on November 30, 2011
This book comes very highly touted, especially by Neil Rackham himself, who calls it "the most important advance in selling for many years."I personally don't think it reaches quite that level, but overall it is an excellent book, with provocative insights and useful information for salespeople looking for ways to break out of the pack.
The key to a really good book is that it makes you say, "I never thought of that before," and to use that insight to improve your life in some way. Interestingly, that's also the key to a really good salesperson, as well.
The book is based on extensive research by the Sales Executive Council into the attributes of successful sales professionals. They found that salespeople tend to cluster into five different types, based on their behaviors: Hard Workers, Challengers, Relationship Builders, Lone Wolves, and Reactive Problem Solvers. Research is great when it generates new and unexpected insights, and three are central to the book.
Key insight #1: Salespeople matter--a lot!
One of the surprising insights generated by their research was that the Sales Experience accounted for 53% of the contribution to customer loyalty, more than company and brand impact, product and service delivery, and value-to-price ratio combined! In other words, the latter three are just tickets to be able to play; how you sell is more important than what you sell. In complex solution sales, star performers outperform core performers by 200%, as opposed to 59% in transactional selling, so it's a critical insight.
If how you sell is so important, the next critical insight is about what the most effective reps out of the 6,000 that they surveyed do differently.
Key insight #2: They don't care how much you care until they know how much you know
Of the five types, relationship builders are the least effective performers. The old saying, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," is better said, "they don't care how much you care until they know how much you know." Relationships are important, but they are the result of successful selling and not the cause (as Rackham says in the Foreword).
In other words, what customers value most today is a rep who teaches them something, who challenges their insights and their view of the world. These reps are the Challengers and they comprise the largest component of top performers. Unlike relationship builders who focus on resolving tension and keeping everyone happy, challengers like to produce constructive tension, because major sales are about creating change and change generally requires discomfort.
The key is not in discovering the customer's needs and being able to express them, it's in being able to create the need that they didn't even have by getting them to look at their world in a way they had not before. As they say, if your customer's reaction to your pitch is, "That's exactly what's keeping me up at night. You really understand our needs", you've actually failed. What you want them to say is, "Huh, I never thought of it that way before."
Of course, if you do this and then they go ahead and solve their problem with a cheaper competitor, all you've done is sold for someone else. So, the other critical piece is to answer the most important question: "Why should our customers buy from us over all competitors?" This question is surprisingly difficult for reps to answer, as I personally have observed in my own training classes. But, with enough thinking and refining, you can answer the question. The thought process then becomes:
* What are our strengths?
* How do those strengths give the customer the capability to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity they don't know they have?
* What do we need to teach the customer so they will value that capability?
As the book says, "The sweet spot of customer loyalty is outperforming your competitors on those things you've taught your customers are important."
In order to achieve this sweet spot, Challengers do three things very well: teach, tailor, and take control. The middle section of the book explains how to build the teaching conversation, tailor your strengths to individual stakeholders, and take control of the sale. The teaching phase is the most expensive part of the book and appropriately enough, by far the most insightful and most innovative. Just this part of the book would make it worthwhile.
Key insight #3: Focus on the core 60%
The final two chapters focus on how to implement the approach in the sales organization. Here their most important insight is that the focus should be on equipping the 60% of the sales force who are core performers to be able to follow the Challenger Selling model. The top 20% won't need it, and the bottom 20% won't get it.
The only quibble I have with The Challenger Sale is that many ideas which are relatively well-known already are treated as if they are startling new discoveries. I read some of the passages with the same irritation that Native Americans must feel when told Columbus "discovered" America. For example, they introduce the idea of tailoring your insight to the specific individual needs of the different stakeholders, which all good sales methodologies have incorporated for years. (In fairness, though, so many of these ideas that are common knowledge are still not common practice.)
I would strongly recommend this book to sales executives, sales managers, and most of all, to sales professionals; I challenge you to read it and apply it.
on December 30, 2013
The good news about The Challenger Sale is that Dixon and Adamson further the concept of consultative selling. Even better, in my estimation, is that the authors seemed to use some solid data on which to base their theories. I like some of their approach such as, “Lead to your solution not with your solution,” and “Differentiate yourself by showing your customer something new about their industry that they didn't know or provide them with a different view.” I believe the authors also get it right when they state, “In this world of dramatically changing customer buying behavior and rapidly diverging sales talent, your sales approach must evolve or you will be left behind.”
However, they missed an opportunity to move complex sales to the next level. By complex sales, I mean to segregate commodity sales from the intangible products and services that require trust. And by the next level, I mean a salesperson who authentically has the customer’s best interest at heart and not just their own.
The subtitle of this book is “Taking control of the customer conversation.” As though to inoculate themselves from criticism, the authors state that they know some people will interpret this statement as being “arrogant” while stating that it isn't. They also speak about “educating the customer” and recognize that the same interpretation may be made about that point as well. Indeed, this reader believes that the mindset of a salesperson who takes it upon themselves to control the conversation and educate the customer/client is absolutely being arrogant. The authors seem to give short shrift to the human capacity to sense when they are being talked down to or manipulated. While you may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, most customers will sense when they are being manipulated.
Many consumers today are, for the most part, immune or at least becoming immune to advertising and sales tactics that are focused on achieving the salesperson’s goals. They are skeptical. They listen to their friends and associates and depend on organic search results (not paid results) when researching a purchase. Product, solution and consultative selling (which includes Challenger Sales) are all still focused on gaining the salesperson’s goal of selling a product. Yet, between all the self-serving tactics and training, this book does provide some nuggets of insight for the alert reader.
The authors have defined two categories of sales people, core performers and high performers as well as five major “salesperson profiles”: The Hard Worker, The Challenger, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf and The Reactive Problem Solver. In their research, the authors found that The Challenger was the person who continued to make sales quotas even through tough times like the 2008 recession. “The Challengers are the debaters on the team” and have a deep understanding of the customer’s industry. [Debate: to engage in argument by discussing opposing views.] They took control of the conversation, challenged the customer’s thinking and differentiated themselves by educated the customer on things about their industry/customers that were new to the customer. The Hard Workers are just that, they show up early, stay late and are persistent. The Relationship Builder is an unfortunate profile title. A better profile title would be “The Appeaser.” In this profile, the salesperson believes the relationship is the most important aspect of their job and will do nothing to jeopardize that customer relationship. They appease the customer at any cost – including the cost of losing a sale. The Lone Wolf is the prima donna of the salesforce. They do things their way, AND, they are high performers despite being difficult if not impossible to manage. The Reactive Problem Solver is focused like a laser on solving the customer’s problem. They will sacrifice spending time generating new sales as soon as an existing customer calls with an issue or new problem.
According to the data presented by the authors, The Challengers are by far the best salespeople in terms of results with 39% of that profile in the “High Performer” category. The Lone Wolf (25%), Hard Worker (17%), Problem Solver (12%) and Relationship Builders (7%) profiles follow in order.
A clearer and, in my opinion, better model for the “new” consumer driven market is that outlined by Patrick Lencione in his book Getting Naked and Charles Green in his book, Trust Based Selling. In both of those books, the authors make it clear that the proper mindset for sales is to authentically have the customer’s best interest at heart, not just the salesperson’s best interest. Any model that incites a mindset or intention that is designed to sell rather than to let the consumer buy will eventually be a roadblock to success.
In my opinion, a closer reading of the data and parsing of the survey results will show that the so called Challenger Salesperson is someone who first builds a trusting relationship by demonstrating that they have the customer’s best interest at heart, not just their own, and then help their customer better serve the end customers. They earn the right to share insights rather than simply build credibility from a position authority. They share rather than sell, tell or educate. They listen more rather than debate. They recognize that by representing a specific company with a specific set of products and services that they are already suspected of having a self-serving and highly biased point of view. Anything they say is suspect the same way that paid results in a Google search are suspect. They work hard to gain trust to offset the natural skepticism.
If we take the author’s research and survey results to the logical conclusion and combine that with how consumers are skeptical of large companies and “vested interests,” we would wind up with the best salespeople being independent consultants and manufacturer’s representatives rather than our own direct sales employees. Our products or services would be employed only by the customers who would truly be best served by using them as determined by someone who had nothing to gain by selling one manufacturer or consulting service over another. That is, presumably, how large complex ERP systems are sold – independent consultants and the customer review the large complex software offerings, determine the most suitable fit and the selection is made by the customer with only “arm’s length” influence by the software vendor. We would be forced to recognize that the “new customer” (i.e. the consulting firm) is as knowledgeable as or perhaps even more knowledgeable than we are. We would definitely change our approach to be more based on trust and competency.
Words are important and will establish a mindset in those who are listening. The authors have chosen words that will create aggression rather than assertiveness, being didactic rather than sharing information and focusing on the salesperson rather than on the customer. It is unfortunate since the authors are exactly correct that “In this world of dramatically changing customer buying behavior and rapidly diverging sales talent, your sales approach must evolve or you will be left behind.” Sadly, their prescription will result in more of the same salesperson focused tactics. Ironically, if you want to sell more you have to stop selling. Instead, build trust, demonstrate competence, be dependable and always authentically have your customers best interest at heart, not just your own.
on February 25, 2012
I'd say read it - and don't expect too much in the way of earth-shattering revelations or some actionable sales methodology. The authors spend a lot of time up front in the book validating the credibility of their research. Throughout the book, they refer to their case study clients as "members" - as if they are the Sam's Club of business insight. (The Corporate Executive Board is a "for-profit" BUSINESS TRAINING company, not a non-profit member association)
I always held the belief that relationship-only salespeople were creepy, unproductive and non-scalable generalists - and now, thanks to this book, I have the data to prove it. Their branded "Commercial Teaching" is when marketing is forced into actually helping salespeople create compelling and provocative messages vs. non-value added brochures and seminars. After reading the book, I was left wanting something that brought it all together as a repeatable sales methodology or process. Unfortunately, that wish was never satisfied.
The book was very good at debunking bad techniques like "answering a question with a question", asking rhetorical and irritating questions like "what keeps you up at night?" and does an all out assault on "inquiry only" sales calls & methodologies. The section on coaching was very good and applicable to most sales improvement programs - and didn't seem overly unique to coaching to whatever the "The Challenger Sale" actually is.
Here is the highlight reel: 1) Relationship-only reps are the typically worst performers 2) Have marketing & sales co-create a good, orchestrated script that anticipates customer problems, creates disruptive tension and ends with innovative ways of addressing client issues 3) Hand the script to a rep and tell them to learn it and tailor it 4) Provide coaching to make it stick 5) Rinse & repeat with every client interaction.
on November 17, 2011
Everyone knows that the most successful type of sales rep is a relationship builder who gets along with everyone and is generous in giving time to help others. Unfortunately, everyone is wrong, according to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in this book. When the Sales Executive Council conducted research to find the characteristics which distinguished the most successful sales people from the rest, the results were surprising.
When the research data was analysed, the researchers found that sales reps could be classified into five different types according to their dominant characteristics: the hard worker, the challenger, the relationship builder, the lone wolf and the reactive problem solver. When selling simple items or services, there were high performing sales reps in all five categories, but when selling complex solutions the highest-performing reps were challengers and the lowest-performing were relationship builders.
The book goes on to explain in depth the three key activities of a challenger - teaching, tailoring and taking control - and it explains that challengers are made, not born, so that any sales force can be trained according to the Challenger Selling Model. There are chapters on the three key activities, as well as a chapter on how a sales manager can coach for optimum success and another on building challenger organisations.
The hardest part of becoming a challenger seems to be coming up with an insight which is valuable to customers and differentiates your organisation from your competitors. Once you have such an insight, it seems logical that a potential customer's degree of enthusiasm will be proportional to the perceived value of the insight.
I am not fully convinced that research results are strong enough to show that every organisation should adopt the Challenger Sales Model espoused by the authors. For low-complexity selling, hard workers did better than challengers, and even for high-complexity sales there were numerous star performers who were not challengers. Nevertheless, in my opinion this is an outstanding book containing important insights which are likely to make it an important text for anyone involved in marketing.
on December 12, 2012
Here's my conclusion (yes, I read the book and the HBR article): This could not be any further from being customer-centric, nor "the customer is at the center of everything we do". Here's why.
They claim that the Challenger is the best model because they "teach, tailor, and take control". Okay, while that may work in some situations, it's not going to work in all. The argument that this is the BEST way to sell is naive at best and stupid at worst. It certainly may be the best way for a certain type of customer, but not all.
So, let me challenge the authors here. What makes them think that all buyers are alike, that everyone will like being challenged? If they had read Miller and Williams article "Change the Way You Persuade" (HBR reprint R2025D) for example, they would know that buyers fall into five classes too and each type has a preferred way of being sold to. So, while the Challenger model is probably very effective for (Miller and Williams's) "Charismatics" or "Thinkers", my guess is that it probably won't work for "Controllers" or "Followers".
The buyer's receptivity to change is another point of contention. The Challenger wants to, well, challenge and argue and teach to the prospect. While that may work for people in growth mode and maybe even "even keel", if someone is in trouble and just wants their problem fixed quickly, challenging them and trying to teach them is a losing proposition. One of my clients recently had to fire his IT Director and the IT firm he was in collusion with. Do you think the CEO, who desperately wanted to get this fixed fast wanted to be challenged? Heck, no! He just wanted a timely solution to his problem.
Lastly, the book maligns the Relationship seller and points conclusively to their research that shows they are not good performers. I am wondering if they bothered to get a little deeper in their research and look at the types of sales and buyers that Relationship sellers excelled at. (By, the way, did they publish their research, or just their findings?)
Recently with a client we did an exhaustive survey of all their customers and categorized them in terms of how much we were selling to them (our share of wallet) and gauged that against their total spend. We then assigned customers with "high share and high spend" with those sellers who were more relationship oriented while we assigned "low share and high spend" with the more aggressive "hunter" (who were probably more like the Challenger than anything else). The results after the first six months have been astounding. So, I'd advocate that aligning selling styles with customer types is probably a winning formula rather than one-size-fits-all.
Bottom line. It's my view that being customer focused is better than one size fits all; and, all selling types can be effective if properly allocated to the right customers and prospects.
I'd simply ask you all, do you think all buyers will appreciate being challenged, or do you think sellers should be customer focused and adapt their style to the needs of the customer? Of course not, but there are some who might, and for those The Challenger Sale is worthwhile.
on December 1, 2014
This was required reading for a job and now I know why management is clueless. I've been selling enterprise software for 20 years and guess what, I've done very well because I haven't followed crap like this book teaches. The methodology in this book is pure manipulation. You'll learn to first say an agreeable statement, then drop an oh crap scenario on the customer, then say what if i could give you the holy grail, then take them to the top of the world by becoming their savior and they'll buy your widget...geez. That's the premise of this book. Save your money and take my free advice and you'll have success. Be yourself, be genuine, be real, try and have fun and find interest in what you represent. Note, I said represent and not sell. Most importantly, be honest and don't try to sell. Some of my largest seven figure deals were completed by doing the opposite of crap in this book. People like buying from people they like.
on February 11, 2012
Three elements I like to share after reading this book:
B2B sales, complex sales, product selling versus solutions selling, and insights based selling...winning business even when there is a down market....and hard study data providing some very interesting insights on how you could improve your sales overall (study data: n=700 first, later n=6000).
Myself I liked reading on the 5 types of sales reps (the hard worker, the challenger, the relationship builder, the lone wolf and the reactive problem solver) and on how successful each type of sales rep actually is. It is a nice to know that the challenger sales rep makes actually 54% of total high performers (at least in a complex sales environment), thus making the challenger profile very likely to succeed in a complex sales environment.
The book illustrates further the 6 attributes that these challengers have in common (44 attributes tested):
- offers the customer unique perspectives
- has strong 2-way communication skills
- knows the individual customer's value drivers
- can identify economic drivers of the customer's business
- is comfortable discussing money
- can pressure the customer.
The book builds also on elements what contribute to customer loyalty -> the purchase experience:
- offers unique valuable perspectives on the market
- helps me navigate alternatives
- provides ongoing advice or consultation
- helps me avoid potential land mines
- educates me on new issues and outcomes
- supplier is easy to buy from
- supplier has widespread support across my organization.
And the book builds on how to provide those insights as sales rep, on how to tailor your message, on how to take control of the sale (and negotiate the sale), on how to manage your sales reps and on how to implement these challenger sale changes in your organization.
The book delivers very nicely on providing hard data, the importance of these data, and changes needed to excel in a complex sales.
A classic problem with sales books is that all claim to give you the most advanced and most unique sale system on the planet. The authors do give a data solid case for their method, still it has to withstand the test of time. On the other hand, the book is complete from A to Z. And the data gives some really nice (and yes perhaps even unexpected) insights on how complex sale could improve.
The authors here made a great effort not only to give you the data but also to "respectfully" teach the reader how to implement these insights (as obtained from the study). Therefore they actually sell the reader these insights just according to the principles uncovered by the study. The book itself is really a complete "product". I could not find unnecessary chapters or paragraphs for example.
Well written, great editing and excellent structure: combined this makes this book a very nice read on how complex sales could improve - for yourself, for your client, for you as manager or coach and organization.
Really nice done!
Introduction: a surprising look into the future
1. The evolving journey of solution selling
2. The Challenger - Part 1: A new model for high performance
3. The Challenger - Part 2: Exporting the model to the core
4. Teaching for differentiation - Part 1: Why insights matters
5. Teaching for differentiation - Part 2: How to build insight-led conversations
6. Tailoring for resonance
7. Taking control of the sale
8. The manager and the Challenger selling model
9. Implementation lessons from the early adopters
Afterword: Challenging beyond sales
Appendix A: Challenger coaching guide
Appendix B: Selling style self-diagnostic
Appendix C: Challenger hiring guide: Key questions to ask in the interview
on November 2, 2014
Awful. Maddeningly poorly written. Very repetitious. Reads like it is just a regurgitation of lecture notes from a consultant seminar. Makes me think the entire book is a challenger sale to get managers to buy the author's services
on February 12, 2015
This audio book was not at all what I was looking for. Instead of providing insights that help sales reps take control of the conversation it ironically seems written for sales managers to take control away from reps by training all to fit the challenger model. Very tedious. I had to work hard to mine a few useful nuggets.
on January 10, 2012
My four favorite business books are "Crossing the Chasm", "The Innovator's Dilemma", "Good to Great" and "The Tipping Point". This book ranks up there with them.
It recognizes that executives:
1. Do not want their time wasted - they want valuable and meaningful insight.
2. Consensus purchasing does NOT mean that one sells at the top. It means that you have to sell to all those who have influence as if they're your only buyer.
When I read the book, I felt as if I have been doing 1/3 of my job well, 1/3 needed improvement, and I'm absolutely dreadful at the final 1/3. So, it's the perfect book for the sales professional who wants to understand what's necessary to continuously outperform ones' peers.