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New research claims to turn what we know about sales enablement and training upside down. If you’re in marketing or sales, regardless of your focus, this new information could impact everything you do. Why? Because sales professionals are hearing about it, reading the book, and possibly adopting some of the techniques prescribed by the authors. Salesforce.com is even promoting it. If you are managing or supporting these salespersons, you’ll want to know how this new approach to sales could impact you.
What’s the book? It’s called The Challenger Sale and it’s based on research by CEB. After studying over 6,000 salespersons across almost 100 companies, the authors claim there are five main salesperson profiles: Problem Solvers, Relationship Builders, Challengers, Lone Wolves, and Hard Workers. When asked, virtually everyone agrees that the Relationship Builder should be more successful than the rest. After all, marketing and sales execs prescribe building relationships with customers and provide training and enablement tools to accomplish this. Surprisingly, the Relationship Builders are the lowest performers (only 7%) and the Challengers are the highest (39%).
CEB cites three techniques that Challengers use to “hit it out of the park” with customers: 1. They teach differentiation. 2. They tailor the message, and 3. They control the conversation. This revelation is a departure from the sales methodologies of the past. I’ve coached and consulted with dozens of firms and thousands of sales professionals, and nearly all have adopted some type of sales methodology. While these are all good, and can help any sales professional perform better, most are outdated. For example, Sandler published his book around 1970. Miller Heiman published his around 1980, and Neil Rackham published SPIN Selling in 1988. The Internet was barely alive in 1984 and didn’t come into vogue until the mid-Nineties. These methodologies have been updated, but even Neil Rackham says the CEB research is a game changer.
Should you adopt the Challenger Sale approach? Rearrange all your sales enablement and training and other marketing assets to align with this? Maybe, but let’s first take a closer look under the hood. CEB’s research seems quite sound, but the recommended implementation might be difficult and disruptive for most firms. A good friend, who’s a VP at a large firm that’s adopted the Challenger Sale approach, told me that it requires what virtually all other sales training programs do: a large investment, a long implementation time, and a lot of disruption. There’s also huge resistance from the field.
Aventi Group partnered with Huthwaite, the purveyors of SPIN Selling, for almost two years. If you recall, Neil Rackham wrote the SPIN Selling and Major Account Sales books. SPIN is used by more than half the Fortune 500. I worked closely with Huthwaite’s VP Sales to ensure the sales enablement tools and training we created for clients aligned with SPIN. I did something similar for Sandler and Miller Heiman. Across decades of working with dozens of clients, large and small, I discovered what my friend above did: every company has a wide mix of salespersons who have adopted very different sales methodologies. Some were formally trained, some read books, some learned from peers, but they all have their “way” of selling. Some of my clients have adopted SPIN or Sandler or Miller Heiman or Challenger or whatever, and most have had mixed results. This is because, like the Challenger Sale approach, they all make assumptions that don’t always work in the real world.
CEB, in similar fashion to virtually every sales methodology vendor, points to research observations on top sales professionals. They observed how the top dogs sell, essentially put that into a bottle, and assumed that it could be taught to and adapted by all the “lesser performers.” Unfortunately, this assumption usually isn’t correct. The Challenger Sale authors state that they did zero research on salesperson or customer personality traits, yet divided salespersons into five types that clearly denote an approach based on a singular personality type—The Challenger. To expect a Relationship Builder to change his stripes and become a Challenger overnight is unrealistic. Instead, you’re better to empower a Relationship Builder to learn how to teach, message, and control the sale better. CEB claims to do this, but several key requirements appear to be missing.
Cutting edge marketers who are learning about neuromarketing know that there are three parts of the human brain that we need to appeal to in order to make a sale. By leveraging modern neuroscience, salespersons and marketers can actually push the “buy buttons” in their customers’ brains. Sadly, The Challenger Sale book never mentions the words neuroscience or neuromarketing. It’s quite possible that Challengers thrive because they are more instinctual and so instinctively know how to use the right mix of Logical, Emotional, and Instinctual messages to motivate prospects and project confidence. Also, these types likely don’t rely much on sales enablement or marketing tools, whereas other types often do. When these tools are inadequate, they don’t do so well. I’ve found that with the right empowerment, training, and tools—including neuroscience messaging—almost any salesperson can hit homeruns.
CEB also prescribes that salespersons should teach customers, but the Challenger approach does not teach salespersons how to teach by using modern teaching methodologies such as Andragogy or the 4MAT system for instructional learning. How can salespersons properly teach customers anything if they haven’t been properly taught how to teach?
Although it may seem otherwise, I actually do agree with many of the premises offered by the Challenger Sale approach. However, after working with dozens of tech companies across decades, and having been a VP Sales and a VP Marketing at several firms, I’ve found that anything requiring a forklift to implement, or a stash of gold to afford, or is met with high resistance from the field, usually ends in disaster. That’s why Aventi Group developed Neuron-Selling and Neuron-Marketing. This approach encapsulates all the benefits you’d want to derive from something like The Challenger Sale, but it doesn’t require that salespersons toss out what they know or do, or for marketing to do likewise. Instead of requiring months of long training classes, coaching, and cultural change, sales and marketing pros simply interact with short, entertaining, and informative eLearning web video courses. These courses teach salespersons how to teach using adult learning methodologies and provide powerful neuroscience-based insights into crafting the right message at the right time. They help salespersons leverage their unique gifts and strengths rather than force them to be what they’re not. These courses also show marketers how to enable and empower salespersons to take control of sales and succeed. Best of all, they are quite affordable. In fact, the first one is absolutely free.
Aventi Group’s Neuron-Selling and Neuron-Marketing techniques have been successfully used by thousands of sales and marketing professionals worldwide.
CLICK HERE for more information on Neuron-Selling
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