Those of you who follow my work will know that as well as working with my own clients I am a facilitator for CEB’s Challenger program and the various associated workshops for sales managers. Many of you will have seen lots written about The Challenger model and so I thought I would give my perspective on it. Let me say at the outset that the whole program really resonates with my sales and management experience and when compared to other programs that I have run I feel the potential for behavioural change is much greater.
So there are 4 key things that I like about Challenger:
1. The research. CEB are a top research and advisory organization answering the big questions that their members (customers) ask them, so the research is of high quality and conducted on significant sample sizes. CEB studied 10,000 customers asking 50 questions together with 25,000 sales people asking 44 questions. These sample sizes give datasets of 500,000 and 1,100,000 that are somewhat more significant than those of some of the counter arguments I have read with customer sample sizes of just 700. The other interesting point that many people fail to realise is that CEB didn’t create the 5 sales profiles (Challenger, Relationship Builder, Hard Worker, Problem Solver and Lone Wolf) rather these were derived from the data using factor analysis. So CEB weren’t looking for 5 profile types, the data led them to that result. Interesting, when this is compared to some sales methodologies, that start with the number of profiles they want and then build the “data” around them.
2. Intuition. Challenger feels right to me as a sales professional. I have always had a nagging doubt about the Relationship Builder bending over backwards to satisfy every whim of the customer. Challengers build relationships but go further, using constructive tension to drive action. This approach of Challenging the customer’s status quo and assumptions is what customers want from sales professionals today – teach me about me, tell me what I am missing, what best practices have I failed to implement? Sales people with no experience of truly working in partnership with customers and pushing back against their requests can find this approach eye-opening.
3. The results. I have always been an advocate of working on live customers in training workshops. In Challenger workshops, participants are challenged to think differently about their customers, starting from a business perspective and then moving towards their solutions. This approach stretches the sales people to learn more about the customer’s environment and deliver business value and only in the last step introduce their solution. The outputs from the workshop are action plans for key customers that can be implemented straight away and developed through coaching conversations with their managers. Some of the results have been truly stunning, and I particularly like the innovative ways that participants have developed to challenge the RFI/RFP process. Yes, even challenging Government departments to think differently and rewrite the tenders to take into account the Challenger’s ideas.
4. On-going transformation. Today, the Challenger model comprises skills, behaviours and organisational support that can be introduced into most companies and can sit across sales methodologies. New CEB research is answering the next question that Heads of Sales are asking “Is there a set of customers we should be targeting who are more likely to mobilize to drive action on our behalf?” – this is the Mobilizer research and in its own way just as powerful as Challenger. For anyone who is working in sales this research answers the key qualification question around where I spend my time – tell me who to talk to and who to avoid. For me, the most fascinating insight from the research is that most sales people are avoiding the very customers who can internally drive the action necessary to win the business.
For more details on the Challenger approach, and for anyone interested in selling, I highly recommend The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Books that are research based can be very dry, but this is both informative and a good read.
As usual please let me know what you think.