Implementing the Challenger Sale, Visually

Making a Powerful Impact, Visually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Sale Effectiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Profile Statistics

Life-size bar chart of Challenger statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: The Reframe Exercise

Challenger Sale Reframe

Practice reframes with ordinary objects

The Challenger Sale Choreography
If you are familiar with the Challenger Sale, you will quickly recognize the six components of the Challenger Choreography described as follows:

1. The Warmer
2. The Reframe
3. Rational Drowning
4. Emotional Impact
5. A New Way
6. Your Solution

A cursory review of what each stage of the choreography is intended to accomplish is largely unsurprising, and in five of the six stages, looks similar to many selling systems* out there.

There is more than meets the eye, especially as the real point of differentiation tends to hinge on the second stage with the Reframe. Being able to Reframe, or share an insight in a way that the prospect hasn’t thought of or considered before, is paramount to moving successfully through the rest of the choreography.

*Just a quick note to remind people that The Challenger Sale is not touted, nor intended as a ‘selling system.’ Brent Adamson shared the following on the topic in a blog post back in 2012…

“The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a “selling system,” as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.”

— Brent Adamson

Cultivating Rep Proficiency with the Reframe
If you are looking to build proficiency in the way your sales and marketing staff successfully communicates reframes, perhaps the exercises we had done in weekly team meetings will be helpful to you in working with your teams.

Getting people to think differently about something in ways they have never done before is not an easy task, especially for those that had not been thinking that way. Therefore, we were looking to develop and cultivate competencies in this specific area so our team could recognize unique points of view and deliver them without the feeling of “starting from scratch,” as some had described the process.

The ‘Reframe’ Exercise

Following is an exercise I led the teams through to not just teach them what to say, but rather teach them how to think to create effective reframes.

Each Team Leader would bring a mystery grab bag of everyday items to the meeting. The team would pair up and grab an item from the bag. Representative items included things like scissors, a whiteboard eraser, aspirin, etc.

The pairs would take 5 minutes to come up with their Teaching Point, followed by a Warmer and a Reframe on their respective item. Next, they would present to the team for a team evaluation. We would then debrief with the whole team by asking a series of questions, such as, “Did they lead WITH the solution or lead TO the solution?” and “Did they share an insight in a way you hadn’t considered before?”

In one of the exercises, the teams were tasked with reframing the same item – a wire coat hanger. Some groups went down the path of calling out the many uses for a wire coat hanger (e.g., “perfect for unlocking car doors,” which is the stereotypical, product-centric, ‘lead WITH’ approach). We debriefed and they understood where they made their mistake.

However, following is what came from one group [in abbreviated form] as they had a better handle on the reframe process…

Teaching Point: Homeowners are often short on closet space and fail to realize the main culprits of closet space are plastic and wooden hangers which are 5-10 times the width of wire coat hangers.

Warmer: “We often hear from many of our customers that closet space at home is at a premium as they cite that they have too many clothes and their closets are too small. Is this something you experience as well? [They validate with the customer, so as not to assume a problem they don’t have]. The customer/prospect is invited to share the specific details of their problems.

Reframe: “We hear that a lot. In fact I hear solutions ranging from changing out their clothes for each season to complete remodels to build larger closets. What is interesting is that when you consider the #1 choice of hangers for most people, it is the plastic coat hanger. Have you ever considered the fact that a plastic hanger is 7x thicker than a wire coat hanger? Perhaps a different question is why your local dry cleaners don’t use plastic coat hangers? While many believe it is due to cost, their reason is that they would need to build a facility 1.3x larger to house the same number of articles of clothing that they currently house by using a wire coat hanger.

We call the process batting practice as it is a way of warming up before sales calls. This process has been fruitful with our teams as they have started to recognize and develop reframes on the fly to get people to see things differently all throughout the day.

In fact, for several, they have begun to pass along affirmations to their colleagues in the form of, “I never thought of it that way before,” when they have successfully reframed whatever the point was in which they were speaking. They are having fun with the process and the audience, be it customer, prospect, family member or friend, benefits as a result of the new insight.

Following is a resource you can use with your teams to practice Reframes of common everyday objects.

Reframe Exercise Worksheet

Share your insights on exercises you have used or are using with your teams.

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.

Effective Presentations: Communicate with Impact

Exercise in FutilityRecently, 2,500 Children’s Ministry Directors from around the country convened in Chicago to attend KidMin, a conference dedicated to their profession. I had the distinguished privilege of leading a workshop for an audience in which was far different from those I have traditionally worked with before.

Nevertheless, my objective was the same regardless of profession, topic, or other. My primary goal was to create dissatisfaction with the attendees’ status quo and compel a different way of thinking about and solving their issues.

This did not mean giving a compelling ‘speech’ or ‘presentation,’ but rather creating an impactful experience. This is often easier said than done.

Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems!”

It is easy to stand up front and tell people about the problems they are experiencing. At best, you will earn credibility, but that is not enough to compel people to change. The status quo can feel pretty comfortable to most people. Despite the gravity of a person’s problems, significant behavioral change rarely comes from the safety of a shared observation, but rather from their own experience. Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems.

Experiential vs. Presentation
In order to help these Directors better understand the gravity of what they were dealing with, and the impending consequences of not addressing the issues in a different way, I needed to create a constructive tension between their current status (Status Quo) and where they were aiming to be.

Therefore, I created an experience that would help the attendees ‘feel’ the impact of the problem rather than tell them about the impact. The experience was as follows.

Creating the Experience
When we went to our breakout session, I organized people into smaller groups giving each group five different sized boulders (larger than a softball, but smaller than a bowling ball).

The first part of the exercise was to discuss within their group the biggest issues they were all facing. They would then agree on the top 5 issues and use a marker to write their biggest problem on the biggest boulder, using a word that best described the issue they were facing. Then they would do the same with the 2nd through 5th issue on each respective boulder.

As we reconvened, I selected one volunteer to come to the front to serve as our representative Director. We loaded a backpack full of the five boulders, identifying each one as they went into the pack. Then I had her put the backpack on and describe the immediate impact. She shared that it was heavy, but she was okay for the moment. A term for what she was experiencing, coined by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), would be Rational Drowning.

I went on to talk with her about how she dealt with each of these issues on a daily basis and the impact this had in shifting her focus from where she was aiming to take her ministry, compared to the urgent focus of trying to solve the problems (i.e., The boulders in her backpack). During our discussion, she shifted her weight and adjusted the pack due to the weight. Here I used the physical impact to lead to her Emotional Impact, another CEB term.

Standing on stage, she described [through tears] that she was incapable of solving those issues. They were too overwhelming for her to handle all at once. She also realized that these issues were lessening her effectiveness with her children in the ministry as well as supporting her volunteers. you could have heard a pin drop from the other attendees, because in large part, this was their story too.

The Moral of the Story
As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story and what we unpacked in our sessions together at the convention. But the point of this article is merely to call out the importance of what we communicate and how.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I could have easily stood up front and ‘presented’ the scenario by talking about it. Heads would have nodded in agreement that the problems are real, and “Yes, I should do something about it,” but few would leave the convention changed, just inspired…or motivated. But we know where that leads.

Before I could talk with them about ‘Solutions,’ I had to effectively communicate in a way that would compel a change in their behaviors, away from the comfort of the status quo.

For those whose business requires communication with others (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Business, Ministry, etc.), consider creating experiences that draw people into the center of their own story.

In CEB’s Challenger model, this would be the process of leading them from Rational Drowning, where they recognize the story (with a sense of distance), into Emotional Impact in which they recognize it is their story. It is at this point where change begins to occur.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have created experiences to deepen the message you were communicating.

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.