I attended Matt Dixon’s presentation on The Challenger Sales Model last month, which was particularly relevant for today’s selling environment. The last few years have been especially tumultuous and challenging for many industries, and connecting with your customer in a meaningful way has never been more important.
While relationship-building will always be an essential component to closing sales, today’s customer expects and requires more from their vendors. We’re living in the “Insight Economy.” In a world where customers can learn so much on their own, they want their vendors and sales consultants to tell them what they can’t learn independently. Insight is the new currency.
Let’s take a quick look at the current buying environment:
There are three pieces of good news surrounding today’s buying environment:
- Customers time horizons are extended. They are open to purchasing longer-term solutions.
- Contact turnover has stabilized. Many companies went through multiple waves of attrition, so many sales executives experienced “relationship fall-out.” The energy and time they invested in building relationships with key decision makers went nowhere if their contacts left the company.
- Customers are open to new ideas. Customers are now open to new ways of operating more efficiently, and realize they must invest to remain competitive. They are focused again on growth, rather than survival.
The Bad & The Ugly
Financially though, it’s a rocky environment.
- Customer spending is still down. While customers are open to new ideas, their budgets are still way down.
- Price pressure are still significant. Low-price is still the driving force in many industries.
In addition, more buying decisions now require consensus among multiple decision makers. This increases both the length and the risk of the buying cycle. A sales executive could invest a lot of energy into positioning well for sale, only to be derailed by a single outside voice.
Moreover, customers are pushing more risk onto suppliers, with increased demand for customization. They are also using third-party consultants to drive down pricing.
Breaking Through the Barriers
So how can anyone selling anything break through the Bad and the Ugly, and connect with their customer in a way that seals the deal?
According to Dixon, the last thing customers want is for a sales rep to ask, “What’s keeping you up at night?” Instead, they want their sales rep to tell them what should be keeping them up at night. They want their sales rep to constantly be educating them in ways that they can’t educate themselves. They want value at every touch-point, and they want “insight-based” meetings.
Relationship-Builders Versus Challengers
This is where the difference between relationship-driven selling and challenger selling shows up. Challenger sales reps connect with their customers as well as relationship-builders do, but they take the connection to a deeper level. Challengers:
- Challenge customer ideas and customer assumptions
- Teach their customers
- Tailor solutions
- Engage their customers intellectually
- Assert control of the relationship
Challengers focus on teaching insight and also un-teaching the way their customers look at the business problem.
Challengers push their customers outside the comfort zone, while relationship-builders try to get into the customers comfort zone.
Relationship-building is not enough. Challengers build better relationships because they are built on value.
ROI versus ROPE
Finally, the Challenger knows how to present a solution that not only demonstrates a Return on Investment (ROI), but also demonstrates a Return on Pain Eliminated (ROPE). Positive return is important, but eliminating pain and waste in the organization can often be a more urgent problem to solve, and deliver bottom-line profit & margin performance more directly & quickly.
Here is a short blog I found that summarizes the ROPE concept, plus two other valuable Dixon concepts, including the comparative value of EQ versus IQ.
Three Strategies for Becoming a Challenger
So how can you become a Challenger? There are three strategies:
- Teach for Differentiation. Consider yourselves an educator. You have a world of knowledge at your fingertips. White papers, articles, TED Talks, suggested books, interviews with experts, webinars, and podcasts are just some of the ways you can add value at every touch-point with your customers. With my coaching clients, I am constantly connecting them with experts, sharing my knowledge, sending them valuable information, and keeping them top of mind regarding learning.
- Tailor for Resonance. Make sure everything you send them personally resonates.
- Take Control. Someone needs to be in the driver’s seat, and it should be you. This is one of the most important aspects of my coaching engagements: shifting my clients from a reactive state to a proactive state to drive the customer relationship. We do this with the use of tools, role-playing, and very intentional planning for every interaction they have with their customers.
Let me know how you do with these strategies. Relationships are great; value-based relationships are better.