5 Misconceptions of the Challenger Sale

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

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

Five Common Misconceptions of Challenger Sale:

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

  1. Challengers don’t build relationships. The premise of this belief is that CEB’s research showed this to be the least effective selling profile, therefore Challengers don’t do it. To dispel this belief, I will simply quote Neil Rackham’s comment from the Foreword of the book, as he has got it right—”Personally, I believe that a customer relationship is the result and not the cause of successful selling. It is a reward that the salesperson earns by creating customer value.”
  2. Challenger is too aggressive/too pushy. This one is really common, and when discussing in-depth with anyone holding this belief, inevitably I find that they merely skimmed through the book, or heard someone else’s opinion which became their own. CEB admittedly calls out that they have “heard every manner of pushback here you can imagine.” The belief is that the Challenger engages in confrontations while proverbially getting in their face. The truth is that Challengers are quite elegantly challenging their beliefs of remaining in their current circumstances, but aren’t challenging people. They aim at the behavior, not the person.
  3. Challenger is just another sales system. The belief is that this is a different selling system, leading people to believe that whatever their current system is, they must abandon if they want to become a Challenger organization. The truth is best explained by sharing Brent Adamson’s comments on the topic. “The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a ‘selling system,’  as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.” He goes on to talk about how it is much more of a commercial strategy. Bottom line is that CEB’s research did not reveal Challengers all using the same sales training and system. They concentrated on the behaviors, not the system.
  4. Challenger claims to be new, and it’s not. I am still perplexed by this one as I hear it so often in Sales circles and on LinkedIn forums. I must have missed the sentence in the book that said these were all new behaviors. The reality is that the behaviors existed, but had not been organized and reported in the manner that CEB had done through its research. What was new with the unveiling of their research, was their findings and nomenclature (e.g., “The Challenger).
  5. Challenger is for Sales. Finally, this last one is misunderstood by both, dissenters and supporters of the Challenger Sale. It’s understandable given the title of the book and Rackham’s endorsement on the cover. Any conversation with authors, Matt and Brent, will quickly dispel the belief that this is meant for Sales alone. For those that read the book, and closely follow CEB’s conversations on the topic, you will already know this as they talk at length about building organizational competencies and alignment to these behaviors with messaging, marketing, etc.
Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.
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Challenger Tip: Where are you leading?

Challenger Sale Principle: “Lead TO, not WITH your solution”

Pushing ProductI have the honor of talking with sales reps from all over the world who have taken a keen interest in becoming Challengers. A common issue that reps often bring up is their inclination to bring product or solution into the discussion too early.

The typical problem is that reps ask questions about prospect’s business, circumstance, pain, etc. Their asking questions isn’t necessarily the problem. Their problems ensue when they ask aimless questions hoping to pick up on keywords that their product or solutions solve, then they jump right into solution.

Two prominent problems ensue:

  1. Solution Fatigue – Prospects wear out from seemingly endless and aimless questioning
  2. Unripened Prospects – Without getting to the root, the prospect isn’t ripened to hear about change

A New Way

In order to avoid the two aforementioned problems, establish in advance where you aim to lead the call or meeting. Your questions should intentionally aim toward uncovering the problems your solution uniquely solves. As you begin to uncover the pain points, don’t transition to solution yet as you are likely at surface pain…where the problems are still merely intellectual for prospects, not emotive.

Following are three questions CEB uses for message development that will help you determine questions to ask that lead TO your solution, not WITH your solution:

  1. What are the typical prospect’s problems and how are they currently solving?
  2. What do you know about their problems that they don’t?
  3. Considering what you know, what should they be doing differently?

Understanding the answers to these questions is critical in determining where you are leading your next prospecting call.

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

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

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

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

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

The Current Use and Understanding

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

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

A New Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

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

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

In Summary

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

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief that what they are currently doing right now, the Status Quo, is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

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

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

1 Word that Undermines Your Value

Value and Credibility in SalesIs making phone calls a part of your profession? Do you find that getting returned phone calls is increasingly more difficult? If you answered “Yes” to either one of these questions, you may be undermining your value and credibility with a single word.

Take a minute before reading further to review what your typical message sounds like to a prospect when you leave them a voicemail. In fact, narrow it down to your opening line following your name (e.g., “Hi, this is Derek from ACME Corp, and I’m…”). What is the very next word you say?

No ‘Just’ Cause

While my primary aim of this article is for those in sales, this principle applies to anyone who uses a telephone, or even email with new ‘prospects’ for commerce. Whether working with B2C, B2B, or other, one word threatens to devalue your proposition, no matter how well crafted, before you even get to it.

Back to the example above…What is the very next word you typically say upon calling a prospect? For many, it is “just.” Do any of these ‘openers’ sound familiar?

  • “I’m just following up on…”
  • “I’m just calling to…”
  • “I’m just letting you know that…”

When calling a prospect, the minute they hear the voice of someone they don’t know, there is a tendency for defenses to go up as your calls and emails rarely happen at the perfect time for the prospect. They are typically interruptions. Therefore, from the prospect’s perspective, they are immediately scrutinizing your message from the second they see an unfamiliar name, and their filter becomes, ‘What evidence do they offer that this is worth the interruption?’

Hundreds of thousands of sales reps lose this battle daily. It’s no wonder why, with such a high bar and unfair scrutiny, sales reps better nail it right out of the gate.

A Better Way

When you come to terms with why you use the word as an adverb, you will likely find it is used as a word to soften or lessen the interruption. Ironically the very word you use to lessen the impact of an interruption heightens it instead.

Therefore, a different approach is needed altogether. The following steps will improve your value, and subsequently your credibility when calling prospects, thereby rendering the word ‘just’ as unnecessary.

  1. Know your value. If you see yourself as an interruption, you will be. If, on the other hand, you understand how critical your role is in helping businesses like those you are calling on to dramatically improve results, then you will find you carry yourself as such. Never arrogantly, but certainly confidently.
  2. Know your prospects. Considering prospect’s defenses are already high, you better demonstrate quickly that you know and understand them. They definitely don’t have time to educate you first before you can help them.
  3. Know their story. This is critical and often misconstrued. I hear reps say all the time, “How can I know their story if I’ve never talked to them?” This is only valid if they have never sold before and have done no research before making their first call. For all others, this is off the table. Your organization is in the business of selling products, solutions, services, etc. to others that have a demonstrated need. When you understand this, and the industries your prospect operates within, you have insight into what those in the same industry are experiencing. Doing so allows further conversation on the cost of inaction, and the importance of resolving…ultimately and uniquely with your solution.

I have covered in more detail, points two and three above in my post on Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open. One last point to summarize all of this…I am contacted daily by sales reps trying to sell me on their products and solutions. I am amazed by how many walk through the call trying to just get through each step of their process.

Don’t call out of compliance, call out of conviction!

I don’t want to be a check box call on a list of prospects that need to be called. Your prospects don’t want that, nor do you. Let’s make sure we are bringing excellence to an honorable profession that truly makes the difference in other’s lives and businesses.

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.

Case Study: Is the Problem Marketing or the Marketer?

Lead Generation and Lead QualificationThe Phone Call…

“Am I going crazy?” Having just answered the phone, I had no idea who was calling and asking such a question of me. I responded with a courteous, but cautious chuckle saying, “Well…I think I’ll need a little more to go on. With whom am I speaking?”

She paused, told me who it was, laughed rather distractedly, then proceeded to dive right into describing her dilemma from today’s meeting with the Marketing Director from her “problem division.” She is the Sales Director of a firm in which I knew a bit about, particularly with the company’s background and this particular division’s struggle.

In summary, sales were strong across all of her other divisions and lines, each of which had their own marketing leader, while she led the Sales across all divisions. Things were great, that is for all but this one division. Sales continued to decline year over year and had high lead dependency from Marketing, thus her concerns.

The Rest of Her Story…

The sales model is B2B with an outbound sales team that sells consumer products ranging from $200 – $1,000. As described earlier, they are highly dependent upon Marketing to deliver leads.

The Division Head and Marketing Director were both new to this division in 2011 and had stepped in with a new, radical, $1M cost-reduction strategy for marketing. The new marketing mantra became for the next two years, “Less Quantity, More Quality!”

This strategy resulted in lead reduction of 60% in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2012, the leads dropped another 40% from 2011. Not surprisingly, sales had correspondingly declined steeply, more so than any other recent period. While sales did have a dramatic decline, it was nowhere near the rate of decline for the lead volume.

The Sales leader saw neither quantity nor quality from marketing, and as she describes it, the numbers supported her version of the story. Despite the numbers, the Marketing Leader and Division Head remained committed to defending their original strategy a year and a half into it with major revenue losses, and subsequently showed no openness to a different, or better strategy.

Towards the end of 2012, she managed to get a commitment from Marketing for substantially more qualified leads in 2013, although to the Marketer, ‘qualified’ apparently meant email, number and “Request for literature.”

Additionally, the Marketer’s commitment was simply to an aggregate number of leads on a monthly basis, but not by geography, firmographic, demographic, product type or other. His tactic? Email marketing….it’s part of the ‘cost-reduction’ plan.

Today, prior to the call and after her meeting with the marketing team, she made her plea for more qualified leads as the current lead quantity left her outbound team with capacity in excess of 60% going into their largest quarter of the year.

After her meeting, she shared that in addition to the quantity of leads being a third of what they needed, 80% of them were for two of  their 10 product lines. This meant that they had on average  a half-lead per rep to call on each day for the remaining products….not enough to meet the sales plan.

“A Lead is a Lead is a Lead!”

Through frustration, the Marketer responded to her plea for more balanced and qualified leads with saying, “A lead is a lead is a lead. We know that regardless of what product type we market, more than half of the prospects will want something different anyway. We could collect leads on just one of our products and it wouldn’t matter. All that matters is that you have leads of any type, then your team can determine what they really need.”

Again, the sales exec says to me…this time through tears…“Am I going crazy? Do I have my expectations set too high? Is it unreasonable to ask marketing to know the customer well enough to hit who they’re aiming at? Maybe I am the problem. I don’t feel like I am but it just seems like we need to change our approach to marketing.”

I responded, “Being crazy and unreasonable is not your problem, although your 2-year tolerance may be a part of the problem. It sounds to me like there is a much larger issue at play here…”

Change the Marketing, or the Marketer?

I speak with people in Sales and Marketing roles from all over the country. From executives to analysts to reps. Lead generation and qualification is by far, one of the most common frustrations I hear.

No matter who I am working with or from what field, I am pretty quick to keep the responsibility and accountability with each respective group I am working with. Most companies needing my help typically don’t have their respective ‘houses in order.’ Therefore, I keep Sales concentrated on their own responsibilities and Marketing, theirs so I don’t create an all out Game of Thrones. I work with the executive leadership on cross-departmental improvements before circling back to the departments.

For these reasons, offering up an anecdotal recommendation to this Sales executive to “change the Marketer” after merely an hour-long conversation would be ill-advised, no matter how apropos that may seem. There is always more to the story, especially when it comes to Sales and Marketing alignment.

What Advise Would You Give?

Given the very limited facts we all have here, what advice would you give and to whom would you target your comments? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Division Head? Who would you love to spend 15 minutes with and what would you tell them?

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

Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open

Prospecting Sales CallEver get bad advice? I read a post this morning that struck me as such as it advised 3 Questions Sales People Should Ask Every Prospect. The three questions [taken from a longer ‘disqualification checklist’ of questions] recommended asking the following questions of every prospect:

1. What is your biggest [YOUR INDUSTRY] related challenge?
2. Why is what you’re doing now not working?
3. How do you go about making a decision like this?

In my post a couple of months ago, Are Your Questions Killing the Sale, I addressed the problem of exploratory questions like the first question suggested above.

In this post, I would like not only to implore sales reps to avoid squandering opportunities with prospects through exploratory questioning, but also provide compelling stats on the need to get the message right — from the opening question, through the closing of the sale.

Do you have the right starting point?

CEB had done a survey among 5,000 executives and decision makers that deal with sales reps, in which 86% of them indicated that the sales rep’s message had no commercial impact whatsoever to them.

86% of executives/decision makers believe sales rep’s messages have no commercial impact!

According to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, he describes the buyers as coming away from conversations with reps believing that what they are currently doing right now…the Status Quo…is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

Sirius Decisions had similarly shocking results from their PMM Survey suggesting that the biggest inhibitor to achieving quota was the rep’s inability to communicate messages of value. Not surprisingly, what we communicate and how, is of great import to our results.

Yet, so many take the approach of winging it with prospects, and exploring their way through the sale.

3 Steps to Approaching Prospects Differently:

  1. Know your prospects and know your story. Don’t call indiscriminately looking for any customer that may or may not fit your solution. Be specific and call those whose story you know and that you can help based on prior experience. Have a solid understanding of the issues those similar to them are facing in their industry
  2. Establish credibility quickly. If you have the right story and the right prospect, you will be able to demonstrate understanding of the typical issues those in their industry face. After stating your purpose for the call, open with a statement that summarizes the business issues affecting their industry.
  3. Validate with the prospect. Successful selling is not a monologue, but rather a well-choreographed conversation. Therefore, rather than assuming everybody has the same problem and moving on without them, follow your statement with a question to validate if they are experiencing any of the same issues you just described.

Putting the three steps together, the opening of your call with a prospect sounds something like the following:

“We work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country and have found that each commonly face one of three business issues, given the [current condition]. Their most common issues tend to be [X], [Y], or [Z]. Is your business currently facing any of these same problems?”

If you have a solid understanding of the typical issues similar businesses are experiencing, not only will you get quick confirmation, but often times they say they are struggling with most or all three areas. This allows you to start walking down the path to lead them to the center of their own story.

Even if they mention a different problem, you are still on a better path to zero in on their issues and create complete unrest with their status quo.

If they are not struggling with any of the issues you described in your opening, then you either have the wrong story, the wrong prospect, or both. Go back to step 1 and dedicate the time up front to get this right as you likely circumvented the full process and have just cost yourself a prospect and your credibility.

On the other hand, if you dedicate appropriate time to these first 3 steps of opening with credibility and delivering a message of value, you will see immediate improvement in your close ratios.

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

Challenger Tip: Practice what you preach when coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Sale: Is it okay to let prospects struggle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Sales: Beware of False Positives

What are False Positives?
As a term often used in the medical community, a False Positive is defined in the Medical Dictionary as, ‘A result that indicates that a given condition is present when it is not. An example of a false positive would be if a particular test designed to detect cancer returns a positive result but the person does not have cancer.’
False Indicator

In sales, when prospects self-diagnose and present a symptom as the issue, this is a false positive. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier they surface in the discussion, especially when unsolicited, the greater the likelihood you are dealing with the symptoms, not the root cause.

Beware of the Trap
As research from CEB and others have shown, customers are deep into the purchasing process before they choose to engage a sales person. For all intents and purposes, consider this as the customer’s process of self-diagnosis.

The problem comes when rep’s respond to issues raised as if it is the root cause, without recognizing it is a false positive. Doing so will derail your conversation rather quickly, and will likely result in introducing products or solutions prematurely, as if that is the cure. It is not, however. It is a trap, that both parties enter into unwittingly all too often.

Here is an example of how it might look:

Customer:  “We are struggling with [insert problem], and are looking for a product to solve that.”

Rep:  “Our products have been designed to solve exactly that and are rated #1 in customer satisfaction!”

Implications of Pursuing False Positives
The example above shows just how quickly conversations can go to product or solution. The prospect demonstrates what appears to be ‘pain’ and points specifically to something the rep’s product can solve. Why not proceed?

Two reasons:

  1. The rep would likely be solving the wrong problem
  2. The rest of the conversation will center around the product’s features and benefits, leading to price

In the example above, the prospect is framing the discussion to be about product. It is all too easy to answer the prospect’s questions, which will continue to keep the focus on product features, benefits and price.

Some reps will be excited by the interest shown and are just positive the prospect will choose them over their competitors. Chances are, the prospect will see all the differences pointed out as similar [enough] to the competitor’s products, therefore it is simply a matter of best price.

This, from my perspective, is a disastrous conversation which could have been prevented by identifying the false positive, and reframing the prospect’s original premise into a new way of thinking about the issues they are really struggling with.

How to Identify False Positives
It is said that when the FBI trains agents to identify counterfeit money, they begin with and focus primarily on what genuine bills look like. As a result, agents are quickly able to identify counterfeit money because they know the identifying characteristics of authentic bills. To train otherwise would require knowing the characteristics of every counterfeiter. Impossible!

Now consider the sales professional. Customers present endless combinations of  characteristics of their issues, many of which are ‘counterfeit,’ or not the real issue. Sales professionals have been trained for years to dig for customer’s pain points, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, there are two resulting problems:

  1. Anything resembling “pain” will lead reps to believe they have successfully uncovered the problem
  2. Exploratory digging for pain, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, is cruel to prospects

Responding to false positives  as true positives, shows itself in close rates. So how can you tell if what they are surfacing is the real deal – a True Positive? The answer is simple, but not easy.

In the example of detecting counterfeits, there is a standard (i.e., the genuine bill), by which counterfeit bills are held up to. Anything that doesn’t match the genuine bill stands in stark contrast.

When it comes to customers using your unique product offering or solution, what does genuine or authentic look like? Be careful not to focus on product or solution, but rather the customer relative to your product or solution.

Customers that use your product/solution should function differently…uniquely…optimally from those that don’t. Understanding in what ways, and what are the characteristics of ‘genuine’ or ‘authenticity’ in your organization will be critical.

This is the part that isn’t easy. It requires investment of time by you and your organization, cross-departmentally, to determine these answers.

The investment of time in this area is well worth the effort as it will change the trajectory of your next conversation.

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.