The right focus, at the right time, has enormous influence on top-line and bottom-line growth for any company, but it’s especially true for new ones.

At the moment a company’s founders decide it’s time to add a sales team there are usually more issues to think about than who. “Sales” is used as a catch-all for a long list of activities and documentation that need to be rolled-out before the sales production line is running smoothly. Hiring a traditional salesperson first, before sales-support, and a marketing-driven lead-generation engine is in-place is a recipe for disappointment.

Chief Marketing Officers and Business Development VPs must understand the evolution of effective selling techniques to identify skills and timing that will achieve the best results for their new company. Professional selling is about leading the customer to imagine how your product will improve their condition.

Before there were Challengers: In the 1800’s through 1925, producers and collectors were recognizable personas of formal selling – also referred to as Hunters and Gatherers. Producers were the highly-compensated sales people who secured new business, while “collectors” were low-value operators assigned to gather fees and payments.

In 1925, E.K. Strong published “The Psychology of Selling.” Strong formalized descriptions and methods to handle objections and focus on features and benefits. This approach stood until the 1970’s when research created SPIN selling (Situation, Problem, Implications, Needs). SPIN segmented customers by size and sales by product complexity. The approach was popularized by Neil Rackham’s book, “SPIN Selling.” By then procurement organizations were seeking ways to control costs through various negotiations frameworks. McKinsey & Company introduced the McKinsey 7S process and procurement embraced it as a way to vet suppliers.

Contemporary sales thinkers, leaders, and sales trainers are driving high performance through programs based on the Corporate Executive Board’s research and 2011 book, “The Challenger Sale.” Written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson it’s based on surveys from more than 1,200 companies about their B2B sales performance. Dixon and Adamson identified five sales personas and their occurrence rates: The Hard Worker (21%); The Challenger (27%); The Relationship Builder (21%); The Lone Wolf (18%); and the Reactive Problem Solver (18%).  They noticed that in low complexity sales, there was little difference between performance rates among the five types. But as product & service complexity increased Challengers separated from the pack as they generated a higher share of companies’ sales and profits.

Five Sales People Profiles

Challengers thrive: In complex environments with multiple stakeholders in the buyer’s organization. The Board’s research found that as product complexity increased performance separation began to favor Challengers over other sales personas.

Challenger Advantage

Here’s how Challengers do it. “A Challenger is defined by the ability to do three things – teach, tailor, and take control – and to do all of this through the use of constructive tension,” (Dixson and Adamson 2011).

Challenger Skills

Teach, Tailor, Take Control – great news – it’s possible to teach other personas and mid-performers how Challengers apply those skills in the buying process. Challengers don’t tell – they create business partnerships to uncover meaningful insights; they see the world from the customer’s point of view and generate ideas to help them grow faster and more profitably. Challenger selling engages the whole organization to think about ways to generate value for customers. Simply put, the Challenger method can be learned. The trick is to understand the mechanisms Challengers use to manipulate the buyer’s path.

Challenger Path

Marketing automation: The arms race between sales and procurement has been accelerating.  Contemporary marketing automation strategies, enhanced through lead-scoring programs offered by Act-On, Hubspot, Pardot, Infusionsoft, and others, are force-multipliers that allow sales and marketing organizations with a few employees to close complex deals with large customers, faster, at a higher-rate.

It doesn’t take an active imagination to realize what a Challenger could accomplish if they were handed a list of prospects who poked around the company’s website, viewed pages with information about implementation schedules, and opened a pricing page multiple times over the previous four days. Marketing automation is a goldmine. Want to see it in action? Download the beacon viewer extension from ghostery.com, once it’s active on your browser visit your competitors and other leading companies’ websites and check out the tools they’re using to track visitors.

Summary: For CMO’s, finding someone who understands the customers’ business and has the bandwidth to position the seller’s products in a meaningful way, earlier in the decision-process, will make a big difference to their new organization’s success. And if you don’t need a Challenger, you might not need a sales team. Sales people cost far more than sales and marketing automation programs, so a solid plan that incorporates both is necessary to drive success from each. A Challenger mind-set, along with a comprehensive list of lead scores from the new company’s prospective customers creates a good starting point.

Ideas and Suggestions:

  • Identify customer personas, and determine those customers’ “consideration paths” to buy your products, then organize content to respond to what you already know.
  • Launch your website early to accrue benefits the Google search algorithms bestow for site age.
  • Focus on meaningful, relevant content to drive participation on your site; refine your meta tags, keywords, and messaging to achieve low bounce rates, and increase visitor times on-page to drive higher organic search results – read “Call to Action” Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s e-commerce classic if you don’t know what this means.
  • Hire a good marketing person to create and publish sales collateral, marketing materials, and develop content that buyers will exchange personal information to get their hands on.
  • Launch a marketing automation program to capture buyer interest and develop a sales pipeline.
  • Now you’re ready to hire a Challenger sales leader.

Slides: From “The Challenger Sale.”

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