I recently re-read The Challenger Sale.
Granted, I don't work in sales but everybody sells - whether it's a product, a service or your personal brand.
I also believe that sales skills are essential for any consultant because they teach you to think differently when you're trying to provide solutions, are doing presentations and pitches or are simply talking to a customer about a difficult situation.
Especially when it comes to solutions, you need to help your customer get to the solution on their own by probing them with questions and guiding them rather than point-blank dropping the solution onto them because that's not how they'll truly adopt it - they need to come up with it on their own so that it sticks and so that they firmly believe in it.
Back to the book - it lays out the ideas and strategies behind some of the most successful sales teams and sales reps and how they perform the job in today's world of sophisticated buyers.
Most of the selling approaches used nowadays are no longer effective because buyers are fed up with being interrogated without receiving any value.
There's a better approach to successful selling that the book promotes - the Challenger model.
Why the Challenger Sales Approach Works?
This approach is focused on a sale in which the sales rep teaches the prospect something about their business, tailors their pitch to resonate with customer concerns and takes control of the sales process.
In other words, you challenge the person you're trying to sell to, you're opening up their worldview to new ideas and things they didn't know before or hadn't realised, you're adding value instead of just pleasing them by answering all their questions and just focusing on what they need now. You're going beyond that.
The book describes how every B2B sales rep falls into five different profiles that define the skills and behaviours they use when interacting with customers. These profiles describe a rep’s natural mode of interacting with a prospect and are not mutually exclusive.
I think these apply to the types of consultants as well.
The 5 Types of Sales Reps or Consultants:
- The Hard Worker
- Doesn’t give up easily
- Interested in feedback/personal development
- The Lone Wolf
- Follows own instincts
- Deliver results but difficult to manager
- The Relationship Builder
- Classic consultative rep
- Builds advocates internally
- Creates relationships with prospects
- The Challenger
- Different view of the world
- Loves to debate/pushes customer
- Strong understanding of customer’s business
- The Problem Solver
- Highly detail-oriented
- Reliable responds to stakeholders
- Ensures all problems are solved
According to the book, 40% of high sales performers primarily used a Challenger style as opposed to one of the other four sales styles the book identified and more than 50% of all-star performers fit the challenger profile in complex sales. Only 7% of top performers took a relationship-building approach – the worst performing profile.
Now when it comes to consultants, I think this begs the need for a bit more research but I'll make a guess. If you are a success consultant, i.e. you work more in services and act as an account manager or marketing/PR strategist/account executive for someone, then you may have more success at your job as a problem solver or a relationship builder.
If you, however, work as a consultant whose job is primarily to create change for clients, then I bet you'd be more successful at it if you use the Challenger style primarily and mix up the other skills when needed. Why? Because you need your client to start seeing things differently and unless you challenge their thinking, that won't happen.
What Makes Up a Challenger Sales Rep or a Challenger Consultant:
Here are 6 key traits of challenger reps do that distinguishes them from the other sales profiles which I believe apply to challenger consultants as well (I'm coining this term):
- Offers a unique perspective to the customer
- Has strong 2-way communication skills
- Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
- Can identify economic drivers of customer’s business
- Is comfortable discussing money
- Can pressure the customer
When it comes to skills, a challenger rep is defined by the ability to do three key things well that I also believe apply to the challenger consultant:
1. Teach customers something new and valuable about how to compete in their market.
Lead to your unique strengths. Why should people buy from you over anyone else? Challenge customer assumptions. How can you reframe the problem for your customers? Catalyze action. Customers need to understand why they should take action and the urgency to do it now.
2. Tailor their sales pitch to resonate with the decision-maker’s hot-button issues.
In any pitch, it’s absolutely critical that your audience understands and relates to the story you’re telling by tailoring to their problems and how they see the world. Your pitch must get buy-in from an entire organisation in order to win. Creating a pitch that resonates is a key factor in winning organisational support. A supplier having widespread organisational support is one of the strongest indicators of a positive sales experience. To ensure resonance, the pitch should have messaging that’s tailored the decision-maker you’re speaking with. Directors will have different concerns than VPs and VPs different than a CEO.
3. Take control of the discussions around pricing and challenge customer’s thinking around the problem.
Taking control is the last key ability a challenger rep must have. Taking control of a sale means that a rep demonstrates and holds firm on value - not competing on price - and keeps momentum going across the sales process. Reps must take control early on and veto prospects who are unlikely to move forward or get key decision makers involved. This isn’t easy! Successful challenger reps must be willing to deal with a bit of tension and pushback on price. Any price pushback can be mitigated by focusing on value provided.
As a consultant, you're trying to have your client or customer do something or adopt something - that's the exact same thing as if you were trying to have them buy something. It requires change and that's why I believe the challenger approach is the best approach to consulting.
Do you agree with me?