The Challenger Sale has been called the best marketed but worse executed sales program in history. Is this assessment fair or evidence of sour grapes from a few industry experts who wish they could claim the 800,000+ graduates and 500,000+ books sold since 2011?
I am frequently asked versions of this question by executives and salespeople who are considering investing in Challenger sales training, or wondering if their investment was worthwhile.
To help them come to a reasonable answer, I walk them through three important questions:
Any thoughtful and experienced sales training organization, however, should be able to help prospective clients understand what they will and won’t get from the training they complete.
How well does Gartner do?
Frankly, I embrace many of the conclusions made by the book’s authors – conclusions I derived from the many people, experiences and books that influenced my three decades in sales:
This last conclusion is of course core to what The Challenger Sale teaches.
At Floriss Group, we believe salespeople who help buyers think differently are ultimately more helpful. We teach each of the above core competencies as essential leadership qualities that any sales or customer-facing team member can apply.
We also guarantee our approach will work for each client we train. Why? Not to sell more training, but to sell less training.
Our guarantee requires us to assess up front if our methodology and development process can deliver the impact each client expects. It is on this important point of delivering to each client’s unique expectations where we diverge from Gartner.
In our conversations with Challenger training graduates, their comments reflect that the book’s conclusions are reasonable but the training is unable to translate research into recommendations that work in real life. There is a critical gap between theory and reality.
Executive and sales graduates alike are confused by flawed definitions of simple concepts such as making an emotional or a rational case. They express frustration with pre-call checklists that are difficult to use and daunting to complete, as well as the requirement to complete deep customer research in advance of a meeting that is not practical or even possible to do.
We often find that first meeting best practices prescribed by Challenger take too long to complete and only produce generic insights that make the investment unjustifiable by salespeople and their managers. And, when salespeople attempt to apply proprietary concepts such as “teach, tailor, and take control” with buyers who have significantly more industry experience, they often find themselves lost and unable to provoke even the most basic buying conversation.
Worse yet, users often complain that they don’t know what to do after meeting with a customer, and core elements of the training are so complex that graduates often view the material as impossible to practice, let alone perfect.
Of course, these insights represent the unique experiences of sales teams we’ve engaged. Not a representative sample, but valuable nonetheless.
So why is The Challenger Sale not living up to the hype? Why are some salespeople initially excited, but ultimately disappointed with their experience? How can a modern sales methodology not deliver such fundamental requirements?
For the answer to these questions you really don’t have to look any further than the book’s title – The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.
In fact, The Challenger Sale is not a sales methodology. It is not an end-to-end sales process. It is a sales meeting engagement philosophy supported by recommendations and tools designed for 6,000 salespeople who worked for the 100 large companies that funded the authors’ research.
The issue seems to be misaligned expectations on the part of its customers. Challenger is not capable of delivering your team an end-to-end, value-based sales process. It is not a blueprint for optimizing your sales pipeline. And, it is not going to form the foundation of a unifying sales playbook. Your organization should probably already have these three components in place before investing in the training.
The research may be sound, the insights may teach us something, but the conclusions of the book lack depth, and the implementation of the training is not universal enough to transform a sales organization or deliver the measurable impact most graduates will be expected to deliver.
James is a veteran author, investor, trainer, and coach who is passionate about empowering and transforming modern sales and customer-facing teams.
Relentlessly determined and intensely curious, James found inspiration applying the principles of servant leadership to his earliest sales and management roles. Eventually, his success as a perennial top producer fostered the creation of Collecting WINS™, a proprietary sales development platform which he authored in 2012.
James has also founded or invested in more than a dozen closely held and venture backed companies, resulting in multiple IPOs and liquidity events. He has trained and coached more than 6,500 CEOs and sales leaders from more than 100 industries, including INC 500, Deloitte Fast 50, Deloitte Fast 500, Business First Fast 50 and Innovation Award winning companies. Today, James leads The Floriss Group from its offices in Columbus, OH.
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