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The Challenger Customer

by David Brock on September 21st, 2015
Challenger Customer

Several months ago, my friends at the CEB sent me a review copy of The Challenger Customer.  Just reading the title, I expected an epic confrontation between Challenger Sales and Challenger Customers—perhaps a worthy follow up to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight.  I had images of challenger sales people and challenger customers squaring off with each other.

Instead, they started at a different place–perhaps where they should have started in the first place.  They start with the customer (whenever we talk about sales or marketing, it’s always useful to start at with the customer).

As usual, the book is filled with compelling and, often, startling research.  The most important, at least to my mind, has nothing to do with how we sell–challenger or not–but the difficulty customers have in aligning themselves around their own internal change management processes and, ultimately, deciding to change, move forward, evaluate and buy solutions.

The famous 57% (customers are 57% through their buying process before engaging sales).  We had always imagined they were spending all that time letting their fingers walk through Google, researching solutions.  Turns out, that’s not what’s happening.  It turns out they are spending a huge amount of time struggling with identifying and defining the problem, They are trying to align themselves, their priorities, agendas, even their perception of the issues–reaching common ground.  It turns out they struggle through their entire buying process, but reach a peak of frustration at about 37% through the process.

Understanding this, understanding the customer perspective is tremendously valuable.  Knowing what they go through helps us to change how we sell, who we focus our time on, and how we engage the customer.  This leads to the second part of the book, how we help the customers buy.  Some of this work is familiar, it reminds us of their Mobilizer work in the HBR article.  This portion of the book reminds us of how customers make decisions, how power and influence is exercised, and how we most effectively work with customers through the process.  It’s not so much new, we’ve learned much of this in other advanced selling methodologies, but it’s an important refresher, particularly when positioned with the difficulty customers have in making decisions.

The final part of the book is a shift to marketing (I’m glad we are now sucking marketing in to their important responsibilities in helping sales challenge customers.).  Again, they provide interesting data that goes against much of our traditional thinking about content and engaging our customers in their unlearning and learning processes.

It’s a great book, a must read for every sales, marketing, and business professional.  But it’s great for reasons you and the authors may not expect.  I really respect the work done by the CEB–specifically the thoughtfulness of Brent Adamson, Matt Dixon, Nick Toman, and Pat Spenner.  I don’t agree with everything they say–in fact, I have sharply contrasting views on many things.  But what is important about this, as with Challenger Sales, is it wakes us up to look at things differently.  They force us to re-examine our assumptions, our strategies, and how we execute.

Somehow, they are able to ignite important conversations–conversations we should be having about sales and marketing performance, about engaging customers, about customer experience.  Consequently, I think it’s important for you to read the book.  It’s very dense–so take some time.   It’s really 3 books in one—How challenged customers are in problem solving and buying; how we most effectively engage and influence the buying process; how marketing needs to change how it thinks about content, personalization, and engaging customers.

Use the Challenger Customer to challenge your own thinking, premises, and approaches.  There’s a huge amount of valuable insight and information, take the time to learn, develop your own conclusions, and execute.  You will serve your customers better as well as increase your own success.

On a personal note, I really appreciate the authors’ openness to differing points of view and ideas.  Over the years, Brent, Matt, Nick, Pat and I have consumed too many beers debating ideas, exploring new things.  They have great humour and patience in listening to my points of view and sharing theirs.  I learn a huge amount in every conversation.  Thanks for putting up with me guys!

Recently, I participated in a roundtable with the CEB and some very smart sales and marketing thought leaders.  They asked for my views on some of the issues, they’re captured in the video below.

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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