A Challenger Rep’s Rise to #1

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

Interview with Phil Daily

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

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

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

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

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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Challenger Sale Reframe: Two Missing Frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reframe’s Two Missing Frames

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

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

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

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

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

Putting it All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Do Challenger Sales Reps Do Demos?

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

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

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

Do Challenger’s Demo?

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

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

When Do Challengers Demonstrate Products?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeatable Success Tip

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

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

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale Tip: Don’t Sell Solutions

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

Can You Relate?

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

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

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

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

Selling Solutions is a Mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Sale Reps Don’t Behave Like Other Reps

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

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

Repeatable Success Tip

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

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

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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.

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 Tip: Practice what you preach when coaching

Practice what you preach when Sales CoachingSales Leaders were gathered around the conference table to debrief the progress of each respective team’s reps in The Challenger Sale.

There were some great successes shared, with one story of a Relationship Builder who was consistently ranked last, rising to #1 for the last 7 consecutive months. All because she changed her behaviors.

The discussion then centered around those reps that have yet to embrace the Challenger Sale. It was a few minutes into the debrief and diagnosis when we realized we had fallen into the very trap we were advocating against…

Battling the Status Quo
It wasn’t that the sales reps struggling with the Challenger implementation were blatantly resistant to change. They just weren’t sure it was necessary. Their performance was relatively strong, with nearly all achieving quota. Yet there were points in their daily discussions with prospects that were not effective. Their leaders knew it and they knew it.

Reps would approach their respective sales leader with the problem…or vice versa. The leaders would then point to the corresponding Challenger behavior that would address the problem, then coach to the behavior.

Seems reasonable, right? Wrong! We were circumventing the process in order to speed up coaching and performance. They had a known problem. We had the solution. The Challenger Sale!

A New Way
At the heart of the matter was that the reps with their very legitimate problems, were hearing the ‘solution’  from their leaders. In the Challenger choreography, this is the equivalent of going straight from Warmer to Our Solution. See my previous post on the consequences of doing so.

When we don’t adjust our prospect’s thinking (or in this case, our reps), and expose the problems with the status quo, we fail to ripen their appetite for a new way. For these reasons, the Reframe followed by Rational Drowning into Emotional Impact are critical, especially when teaching new behaviors.

Challenger Tip
When coaching, don’t assume you can jump to the solution because reps have sufficient information. What is not needed is more information. What is needed is a different way of thinking about their problems. Therefore, always follow the choreography. The choreography’s brilliance is that it uncovers and exposes faulty beliefs. Beliefs that lead to complacency in the Status Quo zone.

Take the time to do it right by setting a foundation for a reason for change. Then lead them as a Challenger would do. As a leader, you will benefit by reinforcing your Challenger behaviors (not theories). Your reps will benefit from seeing it in action and the effectiveness in bringing about 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.

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.