Is The Challenger Really a New Phenomenon?

The premise of?The Challenger Sale?is that star salespeople engage customers around their business issues and offer fresh ideas for improving financial performance. The Challenger rep stands above all the rest. They crush their competition and their quota.

They teach for differentiation, tailor the message, and take control of the conversation. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) landed on these core Challenger skills based on extensive seller and buyer-side research. Their survey of hundreds of frontline sales managers showed that the best performing salespeople across industries and demographics were those that:

  • Offer the customer a unique perspective
  • Have strong two-way communication skills
  • Know their customer’s individual value drivers
  • Can identify the economic drivers of their customer’s business
  • Are comfortable discussing money
  • Can pressure the customer

From a buyer perspective, the research showed that buyers were most disposed to give their business to sellers that:

  • Offer unique and valuable perspectives on the market
  • Help the buyer navigate alternatives
  • Provide ongoing advice or consultation
  • Help the buyer avoid potential land mines
  • Educates them on new issues and outcomes

One of the most “startling” (my quotes) findings according to the good folks at CEB was that Challenger-type salespeople outperformed Relationship-type sellers by a wide margin.

I’m a big advocate of?The Challenger?approach to selling, in large part because it is the most scientific study and codification of sales excellence since Dr. Neil Rackham’s?SPIN Selling?research in the 1980’s, but after noodling on the various findings and revelations for a bit, I couldn?t help but wonder:

  • Is the notion that the most effective and best performing salespeople embody Challenger qualities really a new phenomenon?
  • If this same research was conducted 10-20 years ago, would the findings have been substantially similar?
  • Haven’t executive buyers ALWAYS (not just in the last two decades) preferred to buy from salespeople who could “teach” them how to improve their?bottom-line?or increase their competitive?advantage?or significantly move the needle on metrics they care about?
  • Haven’t the best salespeople always been those that surfaced the risk of the status quo?
  • Haven’t well-selected and constructed customer success stories always been the best way to tailor for resonance and point to the seller’s solution as the optimal path forward?
  • Is it really so astonishing?that The Challenger will outperform The Relationship Builder every single day of the week?

That last point really got me in a tizzy. Doesn’t it stand to reason that a?salesperson operating in a complex sales scenario who understands the customer’s world in the context of the buyer’s value drivers, most pressing issues, and industry key trends; provides insights that provoke the buyer to reconsider the implications of their current situation; and offers suggestions that resonate with the buyer’s ambitions will close more business than a salesperson?whose?most redeeming qualities are getting along with others, likability, and being generous with their time?

It?s a little like saying that after endless hours of studying game tape that NFL coaches concluded that Richard Sherman is a better cornerback than Mr. Rogers. I refer to Mr. Rogers of ?Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood? fame, not Carlos Rogers, the San Francisco 49ers defensive back. Although for Niner fans of which I am one, unfortunately, Mr. Sherman is substantially more adept at stifling wide receivers than our Mr. Rogers.

Think about the best salespeople you encountered B.C. (Before Challenger). Use the Challenger characteristics noted in the bullet points above as a checklist to discern if the top performers that come to mind meet the Challenger criteria. Chances are they do – now we just have a name for it.

Heck, if you’re a fan of?Mad Men, there might have even been sightings of Challenger reps in pre-historic times.

What’s your perspective?

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