Challenger Marketing: TaylorMade

Following is an excellent Challenger marketing example from TaylorMade, that takes the conventional wisdom and turns it on its head. Of course, this is requisite for disrupting the status quo.

I’d be remiss in not calling out Corporate Visions who first brought this example to my attention in their post titled A story “TaylorMade” to win.

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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A Challenger Rep’s Rise to #1

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

Interview with Phil Daily

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Sale Reframe: Two Missing Frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reframe’s Two Missing Frames

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

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

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

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

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

Putting it All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Minute Rule for Customer Insights

3-Second Rule for Customer InsightI am going to take a guess here that if you are reading this post, your reason falls into one of two groups. The first group believes that no meaningful customer insights can come within 3-minutes, and you are reading to confirm your belief. The second group is hoping against all odds that insights truly can be gleaned that quickly.

The 3 Minute Rule for Insights

When speaking with your current customers, ask them this simple question…

“What are you doing three minutes before using our product?”

The answers you receive may be quite different from what you expected. What I have found over the years is that this very question gives specific insights into the circumstances that customers find themselves in when preparing to use a product, service or solution. As I would continue to ask the question of different customers across a variety of industries, similar patterns began to emerge. Let me share a few examples.

Example 1: Computer Accessory Company

In working with one organization that made computer accessories, one of their products was a Presentation Remote. I conducted a number of in field interviews and focus groups, and one of the most common responses to the ‘3-minute’ question was that they were looking for their flash drive with the presentation and loading it onto the laptop, then ejecting the drive to replace with the dongle for the presentation remote.

The result not only led to a better understanding of how customers used their products, but it also resulted in a whole new product that turned the presentation remote dongle into a flash drive as well. The perceived value was huge, and subsequently led to further points of separation in the marketplace.

Example 2: Curriculum Resources

Once again, applying the same process with another organization that creates Sunday School curriculum, I was leading a workshop at a national event and asked the ‘3-minute’ question to a room full of teachers and leaders. A pattern emerged in that one of the most common activities they do right before using Sunday School curriculum is to scramble to the supply closet to gather all the supplies necessary for the lesson.

This is a distraction from what they are supposed to be focused on…and with distractions, comes opportunity. Once again, I was able to gain valuable insight into the circumstances customers find themselves in when using the company’s products. These customer insights are what led to the creation of a Curriculum that includes everything they need “in the box.” The marketing reinforced this message and drove the point home by saying that, “The only thing you need to prepare is your heart.”

Summary

When you understand the nuances of the circumstances in which your customers are dealing day in and day out, you will find that you have increased your credibility when speaking with prospects.

For the aspiring Challenger Sale rep, if you are going to have any chance at getting prospects to think in new ways about their status quo (i.e., Reframe), establishing credibility (i.e., Warmer) is critical. Without credibility, even the most brilliant Reframe will be dismissed as quickly as your introduction was.

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: Three Types of Tension

Tension or Constructive Tension?Whether you realize it or not, every sales call produces tension. But only one type of tension contributes to successful outcomes. Which of the three types most closely represents your approach?

Following is a question I received today on Quora regarding Constructive Tension that I thought others might find of interest…

“I am interested in who has used the business insights approach in The Challenger Sale approach? What has been their experience in how it sits creating constructive tension?”

Following is my response to this question.

‘Constructive tension’ is exactly that…constructive, IF it has been created appropriately and the opportunity to do so has been earned. While there is much more to this question than I can respond to here, the following three keys are critical to creating the ‘constructive’ kind of tension:

  1. Establish credibility – Without this, there is no need to proceed further.
  2. Reframe thinking – Once you have established you are credible with insight about matters affecting their business and/or industry, you help them think differently about a problem that they previously misunderstood or didn’t anticipate.
  3. Appropriately placed tension – When creating constructive tension, it is imperative that the tension is between the prospect and their status quo. When inappropriately done, the tension is between prospect and rep. This is not constructive, but rather destructive tension.

I commonly refer to three types of tension based upon CEB’s model of ‘constructive tension.’

  1. Constructive. Tension created between the prospect and the problem they are currently facing. What makes it constructive tension is when prospects find living with their problem no longer tenable.
  2. Destructive. This kind of tension inappropriately causes tension between wrong parties…the prospect and the rep. This typically presents itself in its destructive form with a rep-centric agenda.
  3. Unproductive. This type of tension occurs when a rep offers nothing of value to benefit the prospect warranting a meeting in the first place. As a result, the tension occurs in the form of the prospect ending the meeting as quickly as professionally possible.

In summary, constructive tension is great. It serves as the catalyst for change and if guided properly and appropriately ending in your solution, it will be tremendously valuable to the prospect.

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 Truth About ‘Insight’

Insight Selling and Challenger SaleWith the rise in popularity of The Challenger Sale, there is one particular attribute of CEB’s research that has captured the attention of reps, consultants and sales training companies alike…and that worries me!

The attribute I am referring to is insight.

To be clear, their research is not the concern, but rather the interpretation by the aforementioned.

Insight is a critical component to successful selling, but there are three particular areas that need to be properly understood in order to have repeatable success in sales.

3 Truths About ‘Insight’

  1. Insight does not make you a Challenger. If it did, organizations could quickly and easily transform sales teams into Challengers by simply creating brilliant insights, and emailing them out to the sales teams. Insight in the hands of a Challenger is golden, but it is not the insight that makes them a Challenger. It’s what they do with the insight and how that truly causes them to outperform their peers.
  2. Insight is not the key to increased sales. A couple of points regarding this assertion:
    1. Not all insight is earth shattering. When determining what your message will address with a prospect, CEB categorizes the messaging addressing one of two types of insights — 1.) Misunderstood Cause, or 2.) Unrecognized Problems. With the misunderstood cause, prospects are familiar with the problem, but are content living with it or see it as the cost of doing business.
    2. Insight is not the same as Commercial Insight. This is one of the most important points. A rep can deliver a powerful insight that either teaches the prospect the misunderstood cause or an unrecognized problem, and still lose the sale. It’s actually quite common, especially in Challenger implementations. The mistake is made when insight does not uniquely lead back TO the supplier exclusively. In other words, you are teaching the prospect of a problem that needs to be resolved, but they perceive that any supplier is capable of doing so.
  3. Insight is not a Reframe. For starters, ‘Reframe’ is a verb, whereas the word ‘Insight’ is a noun, defined as...

in·sight (noun \ˈin-ˌsīt\)
: the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way
: an understanding of the true nature of something

When reps take their insight (noun) and intend it to be a verb, the responsibility of getting a prospect to see things differently rests squarely on the insight. Challengers properly understand the role of insight, but see themselves as responsible for teaching prospects to see things differently, but to do so, they first need to ‘unteach’ what the prospect believes they already know. This is the function of the reframe done through Commercial Teaching, which is not a thought-provoking sentence or question, but rather a process. Being able to reframe is a competency that needs to be developed.

Repeatable Success Tip

It’s no secret that Challengers do things differently, and the results, particularly in a more complex, B2B selling environment, stand in stark contrast to those of different profiles. As is typical of my articles, I care little about the incidental successes sales reps have, but care much more about creating repeatable successes. Following are three areas to focus on in order to do so.

  1. Develop your reframe competency. Learn how to reframe anything. Practice this in your personal and professional interactions in order to make reframes a natural part of how you think and speak, rather than the ‘thing you do’ when selling. Tweet This
  2. Don’t abdicate responsibility for insight development. CEB rightly calls out that the best organizations develop insights organizationally so that reps aren’t out making things up on the fly with prospects. That said, this does not mean wait for marketing to deliver. Reps have unique insights from a different perspective than the rest of the organization. Insight development isn’t the responsibility of a single department. It’s the responsibility of all. Tweet This
  3. Make your insights count. Take the time to test your insights and teaching. In order to make sure that your insight and teaching leads uniquely and exclusively back to you as the supplier, CEB refers to this as the ‘logo test.’ The question is if you were to remove your company logo from your pitch deck, would the prospect point exclusively to your company as the solution? If your teaching and insights could apply to you AND your competition, more refinement is needed. Without this, you are providing free consulting. Tweet This
Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

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

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

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

The Current Use and Understanding

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

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

A New Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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

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

The Challenger Sale & Sainthood

St. Francis of Assisi, Challenger Sale“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These are the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi when addressing the Franciscans in his Rule of 1221 on how they should practice their preaching.

While there is some debate over whether he made the specific comment as quoted above, or simply addressed the principle through his writings, I believe his point is on the mark.

He is not admonishing those that use words, but rather imploring those following his teachings to demonstrate in life and in action what they were otherwise trying to convince people of through words.

His quote strikes me as being more about sequencing…behaviors followed by words…than it does for being one versus another. Both have their place.

If St. Francis were a Sales Manager…

With more and more sales leaders introducing The Challenger Sale to their team, we can all fall into the trap of ‘talking about’ the principles, traits and behaviors of a Challenger, in hopes that the profundity of our words compel new action.

Sometimes that happens, but more often people exposed to a whole new way of thinking, need to see repeated examples of these behaviors in action, especially when it comes to weighty concepts like ‘Reframes‘ and ‘Commercial Insight.’

If you have recently introduced Challenger to your team and are encouraging them to adopt new behaviors, guess who they’re looking to as their model? That’s right. Sobering, isn’t it?!

With that in mind, consider how the aforementioned quote from St. Francis might sound if he was a Challenger advising his aspiring Challenger Friars? Perhaps it might sound something like this…

“Teach the Challenger at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Mirror Test…

Question: If you could wave that magic wand and your team would automatically emulate Challenger as well as you demonstrate it to your team, what kind of Challenger team would you have?

Answer: Exactly the team you have right now. For some, this is great news and for others, it is simply a reminder that we need to be as diligent in the practice and execution of Challenger as we ask our reps to be.

Remember, we are held to higher standards. Therefore, let’s step up and re-commit to live out that which we have been proclaiming as being transformative, as we lead our team to the proverbial Promised Land. The rewards are so worthwhile for all involved.

As with any change effort, whether the implementing the Challenger Sale or instituting new governance practices with IT, the leader sets the stage of how each team member should respond, whether implicitly or explicitly. Let’s lead excellently…in a manner worthy of our calling!

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

Challenger Sale: Moving Beyond Rational Drowning

Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact

Growing up on the coast of Southern California, I was no stranger to the rip currents we would often see. For those unfamiliar, a rip current (a.k.a. ‘Riptide’) is when the wind and waves push water toward the shore, which then causes the water to travel sideways along the shoreline from oncoming waves until it finds an exit back out to the sea. Some rip currents can move as fast as 8 feet/second.

On one particular day at the beach, I remember seeing a grown man get caught in the rip current. Most of us have been caught in a number of them, and the solution was easy if you knew what to do. We knew to relax and ride the current until it equalized with the rest of the shoreline. It just meant a longer swim and a walk from where you were, that’s all. But for this gentleman, he chose a different course of action.

He began by waving off the lifeguard who was warning him of the strong current. With a wave, in pride he yelled back, “I’m fine.” His plan was to swim against it. Bad call!

It didn’t take long for him to be completely exhausted whereby holding his head above water became difficult. He began swallowing and choking on seawater. In a flash, his once prideful face that rejected help, now showed desperation for anybody to save him. The lifeguard made his way to him in no time as the current led him right to the victim.

I will never forget the look in the man’s eyes – The first look was the look of pride in the face of a dangerous situation. The second look was when he realized he was in over his head.

Temptation to ‘Keep it Above the Surface’

Prospects can have similar expressions, when they have that defining moment. For some, it’s an “Ah Ha!” moment, and for others, an “Oh no!” moment where they realize for the first time how severe the implications are of remaining in their circumstances.

In conversations where one seeks to change the behaviors of another, whether as parents or in sales, there is that point where the person first acknowledges the risks or consequences you are speaking about. When speaking with children, their response may sound like, “I know, I know.” For the business person, this sounds much more rational as they confidently proclaim, “Yes, I am aware of the risks and am taking precautions.” This is code for Status Quo.

This happened recently when I was speaking with the President of an organization about consequences he didn’t realize, and he would be facing in the upcoming months. At one point in the conversation, this President jokingly commented that he needed to do something different or the board would come after him.

He began to move on, but I stopped him dead in his tracks and asked, “Before we move on, in all seriousness, what will happen if we don’t solve this?” At first he chided me for taking things so seriously when he was simply making a joke, but I held out for the answer. I told him, “I’m the serious type, so seriously, what will happen?” He looked down at the table soberly, then slowly back up to me and stated, “I’d probably be fired.”

Within 30 days, he was fired. He had acted too late. His eyes told me a lot, much like the man’s eyes in the rip current. In an instant, pride turned to fear and desperation, and then he was gone.

Rational Drowning vs. Emotional Impact

When working through the Challenger Sale choreography, the third and fourth steps, Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact, are tightly intertwined. I describe these two stages as follows:

If a person fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, Rational Drowning looks like treading water. The victim initially says, “I’m alright,” which ‘feels’ true at that particular point in time. Not until they realize they can’t continue this way for long, will they pass from Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact.

This is not a place most prospects will go willingly. They would rather stand outside of the story…their story…like a casual observer, who can see things factually…logically, and yet remain unmoved, while mired in their own status quo.

Our role as professionals, is to care enough about them to be willing to expose them to the truth about their circumstances.

Tips to Lead to the Center of Their Story

In the aforementioned story of this President who was subsequently fired, I recognized that he was intentionally seeking to avoid getting deeper. I have seen his situation hundreds of times before, but simply telling him so would merely serve to keep him on the outside of his own story.

I could have told him, “You need to change or you’ll be fired” and would have been accurate. But his response would more likely be defensive than if he recognized aloud, as he did, when he said, “I’d probably be fired.” Asking intentional, targeted questions allowed him to begin narrating his own story as his pronouncement of the consequences carried more weight than mine would have. I just had to lead him to recognizing this reality.

Following are a few tips to remember when leading a prospect through these critical stages:

  • Prospects aim for the surface. Like a balloon filled with helium, so it is with prospects. There is a tendency to want to rise back to the surface as going deeper into the center of their own story is never comfortable.
  • ‘Comfort’ is not the aim. If you are not prepared [and skilled] to respectfully lead prospects to uncomfortable places…such as the center of their own story, you will continue to struggle with selling.
  • Don’t tell the prospect’s story for them. According to a study done by the University of Texas (Metzger, 1997), a person will remember approximately 20% of what they hear, but remember up to 80% of what they do and say. In aiming for the uncomfortable center of their own story, ask questions that lead them to tell their own story.
  • Ask targeted questions. Nothing is more maddening and exhausting to a prospect than questions that appear exploratory and aimless. Know where you are leading the prospect in your questioning.
  • Lead TO your solution, not WITH. Your questions, when asked appropriately, should ripen the prospect to a New Way. Don’t jump to your solution yet, as they need to be prepped with what will resolve their issue. This ‘new way’ should aim squarely at what your product or solution can uniquely solve. BUT DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT/SOLUTION YET.

One final note about these two very important areas of the Challenger Sale choreography – Because these two areas are so tightly connected, there can be a tendency to confuse one for the other. Over the years, I have seen countless reps struggle to even get into uncomfortable places with a prospect. When they do, the most common tendency is to resurface and provide ‘relief’ to their uncomfortable prospect.

Doing this will likely result in the loss of the sale as the prospect merely learned that you make them uncomfortable, but offer nothing but a product solution. They will avoid you going forward. Therefore, remain disciplined and stick to the choreography.

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

Constructive Tension through Insights

Constructive TensionIf you are anything like me, I learn best from real life examples. This morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a major retailer a number of years ago, that not only got them to think differently, but caused them to adjust their whole strategy. Below is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation.

Background:

A major retailer saw themselves as ‘The Headquarters’ for our type of products and as such, having a broad assortment was a key part of their strategy. Regardless of how they perceived themselves, their sales in the category continued to decline. They had the wrong strategy, and it was costing them sales and market share.

Following is an excerpt of my conversation with them:

Me: As I understand it, your corporate strategy for [X] category is to provide a broad assortment of brands and give a fair representation of each brand’s line. Is this still a key part of your strategy?

Buyer: Absolutely. Customers have depended upon us as their HQ for years.

Me: I would imagine carrying the top 3 brands in this category is important too…

Buyer: Definitely, it’s critical.

Me: Do you know who is #1 in market share for this category?

Buyer: If you are asking, I am sure it is you.

Me: You caught me, how about #2?

Buyer: (The buyer and Division leader make 3 incorrect guesses, naming our competitors)

Me: I’m afraid not. The three you just named only make up 8% of the market combined. #2 on the list is X [private] and they only sell through their own stores, so as you know, you aren’t able to carry their products. Any guesses on who #3 is in market share?

Buyer: Not if it is someone different from who we already mentioned.

Me: It is. The 3rd largest segment in the market is WYO (an industry-specific term), which rules you out altogether of carrying two of the top three that you said was critical to your strategy.

Buyer: Hmmm.

Me: Do you know what your $/Kit sold is for the other product lines?

Buyer: Do you mean how much in kits we sold?

Me: No. I mean how much ancillary product you sell for every kit sold.

Buyer: No, we don’t track that.

Me: Hmmm. That’s important to know. The reason is that with each of the other lines you carry, the purchase of the kit is all you will make of that sale since they don’t offer ancillaries. Were you aware that for every one of our kits sold, the typical sales on ancillaries are 9 times greater than the kit alone? In fact, that’s what is lost every time you sell another brand. Let’s multiply that by # of kits sold per store times number of stores.

[Figure calculated and presented]

Buyer: Wow! I had no idea. We hadn’t looked at it that way before.

Me: Can you name another category in your stores that achieves this same level of revenue and profitability during this same season?

Buyer: Nothing comes close. The other categories are down when you guys hit your peak.

[Light-bulb moment for the customer with new insights and discovery]

Me: Exactly right.

[The President enters the conversation]

President: What should we do?

Me: You currently have a strategy focused on promoting breadth and fairness to ALL brands. Research shows that 54% of consumers have predetermined the brand they will use before purchasing…

President: Is that your brand?

Me: …It is, and another 34% will compare with only 1 to 2 other brands. You carry 16. In just 2 months time, your strategy of ‘brand breadth and fairness’ cost your stores $xM in sales & $xM in profit. Even worse is that you have lost 7 points of market share. So, in answer to your question, I recommend a strategy change if you want to remain in this category, or otherwise allow us to help you successfully exit the business altogether.

[President pauses and is now at the crossroads with the Status Quo]

The President, after dismissing the buyer and division leader, asked how quickly we could reset the category and serve as category captains.

Doing so would require concessions, if they were serious. He assured me he was. We ended up getting key placement and dedicated signage in the stores, along with many other things that they offered to help them earn back market share and profitability. That following year, they had grown their business with us nearly 30%.

On a related note, we took this same approach with two other major players in the market who achieved even better results that year – One achieving 71% category growth, and the other in triple digits. They remain the market leaders today in their categories.

Summary

The questions I asked revealed that they did not know the answers to key questions. They were looking at things the wrong way. The questions helped to prepare them for a series of commercial insights that created a rich environment to hear a hard truth…that their key strategy was amiss, costing them market share, sales and profitability.

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