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.

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

His 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.

5 Misconceptions of the Challenger Sale

Misconceptions, Myths, True or FalseI interact and participate in a variety of Sales & Marketing forums and events, and inevitably, when the topic of the Challenger Sale comes up, I hear one of five [often misinformed] points of view on the Challenger Sale.

While I am a huge fan of the research and principles of the Challenger Sale, I never take issue with those that disagree with the research and behaviors when they are based upon facts, not misinformation, and understanding, not ignorance. In short, disagreement is fine provided you truly understand what you disagree with and why.

Five Common Misconceptions of Challenger Sale:

Following are the five most common beliefs I hear from those who support and those who reject the Challenger Sale’s research, behaviors, and/or principles.

  1. Challengers don’t build relationships. The premise of this belief is that CEB’s research showed this to be the least effective selling profile, therefore Challengers don’t do it. To dispel this belief, I will simply quote Neil Rackham’s comment from the Foreword of the book, as he has got it right—”Personally, I believe that a customer relationship is the result and not the cause of successful selling. It is a reward that the salesperson earns by creating customer value.”
  2. Challenger is too aggressive/too pushy. This one is really common, and when discussing in-depth with anyone holding this belief, inevitably I find that they merely skimmed through the book, or heard someone else’s opinion which became their own. CEB admittedly calls out that they have “heard every manner of pushback here you can imagine.” The belief is that the Challenger engages in confrontations while proverbially getting in their face. The truth is that Challengers are quite elegantly challenging their beliefs of remaining in their current circumstances, but aren’t challenging people. They aim at the behavior, not the person.
  3. Challenger is just another sales system. The belief is that this is a different selling system, leading people to believe that whatever their current system is, they must abandon if they want to become a Challenger organization. The truth is best explained by sharing Brent Adamson’s comments on the topic. “The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a ‘selling system,’  as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.” He goes on to talk about how it is much more of a commercial strategy. Bottom line is that CEB’s research did not reveal Challengers all using the same sales training and system. They concentrated on the behaviors, not the system.
  4. Challenger claims to be new, and it’s not. I am still perplexed by this one as I hear it so often in Sales circles and on LinkedIn forums. I must have missed the sentence in the book that said these were all new behaviors. The reality is that the behaviors existed, but had not been organized and reported in the manner that CEB had done through its research. What was new with the unveiling of their research, was their findings and nomenclature (e.g., “The Challenger).
  5. Challenger is for Sales. Finally, this last one is misunderstood by both, dissenters and supporters of the Challenger Sale. It’s understandable given the title of the book and Rackham’s endorsement on the cover. Any conversation with authors, Matt and Brent, will quickly dispel the belief that this is meant for Sales alone. For those that read the book, and closely follow CEB’s conversations on the topic, you will already know this as they talk at length about building organizational competencies and alignment to these behaviors with messaging, marketing, etc.
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.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

/ˈstātəs ˈkwō/ – Noun: The existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

“Status Quo” – The condition we all are describing these days. Whether talking about sales, marketing, innovation or strategy, our aim is always the same…to “disrupt the status quo.” But, this is commonly misunderstood.

While my aim for this post will center around salespeople disrupting the customer’s status quo, I believe you will find this relevant in all of its uses.

The Current Use and Understanding

Many of us in the Sales and Marketing community refer to ‘Status Quo’ quite frequently, and I would argue rightfully so. In fact, two of the foremost thought-leaders in this area, from my perspective, are Corporate Visions and CEB as their research and descriptions of the conditions and need for change are quite compelling.

When we talk and read about the status quo as our biggest competitor in the context of customers, we can misunderstand what is really meant. There is a tendency to infer that the customer has two choices – stay the same or change. I would like to reframe how we view status quo, and more importantly how we help prospects understand there is no such thing as staying the same.

A New Understanding

To properly understand Status Quo, let’s reorient back to the original Latin definition – “An existing state of affairs.” What this is speaking of is a condition at a particular point in time. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of things that took their course to lead a customer, prospect, business, etc. to the point where they are now…at this point in time. This all has led to an “existing state of affairs.”

Where this tends to be misunderstood, whether by the sales rep or the prospect, is to treat the status quo as a condition that will likely stay the same unless acted upon. This is a wrong understanding. In fact, the image I used above has it exactly right…Status Quo has a downward trajectory, but is most certainly not level.

Consider it from a financial reporting perspective. If you were looking at a P/L statement or Balance Sheet, you would have a snapshot of your business at ‘a particular point in time,’ which describes the existing state of affairs. While there could certainly be some predictive qualities inferred from either of those financial reports, it does not guarantee that doing things the same way will produce the same results.

On a side note, this is one of the  biggest problems I encounter when working with businesses whose growth has stagnated or declined. They tend to look back to more lucrative times and conditions and subsequently try to repeat what they had once done. This doesn’t work unless all of the other variables that were existent at the time years ago are exactly the same today. As you can imagine, this is rarely the case.

Don’t confuse what I am saying with companies that return to the fundamentals. Returning to fundamentals is often a good thing for organizations…provided their fundamentals were appropriate in the first place. I am referring more to organizations that try to recreate their past like the ‘no-longer popular’ college student that desperately tries to recreate his high-school glory days.

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

With the perspective of financial reports not being a guarantee of future results, consider changing your perspective on what you are truly trying to “disrupt” when talking with prospects who are afraid to change.

Their perspective is most often one in which they believe what they are doing today is known and has some predictability that will lead to predictable results. Your conversations should help them understand that if they are not currently leading to improvements they were hoping and expecting to see, things will only get worse. You already know that if they are entertaining a conversation with you, that they are not seeing the results they had hoped for. Your proof points should be inserted at this point in your conversational choreography to bring the point home.

In Summary

If you are struggling to disrupt the prospect’s status quo, it most likely due to your failure to help them see the consequences of not changing, and leaving the prospect with the impression that what they are doing today will still work going forward. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, often shares the following comments based on CEB’s research conducted with 5,000 buyers and decision makers that speak with salespeople:

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief 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.

When you speak with prospects, does your communication suggest any reason for change?

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.

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!

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.