Over the past month or so, there’s been a huge amount of conversation about Matthew Dixon’s and Brent Anderson’s “The Challenger Sale.” It’s one of the best books on selling over the past few years, and should be mandatory for every sales professional. More importantly, it should be mandatory for every CEO, marketing professional, customer service professional, product management professional.
My problem isn’t the book, the authors have articulated the necessity and a great methodology for establishing new conversations with customers. They’ve done a great job with it. My problem is on the implementation side. I’ve spoken to many folks, I’m hearing people say “We’ve got to implement Challenger Selling!” I want to ask them, “did you really read the book?”
Challenger Selling is really not a sales initiative, though the title will be misunderstood. In the opening chapters, the authors make the point about the overall organizational impact of this approach. It’s not Solution Selling 3.0. Challenger Selling is really about Challenger Business Strategy.
Before an organization can be successful in implementing Challenger Selling, it has to re-examine fundamental business strategies, product, marketing, service, customer experience and positioning issues. Without this, you run the risk of sending your sales people into customers naked! They’re prepared to be Challengers, they’ve been trained and developed the skills, but they don’t know what to challenge on, and how to tie that back to the distinctive value of your products and solutions. It’s not sales job to figure these out, it’s the task of the organizations outlined above.
As the authors outline, Challenger Selling demands great introspection across the organization, not just in sales. It requires asking yourself, “What do we want to stand for?” “What meaning do we want to create for our customers?” “Who are the customers that we can create that meaning for?” “What experience to we want to create for our customers and prospects–through the life cycle of our relationship with them?” “Do our product, service, marketing, and other strategies all align with that?” I could go on.
The problem is, too many organizations don’t have this understanding of what drives customers–at least at the depth demanded for success in Challenger Selling. Think about it for a moment, we build our products to satisfy our customer needs, we focus our marketing programs on content demonstrating our solutions are superior in addressing customer needs. But Challenger Selling demands we intercept the customer in a different place. Inherently, the issues that need to be addressed are probably known within our development and marketing teams, but we haven’t structured what we do around those issues.
The gap is not between sales and the customer, the gap is between our organizations and what we stand for to our target customers. Until we close that gap with our own strategies and organizational capabilities, Challenger Selling will be just another initiative that will fall far short of its potential.
There’s, rightfully so, a huge rush to Challenger Selling. But I worry, it’s starting in sales. Sales cannot successfully sustain Challenger Selling, unless the entire organization has a “Challenger Business Strategy.” Sales has to be quipped to have the right conversations, at the right time, with the right customers. The book provides great advice about how sales can lead these conversations. But first sales needs to know what conversations they should be having, and how to position those to the company’s sweet spot. It’s not sales’ job to figure that out, it’s marketing, product management, customer service, and the business strategists that need to provide that leadership, content, and tools.
The book is a must read for all in business. I wish the authors had been able to focus more on the Challenger Business Strategy–perhaps that’s the sequel.