Separating The Challenger Sales Person From Insight Delivery

Are “Challenging” and “Insight” synonymous? I had been mixing them together, but more recently have been thinking they may be but don’t have to be. Or actually, I’ve been thinking, “Does the Challenger sales person have to be the provider/teacher of the insights, or is she the orchestrator and manager of the process?”

So much of the discussion around Challenger has been on providing Insight and the Teaching Pitch. Sales organizations have been investing a lot in preparing sales people to go out and challenge, providing pitches and decks the sales person uses to “teach the customer.”

But now we see wounded challengers limping back into the office, tails between their legs. The problem is, the customer started challenging the sales person, asking questions, drilling down, trying to learn more. And to many sales people are unable to respond. They may not have the depth of experience, the “scars,” or even the business understanding to respond, engaging the customer in ever deeper conversations about their businesses. It seems to be, successfully delivering and defending Insight requires scars.

With very complex problems and solutions, we’ve long known it’s impossible for the sales person to have the depth of knowledge necessary to respond to all the customers’ questions. We’ve known we have to provide specialists, pre-sales support, technical support, and other resources to help the sales person respond to the customer in helping solve their problems. In very complex sales, the sales person becomes more of a resource manager, conductor and director. They get the right people involved, the manage the entire process and keep it moving forward–both on the customer side and with their own teams.

So as we implement Challenger, why should we think it should be any different. Why do we assume the sales person is the person that provides the Insight? Couldn’t the Challenger sales person be the orchestrator of the process?

There are many interesting characteristics of Challengers, they understand the customer’s business, they get the customer to think differently about their business, they take control of the sale, and many more.

But it’s naive to think the Challenger sales person has to do it all themselves (God forbid we see the rise of the 2013 version of the Lone Wolf). I’m not certain Matt Dixon or Brent Adamson would claim to have represented Challenger sales people to be the only teachers of the customer.

Additionally, I would tend to guess, that great Challenger sales people are probably very effective in leveraging resources within their own organizations.

Perhaps we are doing the wrong thing in equipping the sales person to actually to the Teaching Pitch. We can’t expect the sales person to go 10 levels deep into semiconductor fabrication technologies, but supported by engineers, physicists, meteorologists, and others, they can deliver help customers rethink the semiconductor fabrication process, improving yields. Likewise, we can’t expect a sales person to challenge Boeing to rethink their airplane design and manufacturing process, but accompanied by experienced airplane designers, we can.

Perhaps one of the greatest capabilities of Challengers, but seems not to be discussed much, is “they take control of the sale.” This means they provide leadership to the customer and their own teams in moving the buying process forward. The best semiconductor physicists in the world can’t do this. Nor can the best airplane designers.

So while deep Insight, getting customer to think about their businesses differently, challenging them to see new possibilities is critical to creating value for the customer, the sales person doesn’t have to be the person doing this, they just have to be the people to make it happen.

Providing Insights to our customers is a critical part of creating value f(it always has been). It’ is a core part of Challenger (as it is with other sales approaches). We need to structure our organizations, providing the right resources to support sales in delivering these Insights. Where sales has the capability, depth of experience, and understanding to do this, that’s great–but where they can’t be expected to do so (or we can’t find enough “airplane designers” who can sell), then we have to provide the resource to support them, leveraging them to help teach the customers.

We (and possibly the CEB) need to rethink the Challenger Implementation. Some time ago, I wrote Sending Your People Out Naked, The Problem With Challenger Selling. I suggested Challenger is an overall organizational strategy, not a sales strategy. Maybe we need to rethink the “Insight” piece. Sales people may not be the most appropriate people for delivering the Insight, but they are accountable for making sure those conversations are being held with the customer. They are accountable for getting the right resources in front of the right people at the right time, stimulating the right conversations.

From an organizational point of view, whether it’s Challenger or any other model, we need to constantly rethink the way we deploy resources to maximize our ability to connect with the customer, so that as organizations we are constantly providing Insight, perhaps through the sales person, perhaps at the direction of the sales person, perhaps in what we stand for and how we present ourselves in the markets. We need to think of delivering these insights in the most impactful, effective, and efficient way possible, and get off the idea that it has to be the sales person that is the deliverer of Insight.

There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about what the Challenger sales person does once she gets the customer hot and lathered to change. There certainly needs to be more discussion about this, but it is clear, Challengers take control of the sale, they provide leadership to the customer through their buying process. Do they do everything, no, they orchestrate the right resources to help move the buying/selling process effectively. Those resources may be from their company, they may be the customer resources.

Isn’t this what professional B2B selling is really about? Whether you call them Challengers, Solutions Sales People, Customer Focused Sales People, or any other label. The top performers always take control of the sale.

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