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When the challenger sale meets marketing | B2B Marketing

I talked in my post of Jan 11th of how the Sales Director will drive content marketing in 2013 as a direct result of research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and adoption of The Challenger Sale. The CEB is not widely known outside the US, but their ideas are spreading like wildfire through the global sales community making “The Challenger Sale” Amazon’s #1 book on sales last year.

Marketers are used to seeing sales initiatives quarter on quarter or at the annual kickoff, but Challenger is different. It’s a reaction to fundamental changes in buyer behaviour like those noted by

Neil Rackham

, whose research 30 years ago led to SPIN Selling and kick started a shift from product-led to consultative sales. Now Rackham is arguing that Challenger is “the most important advance in selling for many years” and Harvard Business Review is announcing “the death of solution selling”. This is not an initiative, it’s starting to look like a movement and it has massive implications for marketing and the wider organisation.

From our work on

The Evidence

, it’s clear that many marketing departments regard sales as a ‘black box’ process. They pump a sufficient number and quality of leads in at the top of the funnel and profitable revenue will emerge at the bottom. But if you can understand what happens inside that box, you can help sales dramatically improve conversion rates. And make no mistake; life for the sales team has never been harder so getting this right will drive revenue and improve marketing’s standing in the organisation.

Inside the black box: The Challenger choreography for the sale:

  1. Warmer: Build credibility by discussing industry trends and issues, ideally bringing fresh data and relevant customer experience to the conversation.
  2. Reframe: Introduce a new perspective that shows a bigger problem or opportunity than the client has already seen. This is the start of the commercial teaching conversation and creates your own

    trigger event

    that allows you to own and shape everything that follows.
  3. Rational Drowning: Justify why the reframe is worth their attention, because if they agreed with you off the bat you didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know.
  4. Emotional Impact: Ensure that the customer sees themselves in the story you’re telling so that momentum doesn’t die with the customer response “yes, but we’re different”. This is where great reps tailor for resonance around key decision maker roles and issues.
  5. A New Way: Time to bring in the solution, but not the supplier. Show them how much better life would be if they take action but resist the temptation to talk product until they are mentally committed to the new way.
  6. Your Solution: Now they’re bought in to a change, it’s time to show them how your offering delivers the New Way.

With the black box open its clear where marketing needs to act to make the Challenger Sale a reality. By starting at step 6 and working backwards, we drive through the issues that underpin an eventual purchase:

  • What is the unique capability we want to lead our customers towards?
  • How do we show the value of the New Way without pushing product?
  • What are the unifying themes that get us past ‘we’re different’ as an objection?
  • Where do we find the data and how do we effectively communicate the rational basis for the reframe?
  • How do we create genuinely unique and compelling insight to reframe the conversation?
  • How do we setup a sales engagement where the rep has credibility and customers are open to a commercial teaching approach?

Marketers have to find the right point in the

buying process

to engage and then equip the sales team for a fundamentally different conversation.

We’ll explore this more in future posts, but for now I’ll leave you with a quote from the authors of The Challenger Sale writing in the Harvard Business Review about why Sales needs to change in the face of empowered buyers “If you’re not prepared to challenge their thinking, you need to be prepared to accept their terms”.



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