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What About Challenger Buying!

by David Brock on January 31st, 2012

I’ve written quite a bit about Challenger Selling and it’s many related concepts–it is after all a different articulation of the solution, customer focused, consultative, value based, provocative selling approaches we all know.  Every once in a while, I think–wouldn’t it be novel to look at things from the customer’s perspective?  What might Challenger Buying look like?

There are a couple of perspectives we might think about.  One is Challenger Buying has existed for a very long time–we, as sales professionals are waking up to the fact and addressing it.  The other is how difficult it is to do Challenger Buying–from a customer perspective.  I’ll talk about both in separate articles.

I’ll start with the second–we can’t underestimate the difficulty of doing Challenger Buying.  The premises of any kind of solution selling, including Challenger, is that we are bringing the customer new ideas.  We are challenging them to think about their businesses differently.  We are helping them to discover new opportunities.  There is no doubt, we create the greatest value for our customers when we are engaging them in this manner.  Customers don’t need us pitching our products, spewing all sorts of data about features, benefits, and so forth.

But Challenger Buying is, to say the least, very challenging for the customer—more so than it is for the sales person to do Challenger Selling.  At it’s core, it’s about risk, change, readiness, and priorities. 

As sales people, I think we often lose sight of what we are doing to the customer.  We’re doing the best that we can to help them discover ways of improving their business.  We get our customers excited about the opportunities, we show them how our solutions can help capitalize on the opportunities.

But then, from a customer point of view, reality starts to set in.  How do we (the customer) make this happen?  What are the risks?  How do we manage those risks–can we manage them?  What are the consequences of failure—or even a slight miss?  What does this mean to our organization?  What does it take for us to do this?  Are we ready and prepared?  How do we manage the change?  How does if fit into our priorities–often it may mean a complete shift in priorities.

The challenge of Challenger Buying became very clear in a conversation I had with a top executive recently.  He was struggling and called me for some advice.  It seemed that a sales team had done an awesome job in helping him see new opportunities for his business.  He shared with me how exciting the concept was, how clearly he could see the impact on the future of his company, and how he could see the value of the solution the sales team was presenting.  He said the business case was obvious and compelling.

I asked him, “So what’s bothering you?”

He responded, “I worry about our ability to make it happen.  There is so much more than just the solution the sales team presented.  We have to make it happen.”  He went on to talk about the risks of failure–he could see ways to manage those and accept those.  He was worried about the change and how to prioritize this initiative with the other priorities they faced.  He clearly understood he’d have to shift the priorities, but there was a very high risk in the short term (about 9 months) revenue impact.  These impacts were in other parts of his business–not related to the challenging idea, but in shifting his priorities the ripple through the organization had impacts far beyond the idea itself.

I asked, “What’s the sales team doing to help you find answers to this?” 

He said, “They can’t do much.  The things risks, shifts in priorities, and change management involves things far outside their ability to contribute.”

This example is pretty dramatic, it involved a fairly substantive shift in the company strategy.  Most Challenger Sales may not be that dramatic, but we have to understand Challenger Buying!  We aren’t doing our job and we won’t be successful unless we help our customer in their buying (funny how it always comes back to helping the customer buy).  We have to help them understand the risks, change, readiness, and prioritization issues.  We have to help the customer solve and manage these.

Challenger Buying is tough–if we are going to be successful with Challenger Selling, we need to shift our focus to Challenger Buying.

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