Let me preface this post by saying I have generously highlighted a stack of passages in the book The Challenger Sale – Taking Control of The Sales Conversation [Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson] because they resonated with the coach/mentor part of what I do. I have also had many years of SPIN training [Neil Rackham] both as a participant and trainer so I believe both methodologies and concepts provide a sound foundational base.

With that being said, what prompted this post was an article I recently read where the writer referred to both SPIN and Challenger as having similar intentions of ‘confronting them (buyers) with the wrong actions’. Add to that, the fact that feedback and opinions I have received from people who are familiar with both methodologies around the term ‘challenger’ conjuring up an approach that could be viewed as aggressive and arrogant and added to the aforementioned word ‘confront’, it makes me wonder how many other people share similar perceptions or how many salespeople feel they don’t want to change their approach or focus to a sales conversation that ‘challenges’ because of their own interpretation of the word.

My belief is that for anyone selling anything, whether it be a product, a service or an idea, then our intention should be to move our buyer from where they are to where they want (or need) to be, in the best interest of the client and our company. Such a coaching cliche, but true!

With that comes a natural curiosity and questioning that may mean asking some thought provoking questions to make them think differently, or it might mean addressing a potential elephant in the room, or it may mean taking the client on a trip into the future to get them associated with what might be possible. All in all it may mean challenging their thinking. It’s no different than being with a brilliant coach or mentor, one who makes you think about things after the fact because of the disruptive questions they ask. So, yes …

1. It does take a certain person or mindset or skillset to challenge the buyer’s thinking on past decisions or future plans through precision questioning or assumptive statements, but that person must also have an intention to disrupt for the right reasons and know how to skilfully create leverage in a non confrontational, non aggressive and non arrogant way. As the Greek mathematician Archimedes quoted, ‘give me a rod long enough and a place on which to place the fulcrum and I will move the world’. It’s about interrupting a particular pattern of thinking and opening up someone’s mind to another idea, option or insight and moving their world and at the same time respecting their view of their world. This is a typical coaching skill, not your typically taught sales skill.

2. If you ask the right questions you’ll discover the ‘real’ problem, i.e. the problem behind the problem, where the real leverage is to be found and chances are your competitor won’t even know to go there or even realise that there is a deeper and more meaningful place to take the conversation. But be prepared that if you do…. your buyer may not want to go there either so knowing how to be agile enough to dance and be flexible in your approach also takes a certain skill – traditional sales training will not provide that!

I think, as a community, so long as we are forging forward with neuroscience, human behaviour, coaching models, psychology of selling and all that is related to the ‘soft skills’ that are necessary for success today (which are really the hard skills incognito), our selling approaches will continue to morph. With that evolution and innovation, then fresh ideas brought into the art of commercial conversations to help us successfully collaborate with our buyers, will also emerge.

So in my thoughts for this post today, I found the following distinctions:

Challenger late 13c., Anglo-Fr. chalengeour, agent noun from challenge. Specific sense of “one who calls out another in a contest” is from 1511.

Coach – Meaning “instructor/trainer” is c.1830 Oxford University slang for a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam; athletic sense is 1861.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe it is about ‘challenging’ our buyers or ‘confronting them with the wrong actions or inactions’ or calling them out as defined here, but carrying our clients through a transitional phase, where we lead them through a commercial coaching conversation to an outcome that makes sense to them as opposed to taking control of the sales conversation – taking them from where they are to where they want (or need) to be in the most elegant and relevant way possible.

The 7 Steps I use to help my clients achieve the results that matter the most to them and their buyers are universal and I don’t think will ever change. What changes is the openness to individuals in the sales role wanting to adopt the changes THEY need to make in order to make it happen:

  • We need to connect with our buyer and create trust and rapport
  • We still need to know where they are right now
  • What their challenges are and what is working
  • We need to create leverage enough to make them shift their thinking
  • We still need to come up with a solution to help them make that transition based on their values and value
  • That solution needs to be agreed to and validated and
  • It must also demonstrate it is ecological and good for everyone – buyer and seller for it to make a difference in the business, community and world.

Some buyers and sellers will appreciate you wanting to know them and their business at a deeper level and others will run a mile… but as our sales environment catches up with the rest of the buying world, more people will learn to appreciate a genuine approach from genuine people who want to genuinely spend time collaborating on a successful outcome for all.

Do I think the Challenger Sale could have been called something different? Possibly. But at the end of the day, does it really matter? It could have been called The Coaching Sale or The Collaborative Sale, but what really matters is that it is you who are the real deal when you are with your buyer and that they know your purpose is to build their business toward making the difference they want to make.

So, here’s to grit and business building!

Be Bold and Brilliant!
Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker

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