Was I A Premature Challenger?

In today’s B2B sales environment, more informed, connected buyers are driving a very worthwhile change to a more professional and principled, smart and mutually valuable way of engaging in the buying and selling process.  Through this we are seeing a continual evolution of sales methodologies that focus on what the customer sees as value.

But just how different are the latest trends in sales methodology to the foundations of the past? How different are they to the best practices of successful sales people who pioneered non-manipulative selling in years gone by?

A sales is not something you pursue, it’s what happens to you while you are immersed in serving the customer

One of the more recent ‘trends’ in selling is based on the book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. According to Amazon, the authors present a case to show… “classic relationship building is a losing approach, especially when it comes to selling complex, large-scale business-to-business solutions.”  Further, we are told… “Instead of bludgeoning customers with endless facts and features about their company and products, Challengers approach customers with unique insights about how they can save or make money. They tailor their sales message to the customer’s specific needs and objectives. Rather than acquiescing to the customer’s every demand or objection, they are assertive, pushing back when necessary and taking control of the sale.”

In my opinion, these are not revolutionary and certainly not the “biggest shock to conventional sales wisdom in decades” as was suggested when the book was launched. Rather than revolutionary, Challenger Selling is ‘evolutionary’.

In the mid-80’s when selling data and telecommunications networks to large corporations and governments, I found myself ‘teaching’ prospects and clients about where the market was heading, how changes to the way they were building and implementing networks could help deliver significant competitive advantage and greater customer-value. Effectively making my clients feel uncomfortable about maintaining the status-quo. There was nothing manipulative about this approach as I was continually focussed on the outcome from the client’s perspective and looking to deliver a solution that would provide significant gain for their business.

 “Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions…opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine.”…Yawar Baig

In Challenger ‘speak’ my approach was one of developing a thorough understanding of my clients business, the market trends and their competitive environment and using that to ‘challenge’ their thinking on the way they currently doing business.  I was looking to move the prospect out of their comfort zone and into a place where they would be receptive to ideas that would allow them to deliver greater value to their customers.  To do this and to maintain the trust of the clients, I needed to develop strong relationships based on trust and mutual respect – the basis of ‘relationship selling’. And if I was going to ask my clients to ‘think outside the box’, I needed to ensure I had solutions that delivered positive outcomes for their business – the basis of solutions selling.

I have been selling for longer than I like to admit and in that time I have always focussed on what the customer would define as value.  While this is one of the concepts reinforced in Challenger Selling, it is the cornerstone of Lean Sales, an approach to selling that has been successfully adopted from post-war Lean manufacturing.

So, did my sales approach of the ‘80’s and my ‘focus on value’ make me a premature Challenger?  I was definitely looking to challenge my clients’ position and to make them look at ways of doing business differently.  I was listening to the voice of the customer and the market and I was not afraid to get my clients wondering “what if?”  But I don’t think I was any more a pioneer than many salespeople in those days. It is certainly what we did. We always had to upset the status quo because we were regularly selling solutions on the leading edge. We would not have been successful if we had not challenged and taught; built relationships and sold credible solutions.

Previously published on LinkedIn

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