The Challenger Sales Model came to light of day in 2011, with the release of the book, “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.
Today, in mid-2018, it’s more relevant than ever. Especially if your channel partners apply an account-based selling strategy and not a commodity-based strategy.
This is driven by the realities of how the buyer’s journey has changed, disrupted by the Internet and the power of Google searches. The bottom line is this: much of the “shopping” for a product is completed before the customer ever visits your channel partner. When, and if, they finally see a partner their goal today is to negotiate a price and delivery. It’s essential that your channel partners change that conversation to one of value and not price. This often requires a Challenger sale.
The Challenger sales model, however, is not easy to enable nor support. In fact, as the name implies, it can be very challenging. In this blog, I will lay out a technology and process model that can automate many of the complex tasks of creating, supporting and managing the Challenger sales model.
Let’s begin by better understanding the Challenger Sale. In Dixon’s and Adamson’s book they isolate 3 key characteristics of the Challenger Sales person:
TEACHING FOR DIFFERENTIATION: “The thing that really sets Challenger reps apart is their ability to teach customers something new and valuable about how to compete in their market. Teaching is all about offering customers unique perspectives on their business and communicating those perspectives with passion and precision in a way that draws the customer into the conversation. These new perspectives apply not to your products and solutions, but to how the customer can compete more effectively in their market. It’s insight they can use to free up operating expenses, penetrate new markets, or reduce risk. When you get down to it, Challengers aren’t so much world-class investigators as they are world-class teachers. They win not by understanding their customers’ world as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world better than their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.” 1
TAILORING THE MESSAGE: “The same can be said for parts of tailoring. If a Challenger rep is sitting across the table from a head of marketing, he understands how to craft his message to resonate with her specific priorities. And if he’s meeting with someone in operations, he knows how to modify the message accordingly. But this isn’t just a measure of business acumen, it’s a measure of agility—the rep’s ability to tailor the story to the individual stakeholder’s business environment. What specifically do they care about? How is their performance measured?” 1
TAKING CONTROL OF THE SALE: “The final characteristic that sets Challenger reps apart is their ability to assert and maintain control over the sale. And that’s what the Challenger rep does—she moves customers out of their comfort zone by showing them their world in a different light. The key, of course, is to do this with control, diplomacy, and empathy.” 1
It’s clear to see how challenging this model is to enable and support. After all, most people are not natural teachers and most do not possess enough knowledge or confidence to be comfortable controlling the conversation.
Fortunately, technology offers us a solution. The following are 7 steps you should take:
Create a “Challenger” sales profile for the sales role in your industry sector. Assign an assessment to your current sales reps to determine which of your existing team will fit the Challenger profile. Only allow these reps into the program. Hire new reps as necessary based upon this profile.
Launch a Challenger Sales Portal to galvanize your sales team around the Challenger concept and focus your support of their needs as Challenger reps. Organize the portal around the key areas of content necessary to help them succeed. There are 3 over-arching categories to this organizational concept: 1) Product knowledge; 2) Industry knowledge; and 3) Application knowledge. [Note: you’ll need to assume that the sales skills are being addressed through other programs provided either by you or your channel partners.] Industry knowledge is the knowledge of technology trends, economic indicators, seasonal purchasing activities, and related subjects. Application knowledge is the knowledge of how our products are used within applications, e.g. computer networks, auto assembly lines, warehousing, road construction, farming, mining, landscaping, etc. Product knowledge is, of course, the breadth and features and benefits and pricing of our product offering.
Create a Challenger Certification Program. Include perks for becoming certified. Perks may include the eligibility to receive leads generated from corporate marketing programs.
Turn your channel partners and reps into Challenger advocates by providing them for- and through-channel marketing materials and curated content that will enable them to easily reach out to customers with in-bound marketing materials (and learn while doing it) that establish credibility, generate leads and enforce the “teacher” behavior. Remember that you must first create a Challenger Partner in order to create Challenger Reps.
Crowdsource curated content from your channel at-large. You will need a great deal of content to meet the training, support and general knowledge requirements of the Challenger model across all your product lines and market sectors. You won’t be able to do this with a small internal team. It’s neither affordable nor realistic. That’s why you’ll need to create a crowd-sourced video sharing site, such as the one offered by LogicBay and ChannelSAGE, a crowd-sourced blogging site such as WordPress and the new advocate site from LinkedIN called Elevate.
“Push” your crowdsourced content directly to your target sales people. Allow them to subscribe. And remember to organize it within the categories of “industry knowledge”, “application knowledge” and “product knowledge”.
Apply incentives to encourage and reinforce the right Challenger behaviors.
Enabling and supporting a Challenger model is a process and not a project. It may require years of honing and polishing before you’ll finally feel confident that you are fielding a well-oiled, high producing Challenger sales team. But it might be your best defense against the drastically changing buyer’s journey.
For more information contact Paul Tobin at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and on the web at www.channelsagellc.com and www.logicbay.com.
1 Excerpted From: Matthew Dixon & Brent Adamson. “The Challenger Sale.” Penguin Group, USA, 2016-12-30T21:47:13Z. Published by the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Copyright © The Corporate Executive Board Company, 2011. All rights reserved