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.

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.

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.

6 Causes for Marketing Misses

Marketing missed target marketing

Are you finding that hitting your target market is increasingly more difficult? Especially in the age where so many aspects of marketing are changing and evolving such as content management strategies, SEO and social media.

Marketing is playing an increasingly critical role in organizations these days for a variety of reasons, one of which, as Sirius Decisions describes is that “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.”

This puts even more pressure for marketers to be well-branded and ever-present in the places where prospects are looking, then the top choice when they click thru.

Now sales is even being encouraged, appropriately so, to engage in more top of funnel (ToFu) activities in the form of micro-marketing due to this very same phenomena with the buyer’s digital journey.

As if navigating these new times wasn’t difficult enough, CMOs must be also able to demonstrate tangible, positive returns on their marketing efforts. That alone is enough to send some CMOs over the edge.

While these challenges are certainly real and legitimate, there are some more basic areas of marketing that are falling short, perhaps due to the reasons aforementioned. It’s understandable for marketers with tight budgets to cut some corners while navigating new areas like Social Media…but it is certainly not acceptable. The consequences can be quite substantial.

Therefore, let’s look at six filters that marketing tends to overlook or ignore in its marketing efforts when pressures on their time and budget mount:

6 Overlooked Causes of Marketing Misses

Regardless of your marketing vehicle, whether direct mail, email, web or other, grab a recent campaign piece and evaluate according to the following six filters or litmus tests:

  1. Clarity Test. Your marketing piece should be clearly targeted at a specific segment or customer as time pressed marketers can fall into the trap of generalizing who the marketing is aimed at versus narrowing the focus (e.g., IT versus System Administrators). Test: Can any person readily identify the intended audience of your marketing?
  2. Resonance Test. Your marketing piece will resonate more with customers when it identifies their pain points and quantifies the risk of not solving the problem or pain points. Test: Will the customer know after reading your marketing piece, the risk or cost of their inaction?
  3. Differentiation Test. The marketing piece should tap into the customer’s felt pain points by focusing on benefits or outcomes, not product features, and lead uniquely to your own solution. Test: If your logo were removed from the marketing, would the solution still point distinctly to your organization?
  4. Insight Test. Engaging marketing should grab the reader’s attention with an insight about their industry, category or business. Test: Does the marketing piece provide an insight and if so, is the insight one which could only be obtained by your experience working with many other customers like the target of your marketing?
  5. Teaching Test. Whether email, direct mail or other, the best marketing exposes or teaches the customer something about their business that they didn’t understand or had underestimated before, thus leading them to your solution. Test: Can you clearly identify the teaching point in your marketing piece? More importantly, can your customer?
  6. Advocate Test. Finally, one overlooked area of marketing is that in an era where more buying is done by committee or consensus, the marketing piece should easily enable the advocate to share internally. Test: Does your marketing evoke a desire to share with internal influencers and decision makers without explanation?

Failing in any one of these areas will have some level of impact to your marketing effectiveness. Failing across two or more of these areas will guarantee suboptimal returns.

Time and budget constraints are real for most marketers. What many fail to realize is that the shortcuts taken to get marketing out more quickly without applying these filters and tests to the piece first, has a compounding effect on marketer’s time and budgets. The ineffectiveness of any campaign requires more to be done to make up for what the last campaign failed to produce.

Conversely, putting these six filters to every one of your marketing campaigns will take major steps towards your marketing effectiveness. Greater effectiveness leads to less pressure on time and marketing spend.

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.

Challenger Sale: Is it okay to let prospects struggle?

Butterfly struggles to emergeHe watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the chrysalis and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned that he decided to help. He ran to get scissors and snipped the chrysalis to make the hole bigger. With that, the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened! The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

Don’t Lessen the Prospect’s Initial Struggle
I am not the author of this story, nor will it be a new story for most of you. But it appropriately sets the stage for this very important question. Is it okay to let a prospect struggle?

We hate to see anyone struggle, and for many, the temptation to bail prospects out after asking a difficult question is more than some can bear.

For The Challenger Sales rep, this is most common at the point of the Reframe. In fact, this is intentional as this triggers the Constructive tension that needs to occur in order for the Status Quo to be disrupted. But for the rep that is still learning the Challenger Sale, you may feel your Reframe was inappropriate because the prospect squirms to answer or respond.

Sure, after hearing our different point of view, we would love to hear them say, “I never thought of it that way before” as they look upon us with amazement for our brilliance and intellect. It rarely happens that way.

The veteran Challenger knows that the aforementioned phrase more often sounds like, “I am not so sure I agree with you,”  or “Hmm. I need to get my mind around that.” 

These are signs of constructive tension as the prospect begins to struggle with their current circumstances and that which you have just shared that caused them to rethink everything. Allowing this early struggle to happen is a great sign as it ripens people to hear truth.

For example…
Last week a colleague and I met with the owner of a very successful organization. She is about to release a ground-breaking book, and asked for us to consult on her launch plans for a successful release. In evaluating the initial plans for release, I quickly saw that the current course would result in a book launched on an ill-prepared audience.

She immediately disagreed, sharing that the audience has been dying for an answer, and the research they had done would be the solution to their problems. As difficult as it was for her to hear, I shared honestly with her that she had the wrong perspective as her focus was too squarely placed on selling the book. She agreed that it was with a hint of, isn’t that why we are meeting.

I shared that I was more concerned in establishing her as an authority on the issues that she would address in the book. Without doing so, the book would be introduced to readers that didn’t know they should read it. She still pressed that this audience was ready for the answer.

I responded that while the target audience was indeed, ready for an answer, they were not ready for her solution. I proceeded to lay out some action items that would build a foundation and a platform for her to speak. This would be followed by a hungry audience clamoring for her solution by the time of release.

She listened intently, pressing back at points, but like most high-powered owners and Chief Creative Officers, they are doers. “Give me the action items and timeline necessary to sell my book!”

When debriefing with my colleague after the meeting, he asked me questions around her hesitancy with our proposed next steps. I explained that the hesitancy was that she is trying to sell a book, and we are trying to sell her as a credible authority to have written the book.

She sees herself as credible and an authority from her own perspective, but her perspective is still narrow. In order to broaden her view, I had prescribed steps that she committed to, which would expose the vulnerabilities in her thinking.

Simply explaining what will happen won’t work. She needs to experience that and struggle with that to ripen her for what she really needs to do. Reducing her struggle would result in a poor book launch and threaten her credibility as the authority in this area.

Don’t keep prospects in the Biosphere
As one final illustration of the benefit of the struggle, I would like to share a story stemming from the Biosphere 2 project erected in Oracle, Arizona in 1987.  Following is an excerpt from Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University, on the unintended consequences to plant and tree life due to the absence of wind.

There are many beneficial effects posed by wind for plants. Wind helps to pollinate many species of plants, spread seeds, remove harmful gasses, bring in many species of animals that are wind-dispersed, and many other forces. Wind is also necessary for creating hardy and strong trees. When it was first created, there was no wind inside of Biosphere 2. Plants grew relatively quickly, but they frequently fell over before they were of reproductive age. After some intensive observations and experimentation, it was determined that the lack of wind created trees with much softer wood than that species would normally make in the wild. They grew more quickly than they did in the wild, but they were harmed in the long run as a consequence. — By Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Columbia University, original article here

In summary…
What does it look like to shelter prospects? This may come in the form of answering [or changing] your question to the prospect because they appeared uncomfortable. A more subtle form of sheltering a prospect from the ‘struggle’ is to keep the conversation agreeable throughout your dialogue. Remember, the Biosphere was agreeable and as a result, also detrimental. The lesson of the trees from the Biosphere is that quick and fast growth, does not mean sustainable growth.

Question: Are you sheltering your prospects in the same manner the trees in the Biosphere were sheltered? If so, the consequences to them can be quite severe.

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

A Metaphor for The Challenger Sale

Reframe HooksIn my post, Challenger: Reframing the Reframe, I spoke of the common struggles many organizations are having with the Reframe that are implementing The Challenger Sale.

The aim of this post is to provide a picture of how the Reframe functions and the role it plays within the context of Commercial Teaching and Commercial Insight.

While I hate the negative connotations that can be associated with ‘sales’ and ‘lures,’ I saw some constructive applications that may help to make the point. So let’s all agree up front, that none of us are intending the imagery to be derogatory towards customers nor the way responsible Sales professionals behave.

The Role of the Reframe
The authors of The Challenger Sale make reference to the Reframe as being the “Headline” of the insight. The goal, of course, is to attract the customer’s attention and ‘set the hook’ with an unexpected viewpoint (insight), thus the imagery of the lure.

It is at this point where the differences between Insight and Reframe can be confused as many would define the lure as the Reframe. It may help to recognize that Reframe is a verb, not a noun, but let’s define this further in the metaphorical sense. Keep in mind that no metaphor is perfect, though I hope we can have some fun with this.

A Picture of the Challenger Sale
To help get a clearer picture of how the Challenger Choreography functions with respect to Commercial Teaching, Commercial Insight and The Reframe, following are definitions and descriptions cast within the context of a fishing metaphor.

  • Lure = The Warmer: It appears attractive and familiar; Operates within and relates to the customers world
  • Hook = Commercial Insight: A part of the lure, tailored to the customer; Creates discomfort with status quo
  • Setting the hook = The Reframe: The customer is hooked unexpectedly, compelled to go a different direction
  • Line = Rational Drowning: The fishing line, or business case, ties the insight to the customer’s story
  • Reel = Emotional Impact: The reel is symbolic for drawing the customer into the center of their own story
  • Pole = Commercial Teaching: The fishermen uses a pole to skillfully deliver insight at the right place and time
  • Flex = Constructive Tension: Pole flex represents tension when drawing customers to the center of their story

The Metaphor in Action
So now that we have definitions set, here is how this looks in action.

You, the skillful Sales professional cast your lure into the specific area of the lake where your customers are known to swim. It is a place where not many other people fish, as they seem to prefer where the waters narrow. The locals call it The Funnel. You prefer being upstream, at the top of the funnel where your customers aren’t use to seeing what you fish with.

You cast your insight right on target so as not to intrude, but rather to meet them where they swim together to be social (Social Media). The others fishing the Funnel, create a splash every time their lure hits the water. They refer to this as their ‘prospecting call.’ It sends the fish into hiding every time. Those fishing are not dissuaded though, as they are known to spend inordinate amounts of time just looking for any customer that is attracted to their lure.

However, the customer you are looking for is specific and is currently entertaining your lure. Upon seeing your lure, it feels immediately  familiar and agreeable to them (The Warmer), looking like it belongs in their world and was made just for them (Tailoring). In fact, it looks quite appealing.

The customer likes what they hear as you describe the waters in which they currently swim and they start to nibble at the lure. Normally, after a nibble they drift off, but rather than needing a nap, they are engrossed with what you just shared (Commercial Insight). After all, what you just shared was that the waters where they currently swim are having a direct impact on their growth.

Being somewhat disoriented by what you revealed, and fearing you are correct as you give a little tug to set the hook, they find they are hooked (Reframe) and going in a different direction than they thought they were originally going to go with you.

You let out a little bit of line as you continue to make the business case (Rational Drowning), but never so much as to let the flex in your pole (Constructive Tension) go back to slack (Status Quo). Too much line can allow them to go in unproductive directions, getting tangled in the roots and rocks of the lake bed (False Positives).

This could cause harm to them, which was never your intention and is why you don’t reel them in too fast either (Destructive tension). In fact, you care so much for them that you are willing to endure some initial discomfort, because you know their future is better with you than without.

As you skillfully reel them to the center of their own story, they come to realize that fighting to remain where they are at…their status quo…is now untenable. They know the consequences of remaining are detrimental. There just has to be a different way… or even a New Way out of this mess.

With confidence and care, you compassionately share that which you couldn’t wait to talk to them about earlier. Your Solution. But you knew, bringing this up any earlier would be too soon for them. It would have sent them racing to the center of the Funnel to find comfort with their peers. That is why you patiently led them in a way they could follow.

In Summary…
As a humorous way to demonstrate the rest of the metaphor relative to the customer’s Status Quo and Our Solution, I thought this would fit with the metaphor…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessIt has been said that the fish can only grow to the size of its fishbowl. There’s a better way. Wouldn’t you agree?

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