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 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.

Challenger Tip: The Problem with “Good Fit”

Good fit, bad fashionRon, a colleague of mine, is often counseling his sales team away from using the expression ‘good fit’ when working with prospects. His point merits repeating.

Ron’s counsel usually starts with, “Just because something ‘fits’ well, doesn’t mean it looks good or is something you should wear.”

One look at the picture to the left brings that point home, doesn’t it?

We as a society have become very accustomed to using the expression “good fit,” whether we are talking with prospects, or considering candidates for a position.

The Problem with “Good Fit”

Addressing this simply from a sales perspective, when we talk with customers or prospects in the same manner, by default, we are opening up the possibilities…and subsequently the defining criteria, to include any product or solution that also ‘fits.’ Why would we do that to ourselves? Why broaden the selection of possible suppliers to any and all that might ‘fit?’

For those that know me, you know I am a fan of CEB and their Challenger principles. One particular aspect that they continue to drive home is the necessity of delivering Commercial Insight.

In short, they speak of the progression of what is communicated. On one end is General Information, or noise that gets tuned out, and on the other end is Commercial Insight.

By definition, Commercial Insight not only disrupts [or Reframes] the prospects view of their business by juxtaposing the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action, but simultaneously leads the prospect exclusively back to the supplier.

A New Way

Reps believe they have done well to truly uncover pain and save their solution to the end of the discussion. Indeed, they are doing better than many of their peers according to the statistics, but this can all fall apart if they fail to uncover the problems they are uniquely able to solve, and exclusively able to do better than any other supplier.

The link to my post on “Where are you leading?” will aid in the steps you can take to resolve this. But let’s all agree to avoid aiming for “fit.”

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 Tip: Where are you leading?

Challenger Sale Principle: “Lead TO, not WITH your solution”

Pushing ProductI have the honor of talking with sales reps from all over the world who have taken a keen interest in becoming Challengers. A common issue that reps often bring up is their inclination to bring product or solution into the discussion too early.

The typical problem is that reps ask questions about prospect’s business, circumstance, pain, etc. Their asking questions isn’t necessarily the problem. Their problems ensue when they ask aimless questions hoping to pick up on keywords that their product or solutions solve, then they jump right into solution.

Two prominent problems ensue:

  1. Solution Fatigue – Prospects wear out from seemingly endless and aimless questioning
  2. Unripened Prospects – Without getting to the root, the prospect isn’t ripened to hear about change

A New Way

In order to avoid the two aforementioned problems, establish in advance where you aim to lead the call or meeting. Your questions should intentionally aim toward uncovering the problems your solution uniquely solves. As you begin to uncover the pain points, don’t transition to solution yet as you are likely at surface pain…where the problems are still merely intellectual for prospects, not emotive.

Following are three questions CEB uses for message development that will help you determine questions to ask that lead TO your solution, not WITH your solution:

  1. What are the typical prospect’s problems and how are they currently solving?
  2. What do you know about their problems that they don’t?
  3. Considering what you know, what should they be doing differently?

Understanding the answers to these questions is critical in determining where you are leading your next prospecting call.

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 Word that Undermines Your Value

Value and Credibility in SalesIs making phone calls a part of your profession? Do you find that getting returned phone calls is increasingly more difficult? If you answered “Yes” to either one of these questions, you may be undermining your value and credibility with a single word.

Take a minute before reading further to review what your typical message sounds like to a prospect when you leave them a voicemail. In fact, narrow it down to your opening line following your name (e.g., “Hi, this is Derek from ACME Corp, and I’m…”). What is the very next word you say?

No ‘Just’ Cause

While my primary aim of this article is for those in sales, this principle applies to anyone who uses a telephone, or even email with new ‘prospects’ for commerce. Whether working with B2C, B2B, or other, one word threatens to devalue your proposition, no matter how well crafted, before you even get to it.

Back to the example above…What is the very next word you typically say upon calling a prospect? For many, it is “just.” Do any of these ‘openers’ sound familiar?

  • “I’m just following up on…”
  • “I’m just calling to…”
  • “I’m just letting you know that…”

When calling a prospect, the minute they hear the voice of someone they don’t know, there is a tendency for defenses to go up as your calls and emails rarely happen at the perfect time for the prospect. They are typically interruptions. Therefore, from the prospect’s perspective, they are immediately scrutinizing your message from the second they see an unfamiliar name, and their filter becomes, ‘What evidence do they offer that this is worth the interruption?’

Hundreds of thousands of sales reps lose this battle daily. It’s no wonder why, with such a high bar and unfair scrutiny, sales reps better nail it right out of the gate.

A Better Way

When you come to terms with why you use the word as an adverb, you will likely find it is used as a word to soften or lessen the interruption. Ironically the very word you use to lessen the impact of an interruption heightens it instead.

Therefore, a different approach is needed altogether. The following steps will improve your value, and subsequently your credibility when calling prospects, thereby rendering the word ‘just’ as unnecessary.

  1. Know your value. If you see yourself as an interruption, you will be. If, on the other hand, you understand how critical your role is in helping businesses like those you are calling on to dramatically improve results, then you will find you carry yourself as such. Never arrogantly, but certainly confidently.
  2. Know your prospects. Considering prospect’s defenses are already high, you better demonstrate quickly that you know and understand them. They definitely don’t have time to educate you first before you can help them.
  3. Know their story. This is critical and often misconstrued. I hear reps say all the time, “How can I know their story if I’ve never talked to them?” This is only valid if they have never sold before and have done no research before making their first call. For all others, this is off the table. Your organization is in the business of selling products, solutions, services, etc. to others that have a demonstrated need. When you understand this, and the industries your prospect operates within, you have insight into what those in the same industry are experiencing. Doing so allows further conversation on the cost of inaction, and the importance of resolving…ultimately and uniquely with your solution.

I have covered in more detail, points two and three above in my post on Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open. One last point to summarize all of this…I am contacted daily by sales reps trying to sell me on their products and solutions. I am amazed by how many walk through the call trying to just get through each step of their process.

Don’t call out of compliance, call out of conviction!

I don’t want to be a check box call on a list of prospects that need to be called. Your prospects don’t want that, nor do you. Let’s make sure we are bringing excellence to an honorable profession that truly makes the difference in other’s lives and businesses.

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: Moving Beyond Rational Drowning

Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact

Growing up on the coast of Southern California, I was no stranger to the rip currents we would often see. For those unfamiliar, a rip current (a.k.a. ‘Riptide’) is when the wind and waves push water toward the shore, which then causes the water to travel sideways along the shoreline from oncoming waves until it finds an exit back out to the sea. Some rip currents can move as fast as 8 feet/second.

On one particular day at the beach, I remember seeing a grown man get caught in the rip current. Most of us have been caught in a number of them, and the solution was easy if you knew what to do. We knew to relax and ride the current until it equalized with the rest of the shoreline. It just meant a longer swim and a walk from where you were, that’s all. But for this gentleman, he chose a different course of action.

He began by waving off the lifeguard who was warning him of the strong current. With a wave, in pride he yelled back, “I’m fine.” His plan was to swim against it. Bad call!

It didn’t take long for him to be completely exhausted whereby holding his head above water became difficult. He began swallowing and choking on seawater. In a flash, his once prideful face that rejected help, now showed desperation for anybody to save him. The lifeguard made his way to him in no time as the current led him right to the victim.

I will never forget the look in the man’s eyes – The first look was the look of pride in the face of a dangerous situation. The second look was when he realized he was in over his head.

Temptation to ‘Keep it Above the Surface’

Prospects can have similar expressions, when they have that defining moment. For some, it’s an “Ah Ha!” moment, and for others, an “Oh no!” moment where they realize for the first time how severe the implications are of remaining in their circumstances.

In conversations where one seeks to change the behaviors of another, whether as parents or in sales, there is that point where the person first acknowledges the risks or consequences you are speaking about. When speaking with children, their response may sound like, “I know, I know.” For the business person, this sounds much more rational as they confidently proclaim, “Yes, I am aware of the risks and am taking precautions.” This is code for Status Quo.

This happened recently when I was speaking with the President of an organization about consequences he didn’t realize, and he would be facing in the upcoming months. At one point in the conversation, this President jokingly commented that he needed to do something different or the board would come after him.

He began to move on, but I stopped him dead in his tracks and asked, “Before we move on, in all seriousness, what will happen if we don’t solve this?” At first he chided me for taking things so seriously when he was simply making a joke, but I held out for the answer. I told him, “I’m the serious type, so seriously, what will happen?” He looked down at the table soberly, then slowly back up to me and stated, “I’d probably be fired.”

Within 30 days, he was fired. He had acted too late. His eyes told me a lot, much like the man’s eyes in the rip current. In an instant, pride turned to fear and desperation, and then he was gone.

Rational Drowning vs. Emotional Impact

When working through the Challenger Sale choreography, the third and fourth steps, Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact, are tightly intertwined. I describe these two stages as follows:

If a person fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, Rational Drowning looks like treading water. The victim initially says, “I’m alright,” which ‘feels’ true at that particular point in time. Not until they realize they can’t continue this way for long, will they pass from Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact.

This is not a place most prospects will go willingly. They would rather stand outside of the story…their story…like a casual observer, who can see things factually…logically, and yet remain unmoved, while mired in their own status quo.

Our role as professionals, is to care enough about them to be willing to expose them to the truth about their circumstances.

Tips to Lead to the Center of Their Story

In the aforementioned story of this President who was subsequently fired, I recognized that he was intentionally seeking to avoid getting deeper. I have seen his situation hundreds of times before, but simply telling him so would merely serve to keep him on the outside of his own story.

I could have told him, “You need to change or you’ll be fired” and would have been accurate. But his response would more likely be defensive than if he recognized aloud, as he did, when he said, “I’d probably be fired.” Asking intentional, targeted questions allowed him to begin narrating his own story as his pronouncement of the consequences carried more weight than mine would have. I just had to lead him to recognizing this reality.

Following are a few tips to remember when leading a prospect through these critical stages:

  • Prospects aim for the surface. Like a balloon filled with helium, so it is with prospects. There is a tendency to want to rise back to the surface as going deeper into the center of their own story is never comfortable.
  • ‘Comfort’ is not the aim. If you are not prepared [and skilled] to respectfully lead prospects to uncomfortable places…such as the center of their own story, you will continue to struggle with selling.
  • Don’t tell the prospect’s story for them. According to a study done by the University of Texas (Metzger, 1997), a person will remember approximately 20% of what they hear, but remember up to 80% of what they do and say. In aiming for the uncomfortable center of their own story, ask questions that lead them to tell their own story.
  • Ask targeted questions. Nothing is more maddening and exhausting to a prospect than questions that appear exploratory and aimless. Know where you are leading the prospect in your questioning.
  • Lead TO your solution, not WITH. Your questions, when asked appropriately, should ripen the prospect to a New Way. Don’t jump to your solution yet, as they need to be prepped with what will resolve their issue. This ‘new way’ should aim squarely at what your product or solution can uniquely solve. BUT DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT/SOLUTION YET.

One final note about these two very important areas of the Challenger Sale choreography – Because these two areas are so tightly connected, there can be a tendency to confuse one for the other. Over the years, I have seen countless reps struggle to even get into uncomfortable places with a prospect. When they do, the most common tendency is to resurface and provide ‘relief’ to their uncomfortable prospect.

Doing this will likely result in the loss of the sale as the prospect merely learned that you make them uncomfortable, but offer nothing but a product solution. They will avoid you going forward. Therefore, remain disciplined and stick to the choreography.

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.

Constructive Tension through Insights

Constructive TensionIf you are anything like me, I learn best from real life examples. This morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a major retailer a number of years ago, that not only got them to think differently, but caused them to adjust their whole strategy. Below is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation.

Background:

A major retailer saw themselves as ‘The Headquarters’ for our type of products and as such, having a broad assortment was a key part of their strategy. Regardless of how they perceived themselves, their sales in the category continued to decline. They had the wrong strategy, and  it was costing them sales and market share.

Following is an excerpt of my conversation with them:

Me: As I understand it, your corporate strategy for [X] category is to provide a broad assortment of brands and give a fair representation of each brand’s line. Is this still a key part of your strategy?

Buyer: Absolutely. Customers have depended upon us as their HQ for years.

Me: I would imagine carrying the top 3 brands in this category is important too…

Buyer: Definitely, it’s critical.

Me: Do you know who is #1 in market share for this category?

Buyer: If you are asking, I am sure it is you.

Me: You caught me, how about #2?

Buyer: (The buyer and Division leader make 3 incorrect guesses, naming our competitors)

Me: I’m afraid not. The three you just named only make up 8% of the market combined. #2 on the list is X [private] and they only sell through their own stores, so as you know, you aren’t able to carry their products. Any guesses on who #3 is in market share?

Buyer: Not if it is someone different from who we already mentioned.

Me: It is. The 3rd largest segment in the market is WYO (an industry-specific term), which rules you out altogether of carrying two of the top three that you said was critical to your strategy.

Buyer: Hmmm.

Me: Do you know what your $/Kit sold is for the other product lines?

Buyer: Do you mean how much in kits we sold?

Me: No. I mean how much ancillary product you sell for every kit sold.

Buyer: No, we don’t track that.

Me: Hmmm. That’s important to know. The reason is that with each of the other lines you carry, the purchase of the kit is all you will make of that sale since they don’t offer ancillaries. Were you aware that for every one of our kits sold, the typical sales on ancillaries are 9 times greater than the kit alone? In fact, that’s what is lost every time you sell another brand. Let’s multiply that by # of kits sold per store times number of stores.

[Figure calculated and presented]

Buyer: Wow! I had no idea. We hadn’t looked at it that way before.

Me: Can you name another category in your stores that achieves this same level of revenue and profitability during this same season?

Buyer: Nothing comes close. The other categories are down when you guys hit your peak.

[Light-bulb moment for the customer with new insights and discovery]

Me: Exactly right.

[The President enters the conversation]

President: What should we do?

Me: You currently have a strategy focused on promoting breadth and fairness to ALL brands. Research shows that 54% of consumers have predetermined the brand they will use before purchasing…

President: Is that your brand?

Me: …It is, and another 34% will compare with only 1 to 2 other brands. You carry 16. In just 2 months time, your strategy of ‘brand breadth and fairness’ cost your stores $xM in sales & $xM in profit. Even worse is that you have lost 7 points of market share. So, in answer to your question, I recommend a strategy change if you want to remain in this category, or otherwise allow us to help you successfully exit the business altogether.

[President pauses and is now at the crossroads with the Status Quo]

The President, after dismissing the buyer and division leader, asked how quickly we could reset the category and serve as category captains.

Doing so would require concessions, if they were serious. He assured me he was. We ended up getting key placement and dedicated signage in the stores, along with many other things that they offered to help them earn back market share and profitability. That following year, they had grown their business with us nearly 30%.

On a related note, we took this same approach with two other major players in the market who achieved even better results that year – One achieving 71% category growth, and the other in triple digits. They remain the market leaders today in their categories.

Summary

The questions I asked revealed that they did not know the answers to key questions. They were looking at things the wrong way. The questions helped to prepare them for a series of commercial insights that created a rich environment to hear a hard truth…that their key strategy was amiss, costing them market share, sales and profitability.

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.

Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open

Prospecting Sales CallEver get bad advice? I read a post this morning that struck me as such as it advised 3 Questions Sales People Should Ask Every Prospect. The three questions [taken from a longer 'disqualification checklist' of questions] recommended asking the following questions of every prospect:

1. What is your biggest [YOUR INDUSTRY] related challenge?
2. Why is what you’re doing now not working?
3. How do you go about making a decision like this?

In my post a couple of months ago, Are Your Questions Killing the Sale, I addressed the problem of exploratory questions like the first question suggested above.

In this post, I would like not only to implore sales reps to avoid squandering opportunities with prospects through exploratory questioning, but also provide compelling stats on the need to get the message right — from the opening question, through the closing of the sale.

Do you have the right starting point?

CEB had done a survey among 5,000 executives and decision makers that deal with sales reps, in which 86% of them indicated that the sales rep’s message had no commercial impact whatsoever to them.

86% of executives/decision makers believe sales rep’s messages have no commercial impact!

According to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, he describes the buyers as coming away from conversations with reps believing that what they are currently doing right now…the Status Quo…is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

Sirius Decisions had similarly shocking results from their PMM Survey suggesting that the biggest inhibitor to achieving quota was the rep’s inability to communicate messages of value. Not surprisingly, what we communicate and how, is of great import to our results.

Yet, so many take the approach of winging it with prospects, and exploring their way through the sale.

3 Steps to Approaching Prospects Differently:

  1. Know your prospects and know your story. Don’t call indiscriminately looking for any customer that may or may not fit your solution. Be specific and call those whose story you know and that you can help based on prior experience. Have a solid understanding of the issues those similar to them are facing in their industry
  2. Establish credibility quickly. If you have the right story and the right prospect, you will be able to demonstrate understanding of the typical issues those in their industry face. After stating your purpose for the call, open with a statement that summarizes the business issues affecting their industry.
  3. Validate with the prospect. Successful selling is not a monologue, but rather a well-choreographed conversation. Therefore, rather than assuming everybody has the same problem and moving on without them, follow your statement with a question to validate if they are experiencing any of the same issues you just described.

Putting the three steps together, the opening of your call with a prospect sounds something like the following:

“We work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country and have found that each commonly face one of three business issues, given the [current condition]. Their most common issues tend to be [X], [Y], or [Z]. Is your business currently facing any of these same problems?”

If you have a solid understanding of the typical issues similar businesses are experiencing, not only will you get quick confirmation, but often times they say they are struggling with most or all three areas. This allows you to start walking down the path to lead them to the center of their own story.

Even if they mention a different problem, you are still on a better path to zero in on their issues and create complete unrest with their status quo.

If they are not struggling with any of the issues you described in your opening, then you either have the wrong story, the wrong prospect, or both. Go back to step 1 and dedicate the time up front to get this right as you likely circumvented the full process and have just cost yourself a prospect and your credibility.

On the other hand, if you dedicate appropriate time to these first 3 steps of opening with credibility and delivering a message of value, you will see immediate improvement in your close ratios.

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: 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.