Rock “The Challenger Sale” Like Tarzan, King of the Jungle

Into the realm of the “syncopated evolution” of sales practices comes the concept of the “Challenger Sale.”

The recently-published book, The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, offers a premise  that out of five types of sales people (Hard Workers, Challengers, Relationship Builders, Lone Wolves, and Reactive Problem Solvers) it is the Challengers who are by far the most effective at landing sales.

Challengers, like Tarzan, are kings of the sales jungle. Even though not raised by apes, these natives seem to intuitively understand the need to participate with prospects on an equal footing, establish expertise, and convince/convert based on what will help the prospect — not just by telling them what they want to hear. While they undoubtedly use more verbs than Tarzan, they dominate the sales journey like the Alphas they are.

This trend, much in the public eye lately, confirms the idea of a new kind of relationship with prospects and customers — something Nimble has talked a great deal about. Our CEO, Jon Ferrara, always says that the best salespeople don’t just build relationships with customers — they educate them. This means contributing expertise — even information that might fly in the face of outdated prospect opinions or customer demands — that pushes toward success.

An unexpected statistic that came out of the authors’ research is that the “sales experience” accounted for 53% of the contribution to customer loyalty — more than brand impact, product and service delivery, and value-to-price ratio combined! In other words, the latter three are just tickets to the sales treehouse — but how you sell is more important than what you sell.

If how you sell is so important, the next critical takeaway is about what the most effective reps do differently. It’s this. They challenge the prospect by presenting evidence of problems they may not know about, and metrics-driven solutions they can offer to promote customer success. They push without being pushy, and challenge without beating their chests.

This is a breathtaking swing of the vine away from the traditional “facts and figures” approach. The authors cite years of collected data demonstrating that salespeople who challenge customers are succeeding by presenting unique insights that persuade based on specific need and objectives — not just kowtowing to the customer but directing the sale as a knowledgeable partner.

Salespeople who are using this method are, according to the authors’ data, the most successful, and their techniques are teachable and repeatable — even for salespeople as out of their element as Tarzan with a desk job. With the right knowledge, any salesperson — even a starter learner like Cheetah — can drive higher sales, set realistic expectations, and create a more satisfying buyer’s journey.

In their book, the authors identify the qualities of a modern sales professional. The relationship with prospects and customers is always the underpinning of a great sales relationship — but the relationship is now based on the salesperson controlling the conversation — bringing valuable ideas and insights into the relationship.

“I never thought of it that way before” is the ultimate Challenger compliment from a prospect.

At Nimble, we’ve built our product features on the idea that this kind of sales relationship fosters a richer, more genuine, more trustworthy union — and one on a more equal footing.

Key takeaways for salespeople:

  • Show prospects and stakeholders a new idea, and the compelling data, information, and insights that prove why it matters. This requires a deep understanding of their business. It’s more important for a salesperson to be memorable than agreeable.

  • Help them see value rather than price as the goal.

  • Push prospects out of their comfort zone so they see new perspectives in a positive light.

  • Reinforce the point of view that the value of your brand is not a product or service, but the quality of the expertise your brand provides.

  • Paint a picture using successful examples rich in detail and positive results.

  • Know a prospect’s pain points and be ready to identify how they can fix them. It’s especially effective to demonstrate a pain point they didn’t even know they had

  • Understand your value proposition — especially your competitive differentiation — as the basis of leading customers to buy.

  • Build a genuine, authentic relationship — people buy from people they know, trust, and relate to.

  • Teach, tailor, and represent high-caliber expertise. Customers repay valuable help with their loyalty — a good salesperson is an unpaid member of their team.

  • Take time to plan strategy, become capable on practical tools, educate on techniques to handle value discussions, and demonstrate customer centricity in concrete ways.

  • Challenger salespeople, rather than asking about decision makers, should structure the list of stakeholders to achieve consensus, a “network of advocacy.”

Key takeaways for management:

Enthusiastically lead and support sales people. There is great benefit to coaching salespeople in Challenger behaviors and strategies.

You CAN teach diplomacy, sensitivity, empathy, and tactful control.

Understand that sales people can invent creative and innovative ways to help customers succeed. Don’t stifle those ideas…

Yes, it’s a jungle out there, but with a well-informed alpha Tarzan at the customer’s side pre- and post-sale — someone who knows the flora and fauna better than anyone — your sales team members can all be kings of the jungle!

Alyson Stone is Director of Content Strategy and a frequent contributor to the blog.

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