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.


6 thoughts on “Challenger Sale Tip: Don’t Sell Solutions

  1. Another great Post on TCS, thanks Jeff.
    Looking for problems you may be able to solve, does not cut it with Buyers who are already talking to your Competitors. Really, if you can’t add value to the Customers Process,
    then you really do NOT need to be there!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Jeff, as usual I agree with you, and applaud your thought leadership! I believe that we as teaching/selling professionals still need to develop more “hows” around teaching customers/clients. We know the “whys”, but they have to be put into repeatable, sustainable processes for salesforces to follow. That said, the future of our craft may be dependent on moving sales/training into the realm of helping sellers understand adult learning principles and education design and development. It may also be dependent on our success recruiting Challenger salespeople from schools of Education.

    • Thanks for your kind words! Regarding your last sentence, it is interesting. I was at a CEB workshop in Atlanta last week, and Brent Adamson had asked the group “How many people have found some of your salespeople from professions other than sales?” The majority of us raised our hands. He then quickly polled the room to find out what they had done prior to being recruited into sales. The number one answer was Teacher.

      While I wouldn’t want to limit myself only to “Schools of Education,” to your point, I wouldn’t want to rule it out either. I am open to recruiting from any background, industry, etc. provided that they have a.) Excellent Sales competencies, and b.) Excellent Challenger competencies.

      I appreciate your comments and point of view. Thanks!

    • Good questions, Bockri.

      Regarding my conversation with my wife, in short, I should not have treated her as a prospect needing a solution. What has worked better for our relationship is to hear her out, let her vent, and maybe ask a few questions for my understanding or clarification. Given that it is a significant relationship in my life…one in which I value very much…I want to build the relationship. Therefore, treat the process like a marathon, not a time sensitive quota.

      As for the example, you bet. I was dealing with a major retailer who was under-penetrated in one of our key product lines. We knew why, and they thought they knew, but they were mistaken. They truly believed their consumer was changing and different from that of their competitors, but I understood that it was their assortment strategy.

      Knowing what I knew about the situation, had I sold the solution, it would have looked like your typical supplier fighting for more shelf space. Instead, I had to sell them on the real problem…their [flawed] corporate strategy, which was costing them dearly in market share. When they understood the problem, they themselves determined that the solution was more shelf space for our products, and displacement of competitive lines.

      The [ongoing] result has been double-digit growth for the first time in over a year, as well as category growth. A Sandler buddy of mine constantly refers to “Focusing on the problem, not the solution!” He’s right on with that!

      Thanks again for your questions.

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