channel sales management

Sales Summit: The Challenger Customer

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Four years ago, The Challenger Sale overturned decades of conventional wisdom with a bold new approach to sales. Now our latest research reveals something even more surprising: Being a Challenger seller is not enough. Your success or failure also depends on who you challenge. To win today, you need a Challenger inside the customer organization, a Mobilizer.

CEB will reveal what high-performing B2B teams grasp that their average-performing peers don't. Now that big, complex deals increasingly require consensus among a wide range of players across the organization, the limiting factor is rarely the salesperson's inability to connect to any one individual stakeholder. It's far more often their inability to connect them to each other.

Join Brent Adamson, Principal Advisor for CEB and co-author of The Challenger Sale. Brent facilitates a wide range of executive-level discussions around the world for Fortune 500/Global 1000 executives in sales, marketing, and customer service.

How to Keep the 5.4 from Destroying Your Deal: New Advice for Channel Sales and B2B Marketing

Channel sales for Business to Business marketing (B2B) are no longer the narrow path between a salesperson and a decision maker. The definition of channel sales, the means through which a company markets its products, is changing. While in-house sales professionals, web marketing, and distributors are all examples of sales channels, successful organizations need to realize that effective B2B channel management involves negotiations with several decision makers. The toughest sell will be convincing those stakeholders that the status quo may actually be hurting them.

In short, in order to succeed in the new world of sales, you need to convince your customer to change.

What salespeople sell is change, says Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor in Sales and Marketing for CEB. Adamson, who presents in this up-beat session of Dreamforce 2015 uncovers the best practices and attributes of top sellers, explains how the distribution and sales has changed drastically, and reveals that the ideal customer isn’t who we’d think they are. He also shares the revelation that the hardest discussion isn’t between the rep and the company, but between the decision makers themselves.

In 2011, after studying thousands of companies and sellers, Brent Adamson and the researchers at the marketing analysis organization, CEB, published The Challenger Sale.

The book revealed startling results.

Challengers Make the Best Sellers

Adamson, with his co-authors Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, and Nick Tolman, classifieds sellers into five behavioral categories: The Hard Worker, The Challenger, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf, and The Problem Solver. These categories, cautions Adamson, are not personality types and they are not mutually exclusive, but they describe “predominant postures.” The ideal seller, reports CEB research, is not the sales rep who build relationships and networks but the seller who questions customers and teaches them about their business.

Brent Adamson and his associates found that three of the categories of sales behaviors produce average results. Relationship Builders, surprisingly, produced lower-than-expected results. Conventional folklore in sales favors the relationship builder as the lead seller. After all sales is about relationships, right? If you can develop trust and build a connection with customers and potential customers, the sales will follow.

But according to the findings in The Challenger Sale, nothing could be further from the truth. Adamson says the research showed the profile least likely to be a star performer is the Relationship Builder. It turns out that being a nurturing to customers and having a “whatever you need, I’m there for you mentality” actually stagnate your accounts, stresses Adamson.

Not that relationships in sales are not important, but the sales relationship must be one built on insight. The category of sales behaviors that consistently used insight to produce stellar results was The Challenger.

The Challenger rep, explains Adamson, is “building a different kind of relationship, a relationship built on insight.” Challenger reps teach, tailor, and take control. Challenger reps teach the customers something new about their business, encouraging to be more competitive in ways they didn’t even think possible. Challenger reps tailor the opportunity to fit the business insights shared and take control of the sale.

The good news is that Challenger Seller behaviors can be taught and sales reps can learn to use business insights to challenge their customers into finding a solution. Channel sales training can help sales reps know how to teach customers and take charge of the sale.

But It’s Not About the Seller

In 2015 Adamson, Dixon, Spenner, and Tolman released The Challenger Customer, and again, defied conventional marketing philosophies. CEB’s research showed sales and distribution channel management has a new obstacle: groups. CEB research is showing that being the right type of salesperson isn’t enough and that a Challenger rep challenging the customer is only half of the equation. Because sales decisions are more likely to be made in groups, you also have to sell to the right type of customer who can drive consensus within a group.

“We set off to write a story about selling and what we found was a story about buying, because the single biggest story in selling and marketing today isn’t how we are selling and marketing differently, it is about how customers are buying differently. Those differences in the buying behaviors are not only dramatic, but left unattended, they are going to kill our business,” warns Adamson.

Sales and distribution channel management must be willing to situate themselves and their sales reps within the evolving landscape. In B2B channel sales management, the channel has become less defined. Instead of being able to pitch to one senior decision maker, sales reps must now convince groups of buyers. Adamson explains that simple sales to businesses are not so simple. In fact, when more decision makers are involved, the harder the sale is. Bigger groups, says Adamson, mean the lower likelihood of a deal. Effective channel management needs new training and insight into overcoming sales and distribution obstacles in selling to groups.

Sales’ Biggest Obstacle: Groups Decide to Do...Nothing

Distribution and sales usually doesn’t involve just one buyer anymore. There usually is no mythical senior decision maker, says Adamson. Now, there’s a myriad of stakeholders making a group purchasing decision: IT, procurement, finance, legal, management....

CEB surveyed over 3,000 individual B2B stakeholders and compared purchase likelihood with numbers of buyers involved. When only one decision maker is involved, the probability of a purchase is 81%, but when six stakeholders are involved, the likelihood of a sale drops to a meager 31%.

The disappointing statistic CEB found is that 5.4 is the average buying group size. “The 5.4 is a real data point, but it has also in many ways become a metaphor...for the challenges we all face not to get the sale done, but to get the purchase done.”

The biggest competitor, counsels Adamson, is the status quo. Individuals may agree your solution is the best, see all the benefits, agree with all the reasons for adopting your solution, but be willing to live with their current situation. In order to sell to a group, the group needs to come together to find what they agree upon. In a group of 5.4 that’s usually very little. And so, unless mobilized to consensus, groups decide to do nothing.

Please Understand: Buying Is a ‘Landminish’ Process for Organizations

When Adamson lectures, he asks his audience to sympathize with buyers by asking them to describe the last major solutions purchase their organization made. Adjectives he’s heard to describe the buying process include: painful, messy, frustrating, awful, horrible, and even ‘landminish.’ “This is what it feels like to buy today,” says Adamson, The pain of making a purchase, says Adamson, has nothing to do with the supplier but everything to do with the group purchasing process.

Companies’ channel sales definition needs to change from a simple definition of finding avenues to make products available to a definition of bringing products to organizations who purchase based on group decisions rather than individual judgement.

In the current climate of sales being a Challenger Seller isn’t enough. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you challenge, it matters who you challenge,” says Adamson.

The person to challenge is The Mobilizer.

The Mobilizer Isn’t Afraid of the Status Quo

In the book The Challenge Customer, Adamson, Dixon, Spenner, and Tolman classified stakeholders involved in deals. The Go-Getter, The Teacher, The Skeptic, The Guide, The Friend, The Climber, and the Blocker, are all profiles identified. CEB calls Guides, Friends, Climbers, and Blockers “Talkers.” Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics are termed “Mobilizers” because of their willingness to consider and challenge new information and build consensus within a group. It’s the Mobilizers who like to be challenged, who work to bring consensus within the group, who are willing to adopt new solutions, and who aren’t afraid of change.

Star sales performers, says Adamson, are salespeople who naturally look for stakeholders who can drive change and build consensus. They look for Mobilizers.

Mobilizers May Not Seem Like the Perfect Customer

Mobilizers are not mobilizing for a particular supplier but for change and improvement within the organization. It’s important to work with a Mobilizer who drives for change rather than simply someone who champions your cause, warns Adamson.

Adamson and his colleagues found that the perfect customer is NOT the customer who always makes time to meet, who listens carefully to what you have to say, and who engages with your content. The ideal customer, may, in fact, be completely skeptical of your product and uninterested in your success.

But Mobilizers, says Adamson, are willing to engage, ask questions, and be skeptical in order to find the best solution for their organization.

What Happens When the Best Type of Sales Rep Meets the Best Type of Customer?

Interactions with Mobilizers will seem difficult--even confrontational to every rep besides the Challenger. Mobilizers will ask hard questions and lots of them. They will be skeptical, doing their own research. They want new insights, not just the typical sales pitch. They want to learn about their business.

Rest assured, these signs of engagement are good signs. Challengers embrace these situations.

But how do you know you are interacting with a Mobilizer?

Offer commercial insight and see how a potential Mobilizer engages, coaches Adamson. Do they ask lots of questions? “You are looking for healthy skepticism,” says Adamson, “that means they are engaged.” Remember, you are connecting the 5.4 not with you but with each other and the Mobilizer will need the right information to share with their group.

Adamson also recommends requesting a potential Mobilizer to conduct research or talks within the organization. Most likely, Mobilizers will research other options and your competition, but that is a good sign because it shows the Mobilizer is willing to take action and move toward progress. Another good sign you’re working with a Mobilizer is that they suggest the next steps.

Enlisting the Mobilizer to Move the Sale Forward

Interestingly the same channel sales training given to sales reps can also help the Mobilizer bring consensus into the group. Here are three tips to help the Mobilizer find the best solution for their organization and help you sell solutions to a group:

Arm the Mobilizer with Commercial Insight. Adamson preaches the importance of sharing commercial insight--not thought leadership--with the potential customer. Adamson clarifies the difference: “Thought leadership is designed to teach customers that you’re smart. Commercial insight is designed to teach your customers that they’re wrong.” While thought leadership is not a bad thing, commercial insight is content designed to challenge current beliefs and behaviors, showing the customer there is a better way to do business.

Create the Right Training and Marketing Materials. Mobilizers can be trained in much the same way your sales reps are trained. Helping mobilizers share commercial insights and overcome objections will help the Mobilizer create agreement among the 5.4. Documents can be created and stored in Salesforce CRM to become Next Steps for reps to share with the Mobilizer.

Focus on Beating the Status Quo. The sale is won by beating the status quo, not by selling the product. Don’t focus on your product. Instead, focus of the commercial insight you share should be based on the risks of staying with the status quo.

This advice Adamson give may seem counter-intuitive, but it works in getting groups to a consensus to move forward. Adamson says you must convince your customers that “what they are doing right now is exposing them to cost, expense, and missed opportunity.” The new channel marketing must include commercial insight. “Commercial insight is the juxtaposition between the cost of current behavior against the potential for alternate action... it is in that gap that you convince the Mobilizer to mobilize.”

And, when a Challenger helps a Mobilizer, both can work together for the good of the organization.

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