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It’s Time To: Challenge and Lead, Rather Than Simply Consult

By Bob Mosher | Small Business

We’re not sure how many of you follow the latest trends in sales methodology and practices, but the latest model being adopted is called, “The Challenger Sale”. For years sales AND learning professionals have tried to become more consultative in their approach to serving and acquiring customers. Candidly, for many this hasn’t worked. The main reason has been because, although it’s important to engage and listen to our constituents, consulting alone has not been enough to bring them along to new ways of thinking. Clearly performance support is just that, and many of the struggles around implementation and adoption which we have faced as a learning industry have been due to our inability to “sell” the value and power of performance support. It might be time for a new approach!

When we’re researching new and different approaches for adoption, we frequently try to look outside of our discipline to see what’s working in other parts of the corporate world. Clearly The Challenger Sale is doing just that in helping organizations bring their customers to understand and desire new products. We need to adopt a similar approach.

Have a look at The Challenger Sale and why The Best Salespeople Don’t Just Build relationships. They Challenge Them. This page mentions 5 sales profiles – Hard Worker, Problem Solver, Relationship Builder, Lone Wolf, and Challenger. Do these sound familiar? We see these same profiles in the learning industry all the time! Each profile can turn in average performances, but only one consistently outperforms in a complex sales environment – The Challenger.

Now, we all know some Challengers in the L&D ranks! And we have consistently seen them out perform our other members. They are in DEMAND, selling PS effectively within their organizations, and therefore ultimately unable to meet the learning/PS demands that are now put on them! They are seen as vital and instrumental to the success of the business moving forward. They have a seat at the table early and often!

How can we all become more Challenger-like in our ability to sell performance support to those whom we serve? Let’s take a closer look at ways a Challenger differs from the other 4 profiles, both in approach and whom they target to gain traction:

Challengers: What They Do Differently

While most professionals focus on building customer relationships, the best focus on pushing customers’ thinking, introducing new solutions to their problems and illuminating problems customers overlook.
Specifically, they:

  • Teach
  • Tailor
  • Take Control While Using Constructive Tension

Challengers: Who They Target

While most professionals are trying to master solutions selling, the best evaluate which accounts to prioritize and which specific buyers within those accounts to target.
Specifically, they target:

  • Accounts where their needs are still undefined
  • Individual buyers who are skeptical change agents — called “Mobilizers” — over friendly “Talkers”

*Source: Corporate Executive Board, The Challenger Sale

So, where do we start? How do we challenge our organizations to think differently and to consider a new approach?

We often start a discussion around the 5 moments of need before we suggest or even begin talking about traditional learning options, even if that’s what the “customer” is asking for in the first place. We need to change the discussion to outcomes and performance FIRST – ahead of deliverables such as the classroom, eLearning, virtual instruction, and the like. Put the 5 moments in front of your lines of business and ask them which of the 5 they value most and would like to see the highest return on? Then, ask them to put their money where their mouth is – design for apply first and backfill with training if, or where, needed. This will dramatically change the discussion. We have NEVER met a line of business owner who values moment 1-2 over 3-5! They all want results and a learner who can perform and adapt to the ever-changing world they work in. Performance support is the clear choice to lead to that result. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some training developed, but it stops leading the conversation.

We need to challenge the organizations we serve if we are to ever effectively implement PS in a meaningful way. We need to study our organizations and understand their business needs and outcomes. We need to align with how the lines of businesses we support are measured and show them that we can build deliverables that map to helping them in achieving those business goals. We’re the learning professionals here!! It’s time we helped educate those whom we serve on the BEST way to achieve the results they come to us to produce.

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