many organizations didn’t focus on ongoing improvement efforts.
But, most of the time, it’s not the “dead” selling strategy or the “wrong” sales process – the root causes are bad implementation and bad execution. Is it fair to blame the whole approach for that? Of course not, but we can blame bad implementation and bad execution, missing vision and missing leadership, as most of the time.
Additionally, let’s talk about the solution selling questions. Are these questions still necessary, yes or no? Of course, they are. All these questions have to be answered – but nowadays no longer in front of the customer – that’s a waste of time and of no value for them. This is the sales person’s homework and has to be done before the conversation, whether you are a challenger or not.
Furthermore, none of these selling strategies is dead. I truly believe that we need a portfolio of different selling strategies. The real challenge for us practitioners is, to analyze our different revenue streams, the transactional, the solution and the outcome related business, to predict the future of these revenue streams and to make the right decisions for a mid- and longterm transformation journey. What will be transactional and highly automated business tomorrow, and which part of the solution business will be transactional tomorrow? How to enable a sales force to grow the complex business area to drive customer outcomes?
Two dimensions are mandatory for such an analysis. First, it’s the complexity of the portfolio, connected to the scope of problems you address at your customers and the increasing complexity of business related knowledge that has to be shared. This dimension describes your set of selling strategies. Second, it’s about your buyer role map, the different functions and altitude levels that have to be addressed. Third, it’s about the right predictions of growing and shrinking revenue streams, per regions. Fourth, maybe the most important issue from an enablement perspective, it’s about the comfort zone of your sales force. Where to start, where are low hanging fruits and quick wins? All that’s easier said than done – and there is no silver bullet to do so – nowhere.
Now, we can talk about how to implement the challenger skills in which ways, for each of the relevant selling strategies. Let’s think about where do we need them and in which characteristic.
Mastering all these issues, that’s science and art at the same time. That’s of real value for a sales organization. It’s where the rubber meets the road, as my good friend Dave Brock would say. It requires very experienced practitioners and executives with a very deep knowledge and holistic understanding of the entire selling system, the different comfort zones of sellers and sales managers to drive change in the right direction.
Let’s focus on the entire selling system, identify the relevant selling strategies and then let’s implement the relevant challenger skills along the customer’s journey, considering the buyer role map and then, let’s integrate all of that into an account management framework (see part 1).