The Challenger Sale—popularized in 2011 by the book of the same name—posits that consultative selling is dead. Instead, it recommends that sellers use friction to aggressively take control of buyer conversations and drive results.
While this approach can generate net-new business, its approach contradicts a key concept that research has proven: in uncertain economic times, the best way to grow your sales organization is to invest in deepening customer relationships.
Consultative selling is not dead, as Challenger argues. It’s evolved. That evolution is what will strengthen relationships between buyers and sellers and bring success to sales organizations as we face an increasingly challenging global economy.
What Challenger Gets Wrong about Customer Relationships
In 2014, the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management reviewed and critiqued the Challenger model, arguing that the approach had “inherent empirical and conceptual limitations that actually represent fatal flaws.”
The Challenger Sale describes relationship building as a “losing approach” for “selling complex, large-scale business-to-business solutions.” But the article’s authors found that the Challenger model reflects “a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of relationship building within the modern sales role and represents a view that is diametrically antithetical to current realities of both sales practice and academic research.”
Through the sales process, sellers co-create value with their buyers. Creating value requires a series of interpersonal interactions–in other words, buyers and sellers must work together, and often, to maximize the value of a deal. The article also cites other studies agreeing that sales strategies based on building relationships are critical for closing deals.
But Challenger fails to consider the value of seller credibility and trust: two concepts closely tied to relationship building. As the authors observe, “the only way that selling with insight can be leveraged is if the salesperson has personal credibility with the customer.”
While the Challenger approach embraces insight, it suggests using insight to create tension with buyers. If a seller hasn’t built a strong enough relationship with the buyer before creating that tension, the article suggests that the seller will face resistance because they don’t have the credibility necessary to back up this approach. The technique may backfire, because “when a salesperson challenges a prospect—particularly a new prospect—there is a strong potential for distrust and dissatisfaction to emerge.”
This observation also thwarts a key premise of the Challenger approach: sellers should prioritize accounts where buyers can make a quick decision. Challenger claims to work best in complex, fast-moving markets. Yet large accounts with a significant lifetime value aren’t primed to move quickly, particularly since six or more buying influences are often involved in the decision-making process.
Why Perspective Matters
Buyers value sellers who know their business and facilitate mutually compelling discussions that respect buyers’ time and abilities, which is at the crux of solution selling. A significant amount of research—including the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study from CSO Insights—shows that buyers want sellers who exceed their expectations by using perspective to work together to find solutions, sometimes solutions that the buyer hasn’t even thought of, that benefit their business.
Perspective isn’t a sales tactic, a set of questions or an asset to use to win more deals. It’s not a moment in time. It combines a seller’s mindset, experience and insight to add value to the sales process while building credibility and helping them engage more deeply as problem-solvers with their customers.
Perspective also moves the needle. Sellers who offer perspective report 12% better win rates—while sellers who excel at perspective jump to 23% better win rates—and are four times as likely to have deeper customer relationships, according to the CSO Insights 2018–2019 Sales Performance Report.
Given that 70% of revenues now come from existing business, it’s critical to focus on deepening relationships with existing customers, particularly exploring strategies to retain and grow these strategic accounts with long-term potential.
Mutually beneficial relationships like these are grounded in perspective. Sellers who offer perspective help their customers discover an unrecognized problem, an unanticipated solution or an unforeseen opportunity and share that knowledge with their buyers. They share this perspective at varying stages of the sales cycle, depending on their buyers’ preferences and decision-making style, opening the door to further, deeper conversations.
Get Perspective to Build Better Relationships
Now is the time—before a recession hits—to start building stronger relationships with your customers. The foundation for those relationships is a sales methodology and process rooted in perspective—not in investing in a gimmicky approach that pushes sellers to talk about answers to problems buyers don’t have.
Start your sales transformation with Strategic Selling with Perspective today, and begin building stronger customer relationships capable of weathering any financial storm tomorrow.