My version of the modern sales approach isn't very much like that described in The Challenger Sale, with the exception of the use of insights, and even there we use them in different ways. I am writing this because I am often asked about the differences. While I don't have access to Dixon and Adamson’s content beyond the book, I have had enough salespeople share with me what they learned so that I can explain some of where our approaches are at odds.
Let’s start with the topics and techniques that I believe create anti-value. The following is my no list:
- Rapport Building: There are times and places where you may need to develop rapport in a first meeting, but most of the time you can create it through the sales conversation. If your client starts a conversation to develop rapport, or your territory is one where that is customary, you may have to engage in rapport building. The new rapport building is a business conversation.
- Time Check: The only reason someone might ask about this is because they just spent the first nine minutes of the sales call trying to create rapport instead of having the conversation they promised the client. The reason clients end meetings early is because the salesperson is wasting their time. I don't believe the time check is necessary, but Challenger may use it as a tie-down to ensure the client gives them time.
- Why Us: One of the largest differences between the two approaches is that Challenger recommends you answer the question "Why us?" and my approach would have you already demonstrating it in the sales conversation. Nothing you can say is more powerful than experiencing it.
Now that the no list is out of the way, there are other elements of the sales conversation that I feel strongly about. On many of these topics, Challenger and I differ in our approach:
- The Agenda: I believe you can skip rapport building and the time check, and go directly to the agenda and begin the conversation with what I describe as an executive briefing. You want to create value for your client as early as possible, and the more strategic the insights, the better you position yourself as someone who can help the client improve their results.
- Use of Insights: Both of our approaches are based on what Challenger calls teaching and I describe as consultative. That said, my approach is less about challenging and more about creating a paradigm shift by providing your contacts with a higher-resolution lens through which to view their business. Both approaches are designed to address false assumptions and misconceptions. Because my approach is sales-oriented, it may be a bit easier to enable.
- Marketing or Sales Led: My understanding is that Challenger insights are the domain of marketing. My approach is built on two different types of insights: external and internal. The external is used to provide large trends and forces that create the need to change, followed by the internal insights that are only found in the tribal knowledge of the sales force. To my knowledge, Challenger doesn't organize the internal insights that help salespeople win deals.
- Business Acumen: The reason salespeople struggle to be both credible and relevant is because they lack the business acumen they need to be business advisors, something their client needs them to be, even if they don't know it. My approach enables business acumen, and I don't believe Challenger does so at the level necessary to be One-Up, something requires a bit greater depth.
- Strategic Outcomes: My approach relies on Level 4 Value Creation™ to move past the Level 3 outcomes that most other approaches accept. Other approaches are comfortable at Level 3 because they believe they are solving a problem instead of recognizing the true value of solving the problem and what doing so contributes to the client's strategic outcomes. I imagine that Challenger would connect the change to something executives would find compelling.
- Critical Business Issues: I believe both of our approaches start with a theory about the area the client needs to improve to get better results. I am not certain whether Challenger suggests asking about the client's priorities or establishing them. My approach is to establish the priority when possible, using the briefing to start a conversation about change.
- Discovery Questions: Challenger uses traditional open-ended questions for discovery. There is nothing wrong with asking questions about the client’s problems or the areas where they are struggling. It is important to recognize when to be One-Down and open to learning from contacts. My approach also includes questions designed to cause the client to learn something about themselves and the nature of their problem.
- Control of the Process: From what I have been able to glean from talking to salespeople who were trained by Challenger, they suggest asking for the stakeholders who are going to have some role in the decision or the execution. I am unclear whether or not they have a framework for facilitating the buyer's journey. My approach here is to explain the conversations and commitments the prospective will likely need to make the best decision and improve their results.
- Stories: Every salesperson should have stories about their clients and the results they have helped them achieve. I am not sure how Challenger suggests using these stories, but I would be careful using stories in a first meeting, where it might cause you to get too far out in front of your client. This can be a risk, especially if you haven't had a conversation that would ensure the story is going to make sense to the client. Stories in early conversations can sometimes feel like pitching.
- Linear vs. Agile: Challenger may or may not be a linear approach. I am not sure, but I have been told that it has four major parts. I don't have any notes on what makes up those four parts. Because I have always been skeptical about a paint-by-numbers method, my approach is to enable agility, giving the salesperson the freedom to solve the problems of selling effectively by solving challenges in a way that maintains the client's engagement.
One of the most significant differences between my approach and many others is that mine is more complete. Most of the popular approaches don't cover enough of the critical competencies required for a modern approach, including things like business acumen, change management, leadership, addressing client concerns, and building consensus. Alongside this, I also address the character traits that cause someone to buy from the salesperson. This includes discipline, attitude, other-orientation, executive presence, persistence, initiative, listening, resourcefulness, and diplomacy.