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.

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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.

 

Challenger Sale: Do you Reframe in 3-D?

Magic EyeDo you remember when the Magic Eye pictures were all the rage back in the 90’s?

For those unfamiliar with Magic Eye artwork, a 3-D image was embedded into a picture that otherwise appeared to be nothing more than colorful, repeating patterns.

However, to the trained eye, when looked at in a different way, the 2-dimensional image would suddenly, and magically, ‘pop’ into a stunning 3-dimensional reality right before your very eyes.

There were two camps with these Magic Eye pictures – Those that could see the images and those that couldn’t. For those in the latter camp, they found it difficult…frustrating. In fact, it reminds me of how prospects often feel when Reframed to see a radically different picture of their own circumstances. They can really struggle at this stage…which can be very good!

A Different Picture of the Reframe
When considering Magic Eye art and comparing to the Reframe, there are some great parallels that may bring clarity to your understanding of what the Reframe does and how it feels to your prospect when they finally see what you want them to see. But first, a lesson on how to see the picture in this Magic Eye image above.

Viewing the Magic Eye Picture

There are two prescribed methods for seeing the picture in 3-D (i.e., A clipper ship in this case), although knowing you are looking for a clipper ship will not help as much as you think. Regardless of the method you choose, start by clicking the picture to enlarge and open in a separate tab of your browser.

Method 1: Relax your eyes and get real close to the screen as you stare at the picture. Don’t try to focus on the picture, but simply gaze through it in the same way that you do when you daydream. Begin to back away from the picture slowly after 5-10 seconds. You should start to notice your eyes feeling almost as if they are crossed as you move back, because the image will be out of focus. Once you are about 12″ away from your monitor, the hope is that the image will snap into view for you.  If not, be patient.

Method 2: This is the method I prefer. Position yourself approximately 12″ away from the image and look through the image, rather than at the image. For example, if there is a wall directly behind your monitor, look upon the image as if you were able to see through it like a window to the wall. This will relax your eyes and allow the magic to happen. Give it 5-10 seconds without blinking. One trick that helps me recognize when the image is about to snap into place is I slightly move my head from side to side (i.e., just an inch or two). If the image is still appearing flat, like a 2-D image, your side to side motion will reveal nothing. However, if your lateral movement starts to show some depth in the picture, it is about to happen for you.

For those that experienced the mysteries of the Magic Eye artwork for the first time, congratulations! It is truly amazing! For those that still can’t see it, practice. Most people fail to see the image because their natural tendency is to focus on the detail of the flat image itself. It will come once you start to learn the skill of looking through the picture.

Similarities between Magic Eye and the Reframe
What I love about this illustration of the Reframe is how analogous it is to conversations with prospects. From our perspective, having been trained for what to look for in our prospect’s circumstances, we see things more clearly…more deeply than they are able to see.

We may even be inclined to get frustrated ourselves because what is so clear and obvious to us, our prospects just can’t see in the same way. It is as if they are staring at the surface of the Magic Eye picture and all they can see are repeating patterns. But seeing the patterns alone will not move them off the status quo. It is deeper than that. See the similarities to a Reframe?

One Final Note about Reframes….
Being able to properly Reframe a customer is important, but it is not the goal. It is the entry point to getting deeper in conversations. If we don’t practice discipline in this area and recognize that fact, we can take a perfectly great insight and not move any further through the choreography.

Focusing on the insight alone is like staring at the surface of the Magic Eye picture. It is 2-D. Instead, look at the Reframe as looking through one stage to another…from how they have inaccurately seen their picture (Warmer) to the consequences of not changing their picture (Rational Drowning).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Focusing on your insight puts you at the center of the story instead of the prospect
  • Instead, use the insight to focus on teaching prospects a new and different way to see their picture
  • Prospects will see the deeper picture at different times and in different ways; Be patient
  • Seeing the deeper picture for the first time requires discipline in looking at things differently
  • It is possible for a Reframe to be 2-D; This happens when you try to tell prospects what to see
  • Concentrate your Reframe instead on how to see for a 3-D experience they will never forget

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: Use a Warmer to Build Credibility

Challenger Sale WarmerIn my previous post, Are your questions killing the sale?, I framed the ineffectiveness of reps using exploratory questioning with prospects to get deeper into their business issues.

The consequence of this approach is that the prospect gives little more than short answers to your questions, with no meaningful information shared. This is because your initial questions suggest you know less about the type of problems they face than they do.

If you are a rep that struggles to get deep in conversations about real issues with prospects, or a Sales Leader struggling to improve your team’s close rates, this post is for you.

Brief Recap of the Problem
Your opening statements and questions will immediately convey one of three things to the prospect about your ability to address the problems they are facing, or will face in the future. Your question will either show:

  1. You know more than the prospect about these areas
  2. You know equal to the prospect, or
  3. You know less than the prospect

For example, if a rep asked the following question of a prospect, what would it suggest about their knowledge of the customer, their industry, and/or the issues they are likely to face?

“What are some of the challenges your business has been experiencing?”

If you chose #3, you are correct as the question suggests the rep knows less about the prospect, their industry, and problems they will face than the prospect does.

Important to note is that questions or statements that infer you know equal to or less than the prospect creates no value in their mind. They have no need for you unless you can successfully demonstrate you have traveled this path before and have successfully navigated businesses like theirs to better outcomes. The trick is not to make it all about you.

Aim Higher in Your Opening
The goal of the Warmer in The Challenger Choreography is to build credibility by quickly demonstrating you understand business issues like those that they face. This is a critical first step, especially since the next step is to Reframe the way they have been thinking about their issues.

“A proper frame (a.k.a. The Warmer) must be in place before a Reframe can occur”

A proper Warmer statement contains 3 elements:

  1. Relate – This gives the prospect the sense that the businesses and issues you work with, will relate to them as well. They aren’t alone. (e.g., “I work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country”)
  2. Demonstrate – Saying you work with others like them isn’t enough. You must demonstrate understanding by identifying the issues they are likely facing. (e.g., “Three of the most troubling issues we see them face are [x, y & z].”
  3. Validate – This is not a monologue. Therefore, take a minute to validate you are on track with what they are facing by asking a question. (e.g., “Are you experiencing these [business issues] too, or are there others you would add?”)

If you truly know and understand what businesses like theirs are experiencing, the underlying message to the prospect is, “I understand you and companies just like you.” This builds their confidence and your credibility, which will lead you into deeper discussions with prospects more quickly.

Warnings on Assumptions and Arrogance…
It is common for reps and leaders to ask, “Isn’t it arrogant to assume we know more than they do without talking to them and asking them questions first?” My answer? If these concepts are misunderstood and misapplied, then “Yes.”

The only real assumption made here is that if you have worked with many other customers, affected by similar issues, you have a reasonable belief that this has, or will, affect them too. If so, you have a broader perspective and expertise from which to help. That isn’t arrogant, nor assumptive.

Upcoming Posts…
Next, I will be addressing what I have labeled the ‘PreFrame,’ followed by the Teaching Point. Both of these precede the Warmer, but the Teaching Point should precede any interaction with a prospect or customer.

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.

Are your questions killing the sale?

Sales question gapsProspecting can be tough and so can getting calls returned. When a sales person finally gets that prospect’s call, many fail to quickly establish credibility and ultimately lose the sale, without ever realizing their fatal flaw.

Whenever I begin working with sales teams and leaders struggling in areas like prospecting and quickly establishing credibility, I typically look at their first phone conversation with prospects, and where the reps begin.

Reps who struggle with establishing credibility and getting to deeper business issues are starting at the wrong level!

If you are a sales rep, consider your typical opening statement and question to a prospect and consider what level of expertise your question says about you. For the Sales Manager, consider how you are advising your reps to begin conversations with prospects.

Are your questions killing your opportunities?
Whether you realize it or not, your opening question suggests a lot about your ability to be a credible solution for the prospect.  Consider it this way – When it comes to demonstrating your knowledge about customers [similar to the prospect], their industry, and the biggest issues they face, does your opening question suggest you know…

1. More about these areas than the prospect?
2. Equal to the prospect?
3. Less than the prospect?

Considering the picture above, if what the prospect knows about their own circumstances and how to solve them is the upper hand, the questions asked by so many reps comes in at a much lower level. In other words, the rep’s beginning questions are probing and exploratory, suggesting “I don’t know you, so let me ask you a number of questions that will allow me to better understand you. Once I know enough, I can help you.” If you are unsure if your questions fit the criteria, the questions typically start with, “Tell me about…” or the Five W’s.

The Challenger Sale [appropriately] refers to this as Solutions Fatigue.

Keep in mind that while the rep has already implied that they don’t know the prospect, the prospect doesn’t know the rep either. Since the opening question suggested that they know less than the prospect on business issues similar to theirs and their industry, the prospect has one goal in mind… be brief and share as little as possible to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

After all, for the rep to be able to help, the prospect would first need to bring the rep up to speed, train on where their problems occur and why, then expect the rep’s learning to surpass their own, so that the rep can lead them to better outcomes with the supplier’s solutions.

Talk about a tough sell. There is a better way.

In my next post, so as not to leave you hanging with the problem and no proposed solution, I will address what The Challenger Sale refers to as the Warmer. This is where the aim is to build credibility quickly without being a supplier-centric monologue about yourself or your company.

As a preview of the next post, the aim will be to give a practical example of leading to questions at a higher level – one which suggests you know more about customers just like them, and their industry and typical problems they are encountering…or about to encounter.

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.

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.

LinkedIn Tip: Don’t waste opportunities!

LinkedIn TipsWith more than 200 million members now on LinkedIn, millions are wasting opportunities to be noticed…liked…shared by others, by ignoring one simple practice.

What is the Practice?
The practice, is simply doing what newspapers have known and done for years. Newspapers begin with the headline, followed by a compelling opening sentence/paragraph, with further details provided later in the story for those interested.

What is the Problem?
The problem lies in the preamble setting up what your post or update is aiming to teach. Consider this post for example. I could have opened like countless people do, which in this case would be to emphasize who LinkedIn is, what they are known for or have now become (i.e., “LinkedIn has become the largest B2B…). You know how it sounds.

If I did so, not only would that be redundant with what most already know [INSERT YAWN HERE], but worse, I would squander the opportunity to elicit reader’s interest for what they may learn by reading my post.

Target your Openers
Instead, I aimed my opening at a specific profile (i.e., Those that post updates on LinkedIn and comments in groups, but rarely get shares, responses or likes). By targeting specific people with a concise message, when my post gets placed in LinkedIn’s updates, potential readers are seeing at a glance, what I want them to see…wasting opportunities on LinkedIn, because they hadn’t thought of this way before.

This principle of targeting your opening sentence also holds true for comments in LinkedIn Groups.

For example, in a group, someone posts a provocative topic or question. You respond with your unique point of view or contribution. If you are not getting likes or responses to your contributions, the two likely scenarios are 1.) Your comment wasn’t as unique or as contributory as you thought, or 2.) Your opening comments offered no compelling reason to read further.

Remember, when you comment in a group, not only is an update posted to the homepage with your opening sentence [or two], but that same opener is put into a reduced digest that goes out to the group’s subscribers. LinkedIn is doing everything it can to get you noticed. Don’t fight them. They are aiming to help you.

“In a ‘warp speed’ world, content-consumers spend their clicks conservatively”

Don’t just take my word…
If you take a cursory glance at the ‘Home’ tab of your LinkedIn page and scan the updates, take note of your behavior when scanning the countless updates for items of interest. What grabs your attention? If typical trends prevail, it is likely the photo or headline, followed by the description of the post.

While it is true that a good headline alone can draw eyes to the story,  in a ‘warp speed’ world, content-consumers spend their clicks conservatively. Will they spend it on your post or somewhere else? Rest assured, they will spend it somewhere.

Applying I.P.R. filters to LinkedIn
Since the aim of this blog is to always look for behaviors that contribute to Intentional, Predictable and Repeatable  (I.P.R.) results, lets summarize as follows:

  • Intentional – Make the first sentence of your update, comment or post intentionally engaging
  • Predictable – Evidence of a compelling description predictably results in more shares, views and likes
  • Repeatable – Intentional modifications to behaviors that produce predictable outcomes are repeatable

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: 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.

Challenging Sale vs. Challenger Sale

After speaking with a number of people across a variety of industries regarding their interest and curiosity in the Challenger Sale, I continue to find one common misperception about the disposition of a Challenger. Too often, their picture of what a Challenger approach looks like in marketing and selling gets depicted like the picture you see below. In other words, they picture a ‘lean forward’ posture, that uses an aggressive and controlling approach. In their minds, this is substantiated by the tagline, “‘The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.”

Challenger Sale Misapplied

With some effort and due diligence, one would quickly agree that this is NOT what CEB was intending nor depicting in the research.

I cringe at the thought of how that kind of posture in messaging, whether in sales or in marketing, would play out with potential customers. In fact,  I recently saw one company’s marketing attempt to ‘challenge’ the prospect’s status quo, which implied that using the competitor’s products may actually “hurt” the end users, not “help” them. Further exploration of this marketing piece revealed that the ‘hurting’ vs. ‘helping’ question asked in the subject line, was not only never answered, but not addressed at all in the body of the email.

Providing unique insights that truly teach prospects into thinking in ways they had never thought before is difficult, and requires much time and attention to do so responsibly. Failing to give the appropriate organizational time, focus and effort to develop a true commercial insight, before launching into what is perceived as a ‘Challenger ‘ message, is not only irresponsible, but likely offensive.

After personally grappling with CEB’s research for a year now, I remain compelled by the evidence of their findings. That said, I also quickly recognize that the ‘how to’ of changing an organization’s and rep’s behaviors is far more difficult than the ‘why to’ that CEB’s book spoke about. It is worth the pursuit, however, and CEB has been instrumental in helping walk through the process of the Challenger implementation.

I am curious, particularly from those familiar with the Challenger Sale behaviors…what picture would you describe of the Challenger to someone inquiring of what a Challenger Sales Rep or Challenger Marketing message looked like? Please leave your comments below.

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.