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 25-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, & teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles often emphasize 1 of 3 requirements for Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability & Repeatability.

The Challenger Sale & Sainthood

St. Francis of Assisi, Challenger Sale“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These are the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi when addressing the Franciscans in his Rule of 1221 on how they should practice their preaching.

While there is some debate over whether he made the specific comment as quoted above, or simply addressed the principle through his writings, I believe his point is on the mark.

He is not admonishing those that use words, but rather imploring those following his teachings to demonstrate in life and in action what they were otherwise trying to convince people of through words.

His quote strikes me as being more about sequencing…behaviors followed by words…than it does for being one versus another. Both have their place.

If St. Francis were a Sales Manager…

With more and more sales leaders introducing The Challenger Sale to their team, we can all fall into the trap of ‘talking about’ the principles, traits and behaviors of a Challenger, in hopes that the profundity of our words compel new action.

Sometimes that happens, but more often people exposed to a whole new way of thinking, need to see repeated examples of these behaviors in action, especially when it comes to weighty concepts like ‘Reframes‘ and ‘Commercial Insight.’

If you have recently introduced Challenger to your team and are encouraging them to adopt new behaviors, guess who they’re looking to as their model? That’s right. Sobering, isn’t it?!

With that in mind, consider how the aforementioned quote from St. Francis might sound if he was a Challenger advising his aspiring Challenger Friars? Perhaps it might sound something like this…

“Teach the Challenger at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Mirror Test…

Question: If you could wave that magic wand and your team would automatically emulate Challenger as well as you demonstrate it to your team, what kind of Challenger team would you have?

Answer: Exactly the team you have right now. For some, this is great news and for others, it is simply a reminder that we need to be as diligent in the practice and execution of Challenger as we ask our reps to be.

Remember, we are held to higher standards. Therefore, let’s step up and re-commit to live out that which we have been proclaiming as being transformative, as we lead our team to the proverbial Promised Land. The rewards are so worthwhile for all involved.

As with any change effort, whether the implementing the Challenger Sale or instituting new governance practices with IT, the leader sets the stage of how each team member should respond, whether implicitly or explicitly. Let’s lead excellently…in a manner worthy of our calling!

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Implementing the Challenger Sale, Visually

Making a Powerful Impact, Visually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Sale Effectiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Profile Statistics

Life-size bar chart of Challenger statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you found any aspect of this post helpful, take 2 seconds to Like, Tweet, +1 and/or Share with others using the buttons below.
 

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.