Challenger Sale: Is it okay to let prospects struggle?

Butterfly struggles to emergeHe watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the chrysalis and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned that he decided to help. He ran to get scissors and snipped the chrysalis to make the hole bigger. With that, the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened! The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

Don’t Lessen the Prospect’s Initial Struggle
I am not the author of this story, nor will it be a new story for most of you. But it appropriately sets the stage for this very important question. Is it okay to let a prospect struggle?

We hate to see anyone struggle, and for many, the temptation to bail prospects out after asking a difficult question is more than some can bear.

For The Challenger Sales rep, this is most common at the point of the Reframe. In fact, this is intentional as this triggers the Constructive tension that needs to occur in order for the Status Quo to be disrupted. But for the rep that is still learning the Challenger Sale, you may feel your Reframe was inappropriate because the prospect squirms to answer or respond.

Sure, after hearing our different point of view, we would love to hear them say, “I never thought of it that way before” as they look upon us with amazement for our brilliance and intellect. It rarely happens that way.

The veteran Challenger knows that the aforementioned phrase more often sounds like, “I am not so sure I agree with you,”  or “Hmm. I need to get my mind around that.” 

These are signs of constructive tension as the prospect begins to struggle with their current circumstances and that which you have just shared that caused them to rethink everything. Allowing this early struggle to happen is a great sign as it ripens people to hear truth.

For example…
Last week a colleague and I met with the owner of a very successful organization. She is about to release a ground-breaking book, and asked for us to consult on her launch plans for a successful release. In evaluating the initial plans for release, I quickly saw that the current course would result in a book launched on an ill-prepared audience.

She immediately disagreed, sharing that the audience has been dying for an answer, and the research they had done would be the solution to their problems. As difficult as it was for her to hear, I shared honestly with her that she had the wrong perspective as her focus was too squarely placed on selling the book. She agreed that it was with a hint of, isn’t that why we are meeting.

I shared that I was more concerned in establishing her as an authority on the issues that she would address in the book. Without doing so, the book would be introduced to readers that didn’t know they should read it. She still pressed that this audience was ready for the answer.

I responded that while the target audience was indeed, ready for an answer, they were not ready for her solution. I proceeded to lay out some action items that would build a foundation and a platform for her to speak. This would be followed by a hungry audience clamoring for her solution by the time of release.

She listened intently, pressing back at points, but like most high-powered owners and Chief Creative Officers, they are doers. “Give me the action items and timeline necessary to sell my book!”

When debriefing with my colleague after the meeting, he asked me questions around her hesitancy with our proposed next steps. I explained that the hesitancy was that she is trying to sell a book, and we are trying to sell her as a credible authority to have written the book.

She sees herself as credible and an authority from her own perspective, but her perspective is still narrow. In order to broaden her view, I had prescribed steps that she committed to, which would expose the vulnerabilities in her thinking.

Simply explaining what will happen won’t work. She needs to experience that and struggle with that to ripen her for what she really needs to do. Reducing her struggle would result in a poor book launch and threaten her credibility as the authority in this area.

Don’t keep prospects in the Biosphere
As one final illustration of the benefit of the struggle, I would like to share a story stemming from the Biosphere 2 project erected in Oracle, Arizona in 1987.  Following is an excerpt from Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University, on the unintended consequences to plant and tree life due to the absence of wind.

There are many beneficial effects posed by wind for plants. Wind helps to pollinate many species of plants, spread seeds, remove harmful gasses, bring in many species of animals that are wind-dispersed, and many other forces. Wind is also necessary for creating hardy and strong trees. When it was first created, there was no wind inside of Biosphere 2. Plants grew relatively quickly, but they frequently fell over before they were of reproductive age. After some intensive observations and experimentation, it was determined that the lack of wind created trees with much softer wood than that species would normally make in the wild. They grew more quickly than they did in the wild, but they were harmed in the long run as a consequence. — By Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Columbia University, original article here

In summary…
What does it look like to shelter prospects? This may come in the form of answering [or changing] your question to the prospect because they appeared uncomfortable. A more subtle form of sheltering a prospect from the ‘struggle’ is to keep the conversation agreeable throughout your dialogue. Remember, the Biosphere was agreeable and as a result, also detrimental. The lesson of the trees from the Biosphere is that quick and fast growth, does not mean sustainable growth.

Question: Are you sheltering your prospects in the same manner the trees in the Biosphere were sheltered? If so, the consequences to them can be quite severe.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

A Metaphor for The Challenger Sale

Reframe HooksIn my post, Challenger: Reframing the Reframe, I spoke of the common struggles many organizations are having with the Reframe that are implementing The Challenger Sale.

The aim of this post is to provide a picture of how the Reframe functions and the role it plays within the context of Commercial Teaching and Commercial Insight.

While I hate the negative connotations that can be associated with ‘sales’ and ‘lures,’ I saw some constructive applications that may help to make the point. So let’s all agree up front, that none of us are intending the imagery to be derogatory towards customers nor the way responsible Sales professionals behave.

The Role of the Reframe
The authors of The Challenger Sale make reference to the Reframe as being the “Headline” of the insight. The goal, of course, is to attract the customer’s attention and ‘set the hook’ with an unexpected viewpoint (insight), thus the imagery of the lure.

It is at this point where the differences between Insight and Reframe can be confused as many would define the lure as the Reframe. It may help to recognize that Reframe is a verb, not a noun, but let’s define this further in the metaphorical sense. Keep in mind that no metaphor is perfect, though I hope we can have some fun with this.

A Picture of the Challenger Sale
To help get a clearer picture of how the Challenger Choreography functions with respect to Commercial Teaching, Commercial Insight and The Reframe, following are definitions and descriptions cast within the context of a fishing metaphor.

  • Lure = The Warmer: It appears attractive and familiar; Operates within and relates to the customers world
  • Hook = Commercial Insight: A part of the lure, tailored to the customer; Creates discomfort with status quo
  • Setting the hook = The Reframe: The customer is hooked unexpectedly, compelled to go a different direction
  • Line = Rational Drowning: The fishing line, or business case, ties the insight to the customer’s story
  • Reel = Emotional Impact: The reel is symbolic for drawing the customer into the center of their own story
  • Pole = Commercial Teaching: The fishermen uses a pole to skillfully deliver insight at the right place and time
  • Flex = Constructive Tension: Pole flex represents tension when drawing customers to the center of their story

The Metaphor in Action
So now that we have definitions set, here is how this looks in action.

You, the skillful Sales professional cast your lure into the specific area of the lake where your customers are known to swim. It is a place where not many other people fish, as they seem to prefer where the waters narrow. The locals call it The Funnel. You prefer being upstream, at the top of the funnel where your customers aren’t use to seeing what you fish with.

You cast your insight right on target so as not to intrude, but rather to meet them where they swim together to be social (Social Media). The others fishing the Funnel, create a splash every time their lure hits the water. They refer to this as their ‘prospecting call.’ It sends the fish into hiding every time. Those fishing are not dissuaded though, as they are known to spend inordinate amounts of time just looking for any customer that is attracted to their lure.

However, the customer you are looking for is specific and is currently entertaining your lure. Upon seeing your lure, it feels immediately  familiar and agreeable to them (The Warmer), looking like it belongs in their world and was made just for them (Tailoring). In fact, it looks quite appealing.

The customer likes what they hear as you describe the waters in which they currently swim and they start to nibble at the lure. Normally, after a nibble they drift off, but rather than needing a nap, they are engrossed with what you just shared (Commercial Insight). After all, what you just shared was that the waters where they currently swim are having a direct impact on their growth.

Being somewhat disoriented by what you revealed, and fearing you are correct as you give a little tug to set the hook, they find they are hooked (Reframe) and going in a different direction than they thought they were originally going to go with you.

You let out a little bit of line as you continue to make the business case (Rational Drowning), but never so much as to let the flex in your pole (Constructive Tension) go back to slack (Status Quo). Too much line can allow them to go in unproductive directions, getting tangled in the roots and rocks of the lake bed (False Positives).

This could cause harm to them, which was never your intention and is why you don’t reel them in too fast either (Destructive tension). In fact, you care so much for them that you are willing to endure some initial discomfort, because you know their future is better with you than without.

As you skillfully reel them to the center of their own story, they come to realize that fighting to remain where they are at…their status quo…is now untenable. They know the consequences of remaining are detrimental. There just has to be a different way… or even a New Way out of this mess.

With confidence and care, you compassionately share that which you couldn’t wait to talk to them about earlier. Your Solution. But you knew, bringing this up any earlier would be too soon for them. It would have sent them racing to the center of the Funnel to find comfort with their peers. That is why you patiently led them in a way they could follow.

In Summary…
As a humorous way to demonstrate the rest of the metaphor relative to the customer’s Status Quo and Our Solution, I thought this would fit with the metaphor…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessIt has been said that the fish can only grow to the size of its fishbowl. There’s a better way. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

 

Implementing the Challenger Sale, Visually

Making a Powerful Impact, Visually

In January 2012, I was giving a keynote address on becoming a ‘Challenger’ to a room full of highly competent sales reps, who were self-described as Relationship Builders in their selling approach. In fact, this approach was reinforced by the whole organization as it had been centered around relationship building for more than three decades.

To create an impetus for changing what had been endorsed as the preferred selling approach (a.k.a., status quo) for decades, I had to create a constructive tension in a visually compelling way.

This post is aimed  at showing how I did so in a way that resonated with 5 different sales teams that didn’t know this was a problem.

Background: The Sales Team’s Profile
As aforementioned, the 5 various team types (i.e., B2B, B2C, B2I, 501(c)(3), and licensing/franchise sales), were comprised of highly competent professionals. Most of the team had tenure between 5-20 years and knew their customers, their issues and aspects about how the products, services and solutions would benefit customers more significantly than any competitive offering.

Due to a very unique, well-defined marketplace that is not very large, the relationships that had been formed over many years with customers were very strong. From the customer’s point of view, the reps were highly regarded. Furthermore, these reps were instrumental in taking market share from competitors year after year.

Why Change?
After a deep dive into the metrics, processes and behaviors, I saw an opportunity to go from good to great, especially after identifying that the intentional behaviors were not leading to predictable and repeatable results. As a side note, whenever I see leaders and/or teams that don’t have these 3 characteristics (intentionality, predictability and repeatability) in their performance, I see risk and ripe opportunities.

Additionally, having worked years ago with a 100 year-old company who mistakenly believed that relationships were key to their successful sales, I saw this as the Achilles heel, that not only would bite them, but already had some overlooked signs of performance drains.

Relationship Builders
When it comes to the Relationship Builder, statistically, this sales profile has the lowest probability of success for becoming high performers, particularly in a higher complexity sales environment. According to the Sales Executive Council’s research, only 4% of Relationship Builder’s are likely to be high performers in a complex sales environment, whereas the Challenger profile, at 54%, was very likely to succeed in a complex sales environment. (See Fig. 2.4 from the SEC below).

Challenger Sale Effectiveness

A Visual Case for Change
As with any change effort, it is never just one thing. There are many aspects to leading a successful change effort, much of which is not described in this post. That said, I wanted to share of one specific and practical way to illustrate your point in an experiential and visual way.

With the data shown above in Fig. 2.4, and my diagnosis of where these teams stood to make transformational improvements in their performance, I did the following. I made a life-size bar chart on the stage as the backdrop for my keynote address. I used stacks of the company’s products to make the representative bars for each respective sales type (i.e., One stack for the Relationship Builder, one for the Problem Solver, and so on for the Hard Worker, Lone Wolf and Challenger).

Each product represented 5% within the stacked bar . I took the organization’s most iconic product, which measured approximately 14 inches high in its package, and made the graph with the Relationship Builder profile at 4% on one end and the Challenger profile at 54% on the other end.

There were two aspects of the visual representation that made the effectiveness of each sales profile particularly hit home:

  1. First, the Challenger bar stood over 10 feet high, towering over me as I made my points
  2. Equally as stunning, was the Relationship Builder bar – The fact that I had to cut 20% of the product off the top to accurately represent 4%, since each product represented 5%, had a sobering effect

The stark contrast between the two ends of the life-sized bar chart not only was visually stunning, but resonated with each of the reps who recognized the gaps between what had been and what should be for them.

Challenger Profile Statistics

Life-size bar chart of Challenger statistics

The Results?
A year after The Challenger introduction and implementation, performance improved across all teams. Following are some stand out achievements from three different teams:

  • Team A had a 22% performance improvement from the year prior with all reps far exceeding quota, and within 1-2 points from one another
  • Team B sells registrations, of which post-sale cancellations are also expected. They used the Challenger approach to reduce cancellations, which led to the lowest cancellation rates they had ever seen
  • Team C had an individual from the team that went from being ranked dead last in performance, to consistently #1 or #2 for 6 months in a row by changing to Challenger behaviors

Reflections:
Many leaders wait until they see problems before they initiate a change effort. How about you?

  • Do you know what to look for?
  • If so, do you know what to do about it?
  • Are you challenging the status quo?
  • Does your team know which behaviors to be intentional about that lead to predictable, repeatable results?

An answer of “No” to any of the questions above can have dire consequences if not addressed. If that describes you, seek out a trusted resource, colleague or other business professional with a solid track record of improving performance in these areas.

If you would like to receive other insights on The Challenger Sale and how to get intentional, predictable, repeatable results from your team, follow my blog.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Effective Presentations: Communicate with Impact

Exercise in FutilityRecently, 2,500 Children’s Ministry Directors from around the country convened in Chicago to attend KidMin, a conference dedicated to their profession. I had the distinguished privilege of leading a workshop for an audience in which was far different from those I have traditionally worked with before.

Nevertheless, my objective was the same regardless of profession, topic, or other. My primary goal was to create dissatisfaction with the attendees’ status quo and compel a different way of thinking about and solving their issues.

This did not mean giving a compelling ‘speech’ or ‘presentation,’ but rather creating an impactful experience. This is often easier said than done.

Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems!”

It is easy to stand up front and tell people about the problems they are experiencing. At best, you will earn credibility, but that is not enough to compel people to change. The status quo can feel pretty comfortable to most people. Despite the gravity of a person’s problems, significant behavioral change rarely comes from the safety of a shared observation, but rather from their own experience. Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems.

Experiential vs. Presentation
In order to help these Directors better understand the gravity of what they were dealing with, and the impending consequences of not addressing the issues in a different way, I needed to create a constructive tension between their current status (Status Quo) and where they were aiming to be.

Therefore, I created an experience that would help the attendees ‘feel’ the impact of the problem rather than tell them about the impact. The experience was as follows.

Creating the Experience
When we went to our breakout session, I organized people into smaller groups giving each group five different sized boulders (larger than a softball, but smaller than a bowling ball).

The first part of the exercise was to discuss within their group the biggest issues they were all facing. They would then agree on the top 5 issues and use a marker to write their biggest problem on the biggest boulder, using a word that best described the issue they were facing. Then they would do the same with the 2nd through 5th issue on each respective boulder.

As we reconvened, I selected one volunteer to come to the front to serve as our representative Director. We loaded a backpack full of the five boulders, identifying each one as they went into the pack. Then I had her put the backpack on and describe the immediate impact. She shared that it was heavy, but she was okay for the moment. A term for what she was experiencing, coined by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), would be Rational Drowning.

I went on to talk with her about how she dealt with each of these issues on a daily basis and the impact this had in shifting her focus from where she was aiming to take her ministry, compared to the urgent focus of trying to solve the problems (i.e., The boulders in her backpack). During our discussion, she shifted her weight and adjusted the pack due to the weight. Here I used the physical impact to lead to her Emotional Impact, another CEB term.

Standing on stage, she described [through tears] that she was incapable of solving those issues. They were too overwhelming for her to handle all at once. She also realized that these issues were lessening her effectiveness with her children in the ministry as well as supporting her volunteers. you could have heard a pin drop from the other attendees, because in large part, this was their story too.

The Moral of the Story
As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story and what we unpacked in our sessions together at the convention. But the point of this article is merely to call out the importance of what we communicate and how.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I could have easily stood up front and ‘presented’ the scenario by talking about it. Heads would have nodded in agreement that the problems are real, and “Yes, I should do something about it,” but few would leave the convention changed, just inspired…or motivated. But we know where that leads.

Before I could talk with them about ‘Solutions,’ I had to effectively communicate in a way that would compel a change in their behaviors, away from the comfort of the status quo.

For those whose business requires communication with others (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Business, Ministry, etc.), consider creating experiences that draw people into the center of their own story.

In CEB’s Challenger model, this would be the process of leading them from Rational Drowning, where they recognize the story (with a sense of distance), into Emotional Impact in which they recognize it is their story. It is at this point where change begins to occur.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have created experiences to deepen the message you were communicating.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.