It’s not enough for your sales reps to know your products top to bottom. Your prospects can find the same information with a five-minute Google search — and compare your services with your competitors’ while they’re at it. This age of information overload requires a new kind of sales rep with a very different mentality: the “Challenger Sales Rep.”

Everything You Thought You Knew About Sales Might Be Wrong

In 2012, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board performed a survey of 6,000 B2B sales reps and published their results in the wildly popular (at least in corporate sales circles) book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. Dixon and Adamson’s results tossed traditional sales lore on its head and paved the way for a transformative new sales model.

Dixon and Adamson outlined five salesperson profiles:

  • The Hard Worker
  • The Lone Wolf
  • The Relationship Builder
  • The Problem Solver
  • The Challenger

While most traditional sales techniques focus on building relationships, Dixon and Adamson found that the Relationship Builder profile is actually the least successful of the five. Which profile was the most? Their book’s title should give it away: The authors claim that 40 per cent of high sales performers fit the Challenger profile, and that this percentage increases to 50 per cent for companies that engage in complex sales.

Sales reps in the Challenger mold seem to have found an inside track, reaching prospects in a unique way that leads them to close more sales, hit their quotas, and make more profit.

Introducing: The Challenger Sales Rep

What is the Challenger Sales Model, and what makes the Challenger so much more successful than the other profiles Dixon and Adamson identified? This model is one in which a sales rep takes control of the sales conversation and uses a deep understanding of the client’s business and industry to “challenge” the client with innovative ideas. The Challenger is confident, bold, and equipped with both a comprehensive knowledge of the customer’s industry and new ideas. This person isn’t afraid to create tension, because what they are really doing is guiding the client on a path toward a new, empowering understanding of their own industry trends and customer profiles.

According to the Corporate Executive Board, a successful Challenger:

  • Teaches their customers. This education can come in the form of advice, consultations, ebooks, blog posts, and a number of other pieces of content. Your content can be about anything your customers need to know, including new issues and trends in the marketplace.
  • Tailors their sales message to the customer. A generic slide deck and fill-in-the-blank sales script isn’t going to close a big sale. Instead, the Challenger sales rep takes the time to dive into the nitty gritty of the customer’s industry and market to create a compelling sales pitch that focuses on the realities that particular client faces.
  • Takes control of the sale. This deep understanding of the client’s reality leads the Challenger to develop innovative ideas that the client may have never heard. The Challenger sales rep finds new opportunities and provides a truly unique selling proposition. Customers may be a little shocked, but they’ll also be inspired.
  • Builds constructive criticism. Departing from the relationship-building sales model, a Challenger sales rep isn’t afraid to point out inefficiencies or confront uncomfortable truths with the client. This tension allows the Challenger to showcase how their product can make a truly positive difference for the client.

Adopting the Challenger Sales Model is not for the faint of heart, but no good sales rep has ever been afraid of rolling up their sleeves and putting in a little extra work. How can you encourage your sales team to adopt some of the Challenger characteristics, or even give your entire sales team a Challenger makeover?

Becoming a Challenger Sales Team

It may be time to change up your game plan. While you may have spent your entire professional life believing that the relationship-building sales model was gospel, there’s a new model in town.

  • Start at the source: As part of the onboarding process, many sales managers now make The Challenger Sales: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation required reading for all new sales reps. Consider handing out copies to your existing team.
  • Hire Challengers: As positions open up on your sales team, look for bold individuals who are willing to put in the work to become completely fluent in a customer’s industry. Try to identify out-of-the-box thinkers who won’t be afraid to challenge customers. These will be your future Challengers.
  • Give your team the resources to succeed: The Challenger Sales Model depends on easy access to complete information about your customers’ industries and market. This goes beyond what you can find on a Wikipedia page. Consider partnering with your marketing team to build an easy-to-search database.
  • Retrain your current team: Every sales rep wants to close more deals, hit their quotas, and earn a higher commission. If you can convince them that the Challenger Sales Model is the tool they’ll need, they will listen. Set up training, provide one-on-one guidance, and consider sitting in on sales meetings or on sales calls to provide feedback as your sales reps transition to a more Challenger-oriented strategy.

Challenge Your Sales Thinking

The relationship-building sales technique that was successful in yesteryear — when customers couldn’t do an online price comparison with just a few mouse clicks (or taps on a smartphone) — has simply passed its prime. Your sales team needs to use the sales techniques that will work with today’s customers, and the research says it’s all about the Challenger Sales Model. Start looking for how you can “Challenge” your sales team to adopt these methods today.

Take your sales team to the next level by following the tips in our free eBook, “100 Sales Tips for 2017.”

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