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Mental Models
Featured Models

Challenger Sales

You're in sales. It mightn't be obvious, especially if you're not running a startup or you don't have 'sales' or 'business development' in your job title. But, the fact is whether you’re in IT, HR, operations, management or any role, you’re still selling. Especially when you view sales as the art of influencing people to ‘buy into’ the value that you have to offer. And, when you embrace that fact, you’ll benefit from experimenting with Challenger Sales.  Challenger Sales involves teaching the customer, providing new perspectives about how they might realise greater value; tailoring the message for specific audiences; and taking control of the sale by being professional, highlighting the cost of doing nothing, and holding your ground.  Matthew Dixon, one of the founders of the model explains: “In a world where customers can learn on their own, what they want from you is the thing they couldn’t learn. They want your perspective, a unique idea, something that they might have overlooked.”  FIVE SALES ARCHETYPES. Authors of The Challenger Sale, Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon as well as the team at CEB developed this approach by studying thousands of sales reps and identifying five sales archetypes:  The Relationship Builder: a common choice for sales reps who are generous with their time, build networks and ask questions. They represent 7% of top sales performers.  The Problem Solver: detailed-orientated reps focused on solving problems, even over sales. 12% of top sales performers. The Hard Worker: super motivated, always going the extra mile with high resilience. 17% of top performers.  The Lone Wolf: Follow strong instincts, self-assured, hard to manage or scale but get results. 25% of top performers.  The Challenger: Loves to debate and is happy to push the limits, has deep experience and offers insights that challenge the status quo. 39% of top performers.  Interestingly, for complex sales, CEB found that 54% of high performers were Challengers. Further, The Challenger Group, a breakaway consultancy from CEB (see Origins & Resource below for more), recently found that Challengers grew to 48% of top performers for general sales over the 2020 Coronavirus period.  BEHIND CHALLENGER RESULTS. One of the key findings from the original research was that customers are conducting greater due diligence and research by themselves, and engaging with a shortlist of vendors late in their journey. There's not much between that shortlist so, at that point, customers will most value unique insights and new perspectives that challenge the views that they’ve developed.  Indeed, CEBs research showed that when ranking customer loyalty — which highlighted the choice between the preferred and next best vendor — the role of company and brand as an influencing factor was rated at 19%; product and services was also 19%; value to price ratio was 9%. And, surprisingly, the sales experience, and in particular the level of new insights offered during that experience, contributed to a massive 53%.  INSIGHTS, THEN QUESTIONS. While modern sales has been built around asking questions upfront, Matt Dixon describes a conversation with a CIO who pointed out that a typical sales rep has likely met more CIOs and seen more varied contexts than she ever would in her career. As a result, rather than being asked the typical, “what’s keeping you up at night?”, the CIO wanted the sales rep to draw on their experience and expertise to tell her “what should be keeping her up at night.”  It’s not to say that the Challenger Model is all about telling, you will still ask questions, but you will lead the engagement by establishing credibility with fresh insights and perspectives.  OTHER CHALLENGER TIPS. The original research into this model tested forty-four sales attributes, and identified six as core to Challenger Sales:  Offers unique perspectives Has strong two-way communication Knows the individual customer’s value drivers Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business Is comfortable discussing money Can pressure the customer Bringing that together, Challengers use their expertise, combined with a deep understanding of the customer’s business and value drivers, to challenge the status quo and create excitement about what’s possible. At the same time, the Challenger Sales rep will confidently position their offer as the means to help deliver that possible future. NOT IN SALES? THEN READ THIS.  If you’re not in a sales role or running a start-up, but instead work in a company, use this model as a call to action to stop being a simple ‘order taker’ who silently fulfils narrow requests, and to go beyond being the ‘friendly networker’ and/or ‘diligent  hard worker.’  Embracing Challenger Sales from an internal role is about finding the sweet spot between your expertise, and your understanding of stakeholder needs, so that you can challenge status quo thinking and provide unexpected value. Importantly, this value and new perspectives come in addition to the actual deliverables you might be known for — indeed it will allow stakeholders to better appreciate and realise greater value from those deliverables. IN YOUR LATTICEWORK. Challenger Sales will benefit from models related to influencing such as Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion and sales-related heuristics such as Anchoring, Hyperbolic Discounting, Paradox of Choice, and Loss Aversion.  The process of challenging the status quo has much alignment with Framestorming and root-cause analysis models such as the 5 Whys.  Finally, use your understanding of Features vs Benefits, Value Proposition, Personas, and even Jobs To Be Done to assist you in tailoring your messages to specific customer or stakeholder needs. 

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