The Challenger Sale is essential reading for anyone in complex B2B selling and many enterprise sales organizations are embracing the concepts.
Challenger provides three big benefits:
Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a must read article referencing Corporate Executive Board (CEB) research and The Challenger Sale book.
Neil Rackham's input to The Challenger Sale book is excellent and he clearly influenced their thinking. He writes the foreword and highlights how this is only the second time (SPIN Selling was the first) that a new sales methodology has been proposed as the result of rigorous (university standards) research.
Let me say at the outset that I'm a fan but there are challenges in implementing Challenger Selling because it's an aspirational methodology / framework, not a process, and it demands significant investment and change management.
Although it's positioned as 'the next big thing' to replace other proven sales processes and methodologies, it's actually iterative, not revolutionary. This is evidenced by the fact that Neil Rackham's SAFE:BOLD tool is reproduced (and credited) on page 82 of the book.
Challenger is a combination of Value Selling (Rackham / Huthwaite), Insight Selling (numerous derivations) which were built on the solid foundation of Solution Selling (Keith Eades) and also the work on Strategic Selling by Bob Miller and Steve Heiman.
Jim Holden is also a pioneer in strategic selling (Power Base Selling) and his eFox process is excellent. My own book (The Joshua Principle) which was published before Challenger has been acknowledged by Dave Stein as articulating Challenger principles.
Challenger is important and can make a real contribution to sales transformation initiatives and enables salespeople to elevate the conversation with prospects and customers.
Simon Tate is the Asia-Pacific VP at SAP for their Cloud business and says, "The biggest benefit of The Challenger Sale model is that it creates pipeline." Simon is right and very focused on coaching and mentoring for his people. He also knows not to underestimate the complexity of implementing Challenger in the field. SAP and other successful companies understand that Challenger is an organizational capability (marketing, management and sales), not just the profile or persona for the best hunter salespeople.
Again; management, marketing and sales all need to dig deep together to find genuine relevant insights that can be positively yet provocatively taken to customers and prospects at senior levels.
A potential problem with Challenger is that salespeople could easily lapse back into a 'telling is selling' approach, and the framework tends to under-value the role of relationships in selling.
We all know that you’d better have a very good relationship with someone if you plan on telling them that their baby is ugly. Both the Trusted Advisor and Challenger models are aspirational, but Challenger must be extremely well engineered and strongly evidenced to be effective, especially where you don't have strong relationships.
The term 'Challenger' is best avoided in Asian markets for obvious reasons. It is best used to frame strategy for penetrating new accounts but it must be executed by someone with gravitas and genuine customer industry expertise.
On a positive note, the Challenger model forces the salesperson to take well researched insights to the most senior stakeholders within their prospect or customer, and then provoke conversation and thought with a hypothesis concerning how the customer's world can be changed by more than just solving a problem or unlocking greater value.
It moves beyond cliche and the big questions for salespeople are:
The key benefits of Challenger are that it forces sales and marketing to [finally] come together for effective strategic demand generation.
It also creates a focus on transformational business value as defined by the customer and their markets.
There are, however, key points to consider to manage implementation risks for Challenger in the real world:
It's not a silver bullet but rather a complex and difficult strategy requiring deep analysis and capability
Honestly and critically assess your competitive differentiation in the eyes of the customer (what matters to them)
Is Challenger really more sophisticated than other methodologies or just more difficult to implement?
The Challenger Sale provokes excellent thought and a focus on value, as defined by customers, but execution is just as important as strategy. Cracking The Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan is also essential reading as it provides the framework for excellence in execution.
Tony Hughes is a bestselling author, award-winning blogger and the most read LinkedIn Author globally on the topic of B2B sales leadership. Tony’s first book is a business bestseller with his second book, COMBO Prospecting, available for preorder on Amazon here. He can be found at TonyHughes.com.au and RSVPselling.com.