B2B: Why Thought-Leadership Falls Short

Thought LeadershipWhen it comes to thought leadership, an image like the one to the left often comes to mind for people. The recent thinking goes something like the following…

Customers want to be presented with new ideas and learn from thought leading subject matter experts before making a purchase. As they are educated by the SME, they are gradually sold.

But is thought-leadership enough? I would maintain that it threatens to be an expensive path for free consulting. Allow me to explain…

The Research

A few years ago, ITSMA conducted research finding that 57% of B2B buyers would like to see thought-leadership from sales reps. The conclusion they had drawn, like for so many others, was that if buyers want thought leadership, sales and marketing must give it to them. Important to note is ITSMA’s official definition of thought leadership is as follows:

“Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without selling.” – ITSMA

More recently, Omobono joined forces with the Business Marketing Association to research marketer’s top priorities. The results showed that not only did ‘Strengthening Thought Leadership’ rank as a Top 3 priority at 63%, 8% higher than ‘Deepening Customer Relationships,’ and 19% higher than ‘Raising Brand Awareness,’ but it ranked as marketer’s first priority.

The focus and emphasis on thought leadership is not surprising, and can be a good thing. That is, if thought leadership is the goal and your sales and marketing model is to offer free consulting and therefore derive no commercial benefit. Tweet This C2T

For the CMO and CSO, this is an unaffordable luxury as accountability to the board and stockholders would never permit such an expensive endeavor with no associated RO[M]I.

Standing in contrast is the work and research conducted by CEB, which shows that ‘thought-leadership’ is several steps removed from meeting the criteria that results in having commercial impact. Let’s look at their definitions for each of the five areas in their hierarchy of messaging.

Hierarchy of Messaging

  • General Information – General Information is simply information that covers generally just about everything. It’s that overwhelming flood of information out there, that we spend more time filtering out rather than taking in.
  • Accepted Information – Accepted Information is credible, it’s relevant, but often, it’s not terribly interesting. It doesn’t necessarily teach anything new. An example might be, “90% of CIOs are concerned about what cloud computing means for their organization.”
  • Thought Leadership – Thought Leadership is interesting, newsworthy, incremental information that customers themselves likely couldn’t have discovered on their own. So, unlike accepted information, thought leadership provides new perspectives or new data that teaches, and doesn’t just confirm.
  • Insight – Insight is designed to disrupt the customer’s view of their business. It juxtaposes the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action. This breaks the customer’s frame of mind.
  • Commercial Insight – Commercial Insight has the highest bar, and ensures we are not simply providing free consulting to customers. It’s Insight that meets the “frame-breaking” bar but simultaneously leads the customer specifically back to us as the sole supplier, enabling them to actually take action on that Insight.

In light of the definitions, let’s now go back to the originally cited research from ITSMA to understand why giving buyers what they want (‘thought leadership’) is bad for business. There are three perspectives to consider:

Three Limitations of Thought Leadership

1. The Buyer’s Objective with Thought Leadership

From the buyer’s perspective, they truly want to understand trends and conditions that may impact them or their business negatively. But, they don’t care where it comes from, nor if it results in a sale for you or credibility for your brand. That was never their aim, as they care about protecting the interests of their business first and foremost…and that is perfectly reasonable. Therefore, the goal of the buyer(s) is to become as informed as (s)he can so that the best decision can be made when selecting between suppliers.

“Thought Leadership is largely focused on presenting a new idea rather than undermining an existing one.” – CEB Tweet This C2T

According to CEB, when it comes to thought leadership, “the real limitation is it doesn’t necessarily drive action. That’s because most thought leadership is largely focused on presenting a new idea rather than undermining an existing one. Thought leadership often has little lasting impact for this reason. It fails to disrupt the customer’s thinking.”

2. The Marketer’s Objective with Thought Leadership

For marketers, of key interest is creating disproportionate mind-share for the brand, which requires establishing credibility, which leads to engagement and subsequently, reliance upon the brand. According to the study, thought leadership is seen by marketers…AND BUYERS…as a way to do so.

I am not claiming the research is wrong. But I am suggesting the conclusions drawn from the research are not only off-base, but potentially detrimental to the marketer’s stated goals that led them to pursue thought leadership in the first place.

As marketers, we can often fall into the trap of inserting ourselves [or our brands] into the center of the story. For example, the term ‘thought-leader,’ puts the person delivering the ‘thought’ at center stage. What we all have learned over the years, however, is that the only way to change a customer’s behavior, is to stop telling our own story to build credibility, but instead, tell theirs and help them see themselves in the story.

Therefore, instead of pursuing thought leadership to earn credibility, be credible in demonstrating you understand your audience. C2T

3. The Sales Rep’s Objective with Thought Leadership

While marketers certainly have their own challenges of getting attention and responses, given the rise in popularity of content marketing, sales reps too, have some tough sledding to get responses to their emails and phone calls.

Reading the research from ITSMA, reps are left with the natural, but wrong conclusion that if buyers want thought leadership, they should provide it to them. The problem with this approach is that sales reps can tend to overlook one very important element.

In their pursuit to provide thought leadership, their point of view, insight, etc., no matter how profound, fails to lead uniquely and specifically back to them as the sole supplier in a way that enables the buyer to take action. The following article discusses more on this concept here (Where are you Leading?).

In other words, the thought leadership merely provides the buyers with a perspective that could apply to any number of suppliers. This results in the buyer determining that their choices of suppliers are relatively equal, so they look for a tie-breaker. Too often, that tie-breaker becomes ‘price.’

Three questions that must be answered before a prospect will buy – Why Change? Why Now? Why you? C2T

To change this outcome, I will refer to a friend of mine, Bob Apollo. He argues in his article, that there are three primary questions that need to be answered before customers will buy from you, Why Change? Why Now? Why You? 

Regarding the order of the questions, both Bob and I would contend that the order of the questions [as written] is paramount as well. Reversing the order, as so many have done for years, merely results in prospects remaining with the status quo 60% of the time.

In Summary…

While demonstrating thought leadership is certainly better than simply offering general or accepted information,  as we see it still pales in comparison to the kind of insight that is frame-breaking and provokes an action that leads distinctly and uniquely to your solution.

With that said, let me provide a different picture of what sales and marketers need to be doing to provide the most value for a customer.

Disruption

I love what this picture represents. By virtue of the fish (i.e., Marketer, Sales Rep, Content, etc.) swimming against the flow, others can’t help but redirect their path (i.e., Thinking) to adjust for the disruption to their current path (i.e., Status Quo).

As for thought leadership, presenting new ideas that others have never heard before often produces a pattern like the first picture. What that picture doesn’t represent, however, is how long they stay on that path. The hope or belief is that they remain on that path to purchase. But thought leadership does not require them to purchase your product to still value you as a thought leader (i.e., Free Consultant).

Therefore, to avoid this, whether you are producing content, a campaign, or delivering messaging to prospects as a sales rep, ask yourself the following questions about what your message delivers.

Does your message:

  • Break the customer’s frame of mind about what they have been doing?
  • Juxtapose the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action?
  • Lead the customer specifically back to you as the sole supplier?
  • Enable them to actually take action on that Insight?

Answering “no” to any of those questions puts you at risk of providing free consulting for your competitors.


 

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 Challenger Rep’s Rise to #1

As we closed our second full year in our Challenger implementation, we saw another year filled with breakout performances as reps started refining their Challenger Sale skill-sets. The following article highlights one of the year’s success stories. The story is about a new rep hired in to one of our larger divisions, who successfully transitioned from Relationship Builder to Challenger, delivering the top sales performance of his division for the year. Following is an excerpt from my interview with Phil Daily as we debriefed his performance for the year…

Interview with Phil Daily

Phil Daily Challenger Sale RepJeff: You came into the organization brand new last year, and not only learned Challenger selling, but learned a new industry, all while earning the position of top sales person of the year on your team. What was impressive about this is that the person who had typically been #1 for nearly 20 years had another great year as well. For those outside the organization, they may wonder if it was just a matter of a ‘hot’ territory, a fast growing industry, or some other circumstance not directly related to your performance. Honestly, did Challenger have anything to do with this, or were there other contributing factors like inheriting a favorable territory? Phil: Our industry is one that is slow to change and steeped in tradition. The customers care deeply about their purpose and “getting it right,” and I believe the more purpose one sees in their vocation, the more powerful Challenger can be. Coming into my territory last year, I used Challenger to confront the status quo and the “way it’s always been done.” As a result, I saw positive growth in regions of the country that are traditionally thought of as declining markets with declining growth. Jeff: What is your impression for why these markets had been in decline? Phil: When sales reps used traditional product-centric and relationship building approaches, it caused our solution to blend in like ‘white noise.’ Challenger brought a constructive tension, which was sorely needed for change. Jeff: Prior to beginning your Challenger journey, which of the five profiles best represented your own sales approach? Phil: A mixture between Relationship Builder and Challenger. Jeff: Interesting. Those two approaches are often diametrically opposed. How did these two profiles manifest themselves in your approach? Phil: Deep down I believe I had some Challenger qualities and behaviors. However, before understanding what a Challenger message looked like, I would back off as I felt uncomfortable with the constructive tension. As a result, I would default back to relationship building and try “friending” customers into the sale. Trusting the process of Challenger has really helped me in overcoming this barrier. Jeff: Often based on the name “Challenger” alone, people can have some reservations about the approach. Did you have any initial reservations when introduced to Challenger? Phil: Yes. Intentionally creating ‘Constructive Tension’ can sound scary. However, I was most anxious about how to execute. There is a lot of information to take on when learning Challenger, especially through the transitions. Jeff:  Describe what you mean by transitions? Phil: Struggling through transitions relates back to my lack of familiarity with Challenger choreography.  For example, I would be so focused on Reframe, when it came time to progress the conversation into Rational Drowning, I would struggle with a ‘transition’ statement that was conversational and natural.  My supervisor helped me with transitional phrases such as “the interesting thing is” or “to solve this issue…” Over time, making this conversational became second nature. Jeff: What was the hardest part of the Challenger process for you? Phil: I was so focused on the Reframe itself, that I was having a hard time setting it up properly. I found myself having very long conversations before I could move forward.

I finally discovered the Warmer allows me to find the customer’s ‘frame’ so I can begin to redirect their thoughts.Tweet:

It was difficult at first, because I was so used to looking for areas of agreement to build the relationship. However, setting up and delivering the Reframe is about turning the head of the customer, which can create moments where they don’t always know how to respond. Jeff: What would you advise others to do that struggle with that same area? Phil: Don’t be overly anxious to get to the Reframe before you get to the Warmer. Demonstrating credibility cannot be understated.  When prospects think, “He gets me,” it builds the critical foundation of trust, but it’s not based on being nice. Rather, it’s based on providing valuable commercial insight with industry knowledge. Jeff: What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you first began your Challenger journey a year ago? Phil: Jumping to solution before the appropriate time is a very easy mistake to make. Fight the temptation to lead with product and trust the Challenger choreography. Jeff: I receive emails from sales reps all over the world that are contemplating Challenger, and one of the common concerns is their fear that customers won’t respond well to the approach. How have your customers/prospects responded to your Challenger conversations? Phil: My customers believe, and have told me, that they have gained valuable insight to their challenges. This insight prompts them to reach for solutions that are uniquely designed to confront these ‘new challenges.’  When teaching customers to think about their industry in a new way, the same old way of researching and buying product won’t do. But with the Challenger approach, customer’s often share with me that our “resources are specifically designed for their issues.” Jeff: What advice would you give to those sales reps considering the Challenger methodology? Phil: Learning Challenger concepts is not easy. However, the potential for greater performance and purpose is definitely a worthwhile endeavor!

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In an upcoming article, I will be asking these same questions of our top sales rep from another large division that applied the Challenger approach to his acquisition efforts, and had breakout results.

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.

Challenger Sale Reframe: Two Missing Frames

Challenger Sale ReframeNew to Challenger? Are you struggling with the Reframe? If so, this article is for you.

For Challenger Sale practitioners, the Reframe is that pivotal moment in the conversation when you have disrupted a person’s belief system and have them thinking differently about their situation.

But for the person newer to Challenger, it isn’t that easy yet. You are likely to find yourself in a position of trying to remember what to say and when to say it to get them to think differently. If you are like many people, you come away feeling that Reframing was much easier in training as the scripts went so smoothly.

One of the most memorable moments where I had my thinking ‘reframed’ was in 1997 with the controversial film, ‘Wag the Dog.’

In the film, less than two weeks before a president’s reelection bid, the media broadcast his involvement in a sex scandal in the White House. Seeing the threat to the president’s reelection bid, Washington’s greatest spin doctor, Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean (Robert De Niro) is summoned. His solution? To create a bigger story than the scandal, that would dominate the media until election day.

One of the memorable quotes De Niro makes in the film is, “What’s the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something. I was in the building where we filmed that with a 10-inch model made out of Legos.”

I remember the moment well. It was quite unnerving to think that the filters by which I was walking through life, may have been wrong all along. Now that, is a reframe!

The Reframe’s Two Missing Frames

One of the most common questions I continue to receive is how to Reframe. As important as the ‘how’ is, this article focuses on ‘when’ to Reframe.

A couple of years ago, as I was meeting with sales leaders in the beginnings of their Challenger implementations, there was one point I continued to reinforce when working through reframe competencies…

“You can’t Reframe something that hasn’t first been Framed.” Tweet:

With that in mind, following are two ‘frames’ that must precede every Reframe:

  • Pre-frame. The Challenger is not an arrogant, assumptive, all-knowing rep that just tells prospects how it is, and that’s that! CEB refers to that person as a jerk, not a Challenger. Therefore, in order to avoid coming across this way, it is imperative to validate with whomever you are talking with, that the issues you are seeing in their industry, are in fact their issues too. Pre-frames start a bit more broadly, focusing on industry, for example, and serves to calibrate the rep’s insights with the prospect before zeroing in on the customer’s business. This helps to prevent walking through the choreography in a misguided fashion.
  • Frame. Whereas the Pre-frame focuses more broadly on industry, the Frame narrows down to ‘customers just like them’ within the industry.This is what we have come to know as ‘The Warmer.’ It is used to build credibility by demonstrating you know a lot about customers like them, and sets the stage for a Reframe by framing the conventional wisdom that customers like them have been using to think about their issues.
  • Reframe. Finally, this is followed by the Reframe, which takes them in a completely different, and unexpected direction. Furthermore, it undermines their rationale for sticking with the conventional wisdom that has yet to move 60% of prospects out of their status quo. This begins the process that CEB refers to as ‘unteaching.’

Putting it All Together

Let’s use the opening of an article CEB wrote on ‘Traditional Strategies of Driving Customer Loyalty’ to show the Pre-frame, Frame, and Reframe in action.

[Pre-frame] Over the last few years, sales organizations have seen a fundamental shift in customer buying behavior. Not only do deals face greater scrutiny, but higher consensus requirements increase the likelihood of a “no” decision.

[Frame] Frequently heard strategies for driving customer loyalty include:

    • Product and service differentiation
    • Improving brand impact
    • Improving perceived product value

[Reframe] Conversely, our analysis finds customer loyalty impact does not squarely fall on these traditional drivers, rather it increasingly falls on the sales experience. However, this is not the product of a generically good sales experience, but rather a sales experience that delivers insight to the customer.

While this example is one-way communication in article form, turning it into a conversation would be quite easily done. At the Pre-frame stage, whether meeting with someone in person or over the phone, you are looking for visual and/or audible confirmation that this is aligned with what they are seeing and experiencing.

At the Frame stage, the same holds true, and a validation question or statement can help to confirm this is their experience too. For example, after sharing the three frequently heard strategies for addressing loyalty, if they respond with, “Exactly right,” you may respond by saying, “it sounds like you have taken a similar approach?”

Their response to that gives you better insight into exactly what you are Reframing. As we all know, customers don’t follow scripts, so preparing in a scripted manner as if those are the only three possibilities for the customer can set you up for an awkward moment.

In Conclusion

As you prepare for your next discussion with a prospect or customer, consider these two often over-looked frames before you attempt to reframe how they were thinking about their problems.

Following are three sentence-starters to aim towards crafting your own Pre-frame to Reframe.

  • Pre-frame: “One of the biggest challenges we are seeing… [Insert industry challenge that they are likely experiencing and significantly impacted by]
  • Frame: “Some of the typical ways customers similar to you have tried to address this is…[Insert the industry’s conventional wisdom tactics here]
  • Reframe: “What may surprise you is that…[Insert your insight that controverts conventional wisdom and gets them to think differently about their problem]

As one final example, I will use the sentence starters above to show what I might say to a retailer that is struggling with sales growth and discounting to improve results.

“One of the biggest trends we see affecting retailers is virtual show-rooming, whereby customers use the physical retail store to identify what they will purchase elsewhere online.

Some of the typical ways retailers similar to you have tried to address this is by price matching, discounting, or increasing their promotional activities.

You might be surprised to learn that the research we recently conducted in conjunction with the NRF showed that these three activities actually have the exact opposite effect on sales from what retailers were trying to accomplish.”

While this is just an example, what is important to remember is that you must tailor specific to the customer, and know that even the most perfectly scripted Pre-frame to Reframe will not ensure prospects also follow the script. They rarely do, so prepare accordingly!

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.

Don’t Sabotage Your Challenger Sale Implementation

Sabotage Challenger Sale ImplementationIn January 2012, as I began my first Challenger Sale implementations across several of our SBUs, there were certainly things I would later change in subsequent implementations. One thing that remains the same to this day, however, is in identifying my true goal for Sales Reps and Sales Leaders.

After sufficiently making a compelling case for departing from the status quo, I make one point abundantly clear with sales leaders and teams:

“My goal is NOT for you to become a Challenger! My goal is to help you achieve your goals with intentionality, predictability and repeatability. If you are currently not experiencing this in your sales performance, I can train you to any of the five profiles as each are capable of producing high performers. But only one has nearly a 14x higher likelihood of producing high performers! Therefore, in which of the five would you like me to aim my training?”

Should Challenger be Mandatory?

It’s understandable why leadership would want to make mandatory something as important as Challenger, especially given the organizational importance of meeting revenue and margin objectives. But doing so, can often have the exact opposite effect of what is intended. Following are three reasons why I would recommend avoiding the ‘mandate’ for anyone looking to implement The Challenger Sale.

  1. Mandates lessen value. Whenever you take someone’s choice away from them, which is what making something mandatory does, you risk creating a perception that whatever is coming, can’t be that great. After all, if it were, people would want to participate without the requirement.
  2. Mandates shift ownership. By default, when an organization makes something mandatory, the onus for the outcome lies squarely with the organization. Is this where you want the ownership for outcomes to be for the rep, or would you rather have the rep own their own outcomes?
  3. Mandates don’t equate to buy-in. Anyone with children will quickly recognize this reality with the following example…“Tell your sister your sorry…like you mean it!” Just as mandates don’t equate to buy in, neither does compliance equate to behavioral change.

Not all mandates are bad. They definitely have their place, but using them in your Challenger implementation will start things off on the wrong foot. Furthermore, it is unnecessary if you properly frame the need for change before trying to reframe.

Regarding my original point on ‘making people Challengers,’ be careful of the message you are sending when implementing Challenger. Sending a message such as, “We are going to turn everybody into Challengers” will cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety and resistance. It will wreak of being the “next new program” and to many reps, will suggest you are taking a blind and blanket approach to selling. Their defenses will be primed to make impassioned pleas for why their current approach is sufficient. This is what happens when you lead WITH the solution, not TO the solution.

Important to remember is what CEB’s research didn’t show.

The research did not show Challenger as being the only successful profile. Sometimes, proponents of the Challenger research and methodology, can appear more like zealots than advocates. What the research did show, however, is Challenger as having the highest success rate for complex selling environments.

Therefore, if you are contemplating a Challenger implementation of your own, honor your team members by not elevating the importance of  a “program” over their value as an individual.

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.

3-Second Rule for Customer Insights

3-Second Rule for Customer InsightI am going to take a guess here that if you are reading this post, your reason falls into one of two groups. The first group believes that no meaningful customer insights can come within 3-seconds, and you are reading to confirm your belief. The second group is hoping against all odds that insights truly can be gleaned that quickly.

The 3-Second Rule for Insights

When speaking with your current customers, ask them this simple question…

“What are you doing three seconds before using our product?”

The answers you receive may be quite different from what you expected. What I have found over the years is that this very question gives specific insights into the circumstances that customers find themselves in when preparing to use a product, service or solution. As I would continue to ask the question of a variety of different customers across a variety of industries, similar patterns began to emerge. Let me share a few examples.

Example 1: Computer Accessory Company

In working with one organization that made computer accessories, one of their products was a Presentation Remote. I conducted a number of in field interviews and focus groups, and one of the most common responses to the ‘3-second’ question was that they were looking for their flash drive with the presentation and loading it onto the laptop, then ejecting the drive to replace with the dongle for the presentation remote.

The result not only led to a better understanding of how customers used their products, but it also resulted in a whole new product that turned the presentation remote dongle into a flash drive as well. The perceived value was huge, and subsequently led to further points of separation in the marketplace.

Example 2: Curriculum Resources

Once again, applying the same process with another organization that creates Sunday School curriculum, I was leading a workshop at a national event and asked the ‘3-second’ question to a room full of teachers and leaders. A pattern emerged in that one of the most common activities they do right before using Sunday School curriculum is to scramble to the supply closet to gather all the supplies necessary for the lesson.

This is a distraction from what they are supposed to be focused on…and with distractions, comes opportunity. Once again, I was able to gain valuable insight into the circumstances customers find themselves in when using the company’s products. These customer insights are what led to the creation of a Curriculum that includes everything they need “in the box.” The marketing reinforced this message and drove the point home by saying that, “The only you need to prepare is your heart.”

Summary

When you understand the nuances of the circumstances in which your customers are dealing day in and day out, you will find that you have increased your credibility when speaking with prospects.

For the aspiring Challenger Sale rep, if you are going to have any chance at getting prospects to think in new ways about their status quo (i.e., Reframe), establishing credibility (i.e., Warmer) is critical. Without credibility, even the most brilliant Reframe will be dismissed as quickly as your introduction was.

Give it a try, and keep sharing your results with me, whether in comments below or via email.

What have you got to lose? You can’t learn any less!

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.

Challenger Sale: Three Types of Tension

Tension or Constructive Tension?Whether you realize it or not, every sales call produces tension. But only one type of tension contributes to successful outcomes. Which of the three types most closely represents your approach?

Following is a question I received today on Quora regarding Constructive Tension that I thought others might find of interest…

“I am interested in who has used the business insights approach in The Challenger Sale approach? What has been their experience in how it sits creating constructive tension?”

Following is my response to this question.

‘Constructive tension’ is exactly that…constructive, IF it has been created appropriately and the opportunity to do so has been earned. While there is much more to this question than I can respond to here, the following three keys are critical to creating the ‘constructive’ kind of tension:

  1. Establish credibility - Without this, there is no need to proceed further.
  2. Reframe thinking – Once you have established you are credible with insight about matters affecting their business and/or industry, you help them think differently about a problem that they previously misunderstood or didn’t anticipate.
  3. Appropriately placed tension – When creating constructive tension, it is imperative that the tension is between the prospect and their status quo. When inappropriately done, the tension is between prospect and rep. This is not constructive, but rather destructive tension.

I commonly refer to three types of tension based upon CEB’s model of ‘constructive tension.’

  1. Constructive. Tension created between the prospect and the problem they are currently facing. What makes it constructive tension is when prospects find living with their problem no longer tenable.
  2. Destructive. This kind of tension inappropriately causes tension between wrong parties…the prospect and the rep. This typically presents itself in its destructive form with a rep-centric agenda.
  3. Unproductive. This type of tension occurs when a rep offers nothing of value to benefit the prospect warranting a meeting in the first place. As a result, the tension occurs in the form of the prospect ending the meeting as quickly as professionally possible.

In summary, constructive tension is great. It serves as the catalyst for change and if guided properly and appropriately ending in your solution, it will be tremendously valuable to the prospect.

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.

Challenger Sale: The Truth About ‘Insight’

Insight Selling and Challenger SaleWith the rise in popularity of The Challenger Sale, there is one particular attribute of CEB’s research that has captured the attention of reps, consultants and sales training companies alike…and that worries me!

The attribute I am referring to is insight.

To be clear, their research is not the concern, but rather the interpretation by the aforementioned.

Insight is a critical component to successful selling, but there are three particular areas that need to be properly understood in order to have repeatable success in sales.

3 Truths About ‘Insight’

  1. Insight does not make you a Challenger. If it did, organizations could quickly and easily transform sales teams into Challengers by simply creating brilliant insights, and emailing them out to the sales teams. Insight in the hands of a Challenger is golden, but it is not the insight that makes them a Challenger. It’s what they do with the insight and how that truly causes them to outperform their peers.
  2. Insight is not the key to increased sales. A couple of points regarding this assertion:
    1. Not all insight is earth shattering. When determining what your message will address with a prospect, CEB categorizes the messaging addressing one of two types of insights — 1.) Misunderstood Cause, or 2.) Unrecognized Problems. With the misunderstood cause, prospects are familiar with the problem, but are content living with it or see it as the cost of doing business.
    2. Insight is not the same as Commercial Insight. This is one of the most important points. A rep can deliver a powerful insight that either teaches the prospect the misunderstood cause or an unrecognized problem, and still lose the sale. It’s actually quite common, especially in Challenger implementations. The mistake is made when insight does not uniquely lead back TO the supplier exclusively. In other words, you are teaching the prospect of a problem that needs to be resolved, but they perceive that any supplier is capable of doing so.
  3. Insight is not a Reframe. For starters, ‘Reframe’ is a verb, whereas the word ‘Insight’ is a noun, defined as...

in·sight (noun \ˈin-ˌsīt\)
: the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way
: an understanding of the true nature of something

When reps take their insight (noun) and intend it to be a verb, the responsibility of getting a prospect to see things differently rests squarely on the insight. Challengers properly understand the role of insight, but see themselves as responsible for teaching prospects to see things differently, but to do so, they first need to ‘unteach’ what the prospect believes they already know. This is the function of the reframe done through Commercial Teaching, which is not a thought-provoking sentence or question, but rather a process. Being able to reframe is a competency that needs to be developed.

Repeatable Success Tip

It’s no secret that Challengers do things differently, and the results, particularly in a more complex, B2B selling environment, stand in stark contrast to those of different profiles. As is typical of my articles, I care little about the incidental successes sales reps have, but care much more about creating repeatable successes. Following are three areas to focus on in order to do so.

  1. Develop your reframe competency. Learn how to reframe anything. Practice this in your personal and professional interactions in order to make reframes a natural part of how you think and speak, rather than the ‘thing you do’ when selling. Tweet This
  2. Don’t abdicate responsibility for insight development. CEB rightly calls out that the best organizations develop insights organizationally so that reps aren’t out making things up on the fly with prospects. That said, this does not mean wait for marketing to deliver. Reps have unique insights from a different perspective than the rest of the organization. Insight development isn’t the responsibility of a single department. It’s the responsibility of all. Tweet This
  3. Make your insights count. Take the time to test your insights and teaching. In order to make sure that your insight and teaching leads uniquely and exclusively back to you as the supplier, CEB refers to this as the ‘logo test.’ The question is if you were to remove your company logo from your pitch deck, would the prospect point exclusively to your company as the solution? If your teaching and insights could apply to you AND your competition, more refinement is needed. Without this, you are providing free consulting. Tweet This
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.

1-Question Test of Sales Effectiveness

Sales Effectiveness and Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessAs a general principle, we in the profession of Sales seek to disrupt the Status Quo of our prospects. This is good…and appropriate. Too often, there is one behavior that sales reps exhibit, that can completely undermine their effectiveness in closing the sale.

Following is a simple, one question test. Your answer to this one question will help you determine if you too, may be exhibiting the same behaviors and at risk of compromising your effectiveness in the sales process.

What does the Orange ball represent?

If the picture above were representative of you selling to prospects, what does the orange ball represent? Before racing to find the right answer as so many of us performance-driven and competitive sales people are inclined to do, I would encourage you to pay more attention to your gut response to the question, and less on solving ‘what’s the right answer.’

Common responses to this question typically include:

  • “Standing out from the competition”
  • “Differentiating our solution from others”
  • “Being seen as a Trusted Advisor”

None of the aforementioned answers are bad, nor are they wrong for any sales professional to desire. But key to understand is that these are all byproducts of something much more important.

Misplaced Focus

In each of the representative answers above, notice what was the intended focus for the prospect — Company, Solution, Rep. What did we start out with saying was our primary aim in the sales process? Disrupting the status quo! For the Challenger Sale rep, this is reframing how prospects see the unanticipated or underappreciated aspects of their business problems through commercial teaching and insight.

If that is our primary aim that is critical to making the sale, then why on earth would we want to distract their focus from seeing their business problems with absolute [and painful] clarity. To prematurely talk about or point to anything other than the business problems that are currently, negatively impacting the prospect, causes the prospect to shift focus from resolving their status quo to resolving in their mind, “Relative to other companies, solutions, reps I have dealt with, how do I like this one?”

The orange ball should represent the prospect’s focus on their business problem, not your solution!

Seller’s Paradox

While we certainly want to be seen as trusted advisors that stand out from the competition with our differentiated solutions, the more we keep the focus on those aspects about ourselves, our solutions and our organization, the more we look and sound just like everybody else.

There has been tremendous research and studies done on how we make decisions. The layman’s version of the findings is that prospects tend to see more similarities between organizations, solutions and reps than differences. Therefore, when we focus on these aspects about ourselves, here is what the prospect sees…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable Success

Question — If this is truly how prospects see suppliers and their products, what do you suppose becomes the differentiator for how to make their decision? If you said “Price,” you are absolutely right. The answer is not in differentiating ourselves through solution or organization.

Repeatable Success Tip

To stand out in the ‘sea of sameness’ is not to point out how different you are, especially since the majority are already doing that. To repeatedly stand apart from the competition with a differentiated solution is to help prospects see their problems differently. When you effectively do this, the byproduct is that they will see you differently.

Key to this whole process, though is to keep your solution out of the conversation until the end when they have clearly understood the problem. To insert ‘solution’ between you and their problem forces a feature and benefit comparison to what they have already looked at. As my good friend from Sandler constantly says, “Focus on the Problem, not the Solution!”

That’s a good tip for leading to Repeatable Success!

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.

Do Challenger Sales Reps Do Demos?

Product Demos | Challenger SaleInspired by a very good question in the CEB Challenger Sale forum, I decided to write an article on the topic of product demonstrations relative to the Challenger Sale, addressing some of the questions around this particular subject.

The question posed to the group, was in essence, “What conditions would need to be in evidence before a good Challenger sales rep would initiate a product demonstration?” Excellent question!

Derivatives of the question throughout the forum discussion evolved into whether or not Challengers should conduct product demonstrations at all. Equally good questions! Following is my take on the two questions — Do Challengers do product demonstrations, and if so, where in the sales process would be the appropriate time to do so.

Do Challenger’s Demo?

The short answer to whether or not a Challenger Rep does product demonstrations is a qualified “Yes,” but with some caveats. Let’s look at a couple of them.

  1. Demos don’t define Challengers. Challengers define demos. Not all products require demonstrations, which you already understand. When they are pertinent as part of the sales process, the Challenger conducts at the appropriate time, anchoring back to what the customer didn’t understand about their business or industry in the first place. To be clear, the Challenger Rep is not defined by whether s/he does a demo. They are defined by their behaviors throughout the sales process …with or without a demo.
  2. Challengers don’t win the sale with demos. This will be, perhaps the most important point I make here. If the sale were won at the point of product demonstration, something went wrong earlier in the process as this has just become the Features and Benefits sale. True Challengers shape demand before a prospect ever knew they wanted or needed a solution, then continue to expose problems, consequences, etc. through commercial teaching/insight. Challengers effectively win the sale by selling the problem prior to a product demonstration. Furthermore, the effective Challenger rep will have been leading TO their solution throughout the sales process, thereby making the product demonstration merely ‘confirmation’ of the sale.

When Do Challengers Demonstrate Products?

As a quick rehash of the Challenger choreography, following are the key stages:

  1. Warmer – Prospect Response: “S/he knows my industry/business”
  2. Reframe – Prospect Response: “I never thought of it that way before”
  3. Rational Drowning – Prospect Response: “I’m familiar with the story s/he is describing”
  4. Emotional Impact – Prospect Response: “S/he is telling my story”
  5. A New Way – Prospect Response: “What should I do?”
  6. Your Solution – Prospect Response: “Will your product address these problems?”

With my paraphrase of the Challenger choreography above, the answer to when a Challenger rep should do a product demonstration is quite straight-forward…At the end of the choreography.

To add a little bit more color to this though, following are a few key elements of Intentionality that must have taken place with your prospect prior to a product demonstration occurring:

  • You taught them something about their business or industry (commercial teaching/insight), that they didn’t appreciate or anticipate before
  • You effectively led them to the center of their own story (Emotional Impact) and created a compelling need to change
  • You remained disciplined and left product/solution out of the discussion in stages 1 – 5 of the choreography

There is certainly more to it than these three areas, but these tend to be the primary areas where lack of intentionality and discipline show up in a rep’s process. That said, when a rep has effectively met the aforementioned criteria, the prospects are prepared to confirm their selection of you as their supplier once the demo is complete.

As a bit of an exaggerated visual picture for what this looks like, consider what the audience members looked like each time Steve Jobs was unveiling a new product. It was the Jerry McGuire version of, “You had me at ‘Hello’!” as the audience, both physical and virtual, has already said ‘yes,’ and are merely waiting to see what they have said yes to.

Repeatable Success Tip

Intentionality. Staying disciplined to the process, despite the prospect’s tendency to try to remain outside of their own story and talk about product requires tremendous intentionality on the rep’s part. In fact, for a great illustration on commitment to the process, see the following article on Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh.

To practice intentionality in this area, consider doing the following. In your next conversation with a prospect, pay specific attention to how quickly you begin speaking about your own product/solution. It doesn’t matter if the prospect initiates discussion on product. If you engage and proceed to discuss your solution, prior to the other 5 stages of the choreography taking place it counts. Furthermore, it will typically cost you for reasons I will describe in my upcoming article on The Consequences of Introducing Solutions Prematurely.

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.

Challenger Sale Tip: Don’t Sell Solutions

Solution Selling vs.Challenger SaleIn the day and age where the conventional wisdom of selling has migrated from product selling to solution selling, I would like to provide a different perspective on the topic, particularly for the aspiring Challengers.

Can You Relate?

In exasperation, my wife walks through the door grumbling. I ask her what’s wrong, and she proceeds to describe another frustrating conversation with a friend. She describes the situation to me, and I offer the solution. Fixed, right? Wrong!

Many of you already know the end of this story and can relate, whether being on the delivering end or the receiving end of similar types of conversations.

I wrongly assumed that the reason she told me about her problem was because she couldn’t solve the problem on her own. As an incredibly bright and capable woman, she didn’t need me to solve her problem. She needed me to understand the source of her exasperation.

Instead, I came with a ‘solutions-based’ approach to her problems and created even more frustration for her. Characteristics of this scenario play themselves out every day in sales as well.

Selling Solutions is a Mistake!

The mistake is understandable. Organizations have problems and they need solutions. Suppliers manufacture/create/publish solutions. Therefore, match problems to solutions and voilà! Not quite, as this is more a recipe of how to look and sound like everybody else.

At the heart of this problem is the belief that since prospects buy solutions, we should sell solutions. As long as we continue to believe this and behave this way, we will keep the prospect’s focus squarely on a product…or solution…comparison (i.e., “whose product will adequately solve my issues at the best price?”).

For prospects to buy our solution, we need to sell them on the problem!

By now, everybody is familiar with the CEB statistic that buyers (on average) are 57% of the way through their buying process before they engage a sales person. Sirius Decisions reports an even higher percentage at 70%. Don’t get distracted by the number, or the industry that the number applies to, as you will miss the point of the research. The point is that there are myriad ways in which buyers can AND DO, self-educate today.

The problem with consumers self-educating is that they often times don’t get it right. One of the primary reasons for that is that they look too narrowly at the problem. They are looking from the perspective of their own organization (n=1), whereas suppliers see things from the perspective of hundreds or thousands of prospects just like them, that deal with similar problems. Incredible insights can be derived from this perspective and from the immense pool of data.

Challenger Sale Reps Don’t Behave Like Other Reps

Unfortunately, the common sales reps inadvertently set all of these valuable insights aside as they are more focused on selling their solution. The typical choreography of the common rep…if you can call it, that…is to identify needs, ask some validating qualification or disqualification questions, then listen for key words in which your solution addresses,and BAM! Present your solution to their problem.

The Challenger Sale trained reps pay specific attention to the insights gathered from their prospect’s industry, and as a result, teach prospects something new about their business that they hadn’t considered before. Before they teach them something new, they will often have to unwind their current beliefs about their problems. CEB refers to this as “unteaching.” This is critical, because as aforementioned, prospects often get it wrong.

Repeatable Success Tip

Predictability. A key characteristic of Repeatable Success is predictable outcomes, stemming from the best repeatable behaviors that are intentionally applied.

For a predictably bad outcome, continue selling solutions. On the other hand, for consistently, and predictably better outcomes, concentrate on selling the prospect on solving the right problem, if you want them to buy your solution. Doing so requires “leading TO your solution, not WITH” through the use of ‘commercial insight.’

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.