Article by: Warren Shiver
The SEC’s Challenger Sales research has generated a lot of discussion and in conversations w/ some colleagues and ex-colleagues in the sales effectiveness space the past couple of weeks, we have discussed how to build this type of skill across his team in a sustainable way, not just run another training event.
So …what’s required to build these organizational capabilities?
For many sales organizations, it requires a transformation of the way they sell. We define a sales transformation as the process of enabling a sales organization to position a new/expanded value proposition to either existing or new customers. As an example, we’ve been working with a CPG firm to transform their sales organization from a historical item/price distribution focus, to selling solutions based on category management and consumer insights. This new approach delivers higher value to their customers through improved gross margin return on investment and our client obtains higher margins.
In my conversations, we have discussed that there are really four areas required to transform a sales organization and these align nicely with the organizational capabilities required to support a “challenger” sale:
- Sales Strategy – Put simply, sales strategy is targeting the right customers with the right message at the right time. Not all customers or products/solutions are appropriate for a “challenger” sale. Neil Rackham effectively outlined the different types of selling models in Rethinking the Sales Force. The first step is to align the appropriate level and sophistication of selling resources with customers and markets where a consultative or challenger approach will drive improved results.
- Sales and Marketing Alignment – Sales alone does not bear the responsibility for equipping the sales team with the knowledge, skills, and tools to enable “challenger” conversations. Marketing must provide messages, collateral, insights, and competitive differentiation in ways that are actionable and compelling in customer conversations.
- Sales Leadership – Sales leaders must be able to model, reinforce, and coach the selling behaviors and processes that drive a solution sale or challenger approach. Sales leaders must drive value for their teams and organizations beyond just reporting their “number” or “outlook.”
- Sales Force Capabilities – ensuring that the sales team follows a buyer-aligned sales process that begins with a strategic planning process (either at the account, vertical industry, or territory level) to identify insights that will resonate with customers and either align with current initiatives or potentially stimulate new ones (a main emphasis of this approach). Sales tools (e.g., Collateral, CRM) must be aligned to support this approach.
Many successful sales people are able to determine when to challenge a customer, but it’s typically based on their individual initiative as opposed to an organizational capability that’s part of their sales team’s DNA.
One of the most successful sales reps in enterprise software (part of our Top Performer Series of interviews) uses a challenger approach when setting an “anchor” on price. She enters into discussions early with clients and prospects by telling them that her solution is expensive and will be more than the competition. She then proceeds to align her sales approach (discovery, software demos, integration and implementation discussions, etc.) around the message of a premium priced solution and challenges the company’s assumptions that software products are now commodities to be compared feature-by-feature in exhaustive RFPs.
The top 5-10% of sellers already exhibit these adaptive behaviors and providing organizational support and resource just makes them more efficient (and more satisfied). The opportunity is to provide these selling capabilities to the next 25%, who can use more tools and approaches to significantly increase their selling effectiveness, which is where major gains in revenue and ROI can be found.