One of the best sales books I read last year was The Challenger Sale. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone directly or indirectly in a position to sell. It addresses not only a better way to approach your customers and the sales process, but also how organizations and managers can improve their coaching, sales training and overall customer loyalty in the process.
I read the book again last week, highlighting some of what I thought were its most important points. What resulted is this approximately 1800-word summary of direct quotes and other important points from the book.
Reading this summary can give you the gist, but if you haven’t read the full book I hope this pushes you in that direction. Well worth the time.
Direct Highlights & Quotes from The Challenger Sale:
How you sell has become more important than what you sell.
If you’re going to win going forward, you’ve got to equip reps to generate new demand in a world of reluctant, risk-averse customers.
(Challengers have) a deep understanding of the customer’s business and use that understanding to push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively.
A Challenger is really defined by the ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control.
As the Challenger is focused on pushing the customer out of their comfort zone, the Relationship Builder is focused on being accepted into it.
While the Challenger is focused on customer value, the Relationship Builder is more concerned with customer convenience.
The world of solution selling is almost definitionally about a disruptive sale.
If you’re on the journey to more of a value-based or solutions-oriented sales approach, then your ability to challenge customers is absolutely vital for your success going forward.
In a time when consensus is more important than ever to get the deal done, it’s no surprise that the rep who wins in this environment is the one who can effectively tailor the message to a wide range of customer stakeholders in order to build that consensus.
The key, of course, is to do this with control, diplomacy, and empathy.
Shift the discussion from price to value.
Challengers aren’t so much world-class investigators as they are world-class teachers. They win not by understanding their customers’ world as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world better than their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.
Selling a well-branded, highly differentiated product, supported by higher-than-industry-average service will undoubtedly get you more loyalty.
Customers, generally speaking, see significantly less difference between us and the competition than we do ourselves.
Over half of customer loyalty is a result not of what you sell, but how you sell.
You’ve got to build a network of advocacy along the way or risk losing the deal altogether due to weak support across the organization.
(Prospects are) looking to suppliers to help them identify new opportunities to cut costs, increase revenue, penetrate new markets, and mitigate risk in ways they themselves have not yet recognized.
What sets the best suppliers apart is not the quality of their products, but the value of their insight—new ideas to help customers either make money or save money in ways they didn’t even know were possible.
The best reps win that battle not by “discovering” what customers already know they need, but by teaching them a new way of thinking altogether.
They teach customers new perspectives, specifically tailored to their most pressing business needs, in a compelling and assertive enough manner to ensure that the message not only resonates, but actually drives action.
What data, information, or insight can you put in front of your customer that reframes the way they think about their business—how they operate or even how they compete?
There’s vastly greater value in insight that changes or builds on what they know in ways they couldn’t have discovered on their own.
Rapport and reframe are not the same thing.
The best indicator of a successful reframe, in other words, isn’t excited agreement but thoughtful reflection.
If you’re going to build an ROI calculator, make sure it calculates the return on pursuing the reframe, not purchasing your products.
Customers are looking to suppliers to challenge their thinking and teach them something they don’t know.
Logic alone is rarely enough to overcome the status quo.
Rather than leading with open-ended questions about customers’ needs, you lead with hypotheses of customers’ needs, informed by your own experience and research.
Rational Drowning is the numbers-driven rationale for why your customer should think differently about their business, but presented specifically in a way designed to make them squirm a little bit.
A good ROI calculator calculates the ROI on solving the challenge you’ve just taught your customer they have, not the ROI on buying your solution.
You’ve got to show them something new, and then show them why it matters.
You’ve got to paint a picture of how other companies just like the customer’s went down a similarly painful path by engaging in behavior that the customer will immediately recognize as typical of their own company.
The best sales conversations present the customer with a compelling story about their business first, teach them something new, and then lead to their differentiators.
By helping customers think differently about their company, you ultimately want them to think differently about your company.
“What’s currently costing our customers more money than they realize, that only we can help them fix?”
Marketing must serve as the “insight generation machine” that keeps reps well equipped with quality teaching material that customers will find compelling.
A move from leading with your unique strengths to one where carefully constructed teaching interactions very deliberately lead the customer to your unique strengths.
The single biggest incremental opportunity to drive growth isn’t in the products and services you sell, but in the quality of the insight you deliver as part of the sale itself.
53 percent of B2B customer loyalty is a product of how you sell, not what you sell.
When it does come time to decide, the decision maker wants to know he’s got the strong backing of his team.
You can’t just elevate the conversation and cut everyone else out because it’s exactly that team input that the decision maker values most when it comes to loyalty.
End users don’t think of themselves as buying from organizations; they buy from people.
For non–decision makers, loyalty is much less about discovering needs they already know, and much more about teaching them something they don’t know.
Customers will repay you with loyalty when you teach them something they value, not just sell them something they need.
It’s not just the products and services you sell, it’s the insight you deliver as part of the sales interaction itself.
Nearly two-thirds of suppliers report using customer stakeholder interactions to extract insight, rather than provide it.
The best way you sell more stuff over time isn’t by going directly to the person who signs the deal, but by approaching him or her indirectly through stakeholders able to establish more widespread support for your solution.
The rep’s ability to influence the sale in the executive suite is nowhere near as strong as stakeholders’ ability to do the same thing.
Marketing can add a tremendous amount of value simply by helping sales reps to tailor at the industry and company levels.
Two things Challenger reps tailor to are their knowledge of an individual stakeholder’s value drivers and an understanding of the economic drivers of that person’s business.
Instead of asking, “Who needs to be involved?” Challenger reps coach the customer on who should be involved.
Commercial Teaching puts the Challenger in a position to take control by bringing new ideas to the table.
If the rep isn’t willing to convince the customer that the problem is urgent, then he won’t be able to convince the customer it’s worth solving.
The rep pushes the customer, but does so with respect and sensitivity to how the customer is reacting.
75 percent of reps believe that procurement has more power, while 75 percent of procurement officers believe that reps have more power!
While companies have been emphatic about their customer-centricity, they’ve been equally vague with their sales organizations about how to actually do that.
While you can’t realistically change human behavior, you can help make reps aware of their natural tendencies and give them some practical tools for making sure that they don’t prematurely cave when it comes to intense value discussions.
One of the biggest differentiators of high-performing reps is the amount of time they spend planning.
Teach reps the importance of clarity of direction over quick closure, and teach them how to create real value within the sales process.
The frontline sales manager in any sales organization is the fundamental link between strategy and execution—this is where change initiatives and sales force transformations live or die.
Sales leadership is mostly about how innovative sales managers are.
What we’re referring to here is managers collaborating with reps to understand as deeply as possible what’s holding up a deal, figuring out why and where a deal is running into trouble at the customer, and then finding innovative ways to move it forward.
It is about creatively modifying deal-level sales strategy to adapt to the specific customer context—the “reality on the ground,” as it were.
Innovation, on the other hand, is about driving performance through unforeseen obstacles.
Sales innovation is the single biggest sales-related attribute contributing to world-class sales manager performance—more important than selling skills and much more important than a manager’s ability to allocate resources.
Coaching isn’t just a huge driver of sales performance—it’s also a major factor in employee retention and what we call “discretionary,” or extra, effort.
Good coaches make people want to stay.
Coaching is about behaviors, not outcomes.
Managers need to be taught how to emphasize development by separating performance management from coaching interactions.
It’s about co-creation (i.e., thought partnership) without value judgment, about working together collaboratively to find a better way to advance a deal.
Innovative managers are all about sharing best practices, developing and sustaining a strong relationship network inside the organization, and passing new ideas and solutions to the rest of the team.
World-class managers today are defined not just by their ability to coach to the known, but by their ability to innovate around the unknown.
“If we had religiously followed our sales process last year, our three biggest deals would have never gotten done.”
Sales success today is much less about getting better at what you already know and much more about creating an ability to tackle what you don’t know.
Your organization is designed for efficiency at a time when effectiveness is going to win the day.
We can train managers to ask themselves (and their reps) specific questions to prompt thinking from alternate perspectives.
Research by Neil Rackham has shown that 87 percent of sales training content is forgotten by reps within thirty days.
Coaching is a principal lever for boosting training stickiness.
Ironically, the more we try to play up our differences, the more things sound the same.
Be memorable, not agreeable.
Build a pitch that leads to your solution, not with it.
Before even talking about your capabilities, teach customers about a problem they didn’t even know they had—one that you can solve better than your competitors.
We’ve found that the best companies shoot for 80 percent adoption of any change—whether a new skill, tool, process, or system.
In order to get the organization to pay attention to the change you are driving, you must create cognitive dissonance.