The buyer-seller gap is real: According to the CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, buyers’ dwindling reliance on sellers during the early phases of the purchase process and the presence of numerous influencers and decision-makers means that sellers must take a different approach to build relationships and close more deals, realigning their selling process with the buying cycle.
For some sellers, that’s meant moving away from solution selling to a more aggressive approach, like the Challenger Sale model popularised after the 2011 book of the same name. The Challenger Sale model encourages sellers to retool their selling process, suggesting that sellers should use aggressive tactics to create friction, control the sales conversation and win more business.
While the Challenger model understands that buyers favour sellers who provide them with useful insights, it diverges markedly from solution selling—which has evolved over the years into perspective selling—a consultative selling approach that we emphasize in our training methodologies, including Strategic Selling with Perspective.
Here are five reasons that a consultative approach beats the Challenger Sale for enterprise selling.
1. The Need for Perspective
The Challenger method asserts that solution selling is dead. It describes solution selling as showing up blind to a potential customer, without having done any research, and asking them questions of little or no value along these lines: “Hi, will you tell me all of your needs while I write them down?” That approach won’t work with today’s sophisticated, well-informed buyers. But that is also an outdated depiction of solution selling.
Solution selling didn’t die; it evolved to bring buyers the value of perspective. Perspective is when sellers give their buyers new knowledge that helps them see their problem in a different light to achieve their business goals. Providing perspective builds sellers’ credibility, by differentiating themselves and their solutions and turns them from a vendor into a trusted, solution-based partner. Buyers want experiences where they feel confident that sellers understand their needs and that sellers are able to deliver value. Perspective delivers that value.
A consultative sales approach also opens doors to additional conversations early in the sales cycle. Most buyers (65%) find value in discussing their needs with sellers, and the overwhelming majority (90%) are open to talking to sellers earlier in the purchase cycle. To take advantage of these opportunities for earlier engagement, buyers must follow an insightful approach to the sales process: they need to offer perspective.
2. Selling Is Still a Mutual-Value Activity
Taking control of a relationship does not endear sellers to customers. When working with strong-willed buyers who are less reliant on sellers than ever for information, you won’t build any momentum if you try to tell them what to do or how they should make decisions.
Fifty-five percent of buyers say a seller’s ability to educate them during the sales process influenced the last large purchase decision they made. A consultative approach to sales earns sellers the right to engage with buyers earlier and more often in the sales cycle.
Sellers must demonstrate that they’re trustworthy before buyers want to take the next step forward in a deal. In turn, the process of exchanging perspective builds credibility and trust: two essential pillars for a long-term sales relationship.
3. Relationships Last Beyond the Sale
Creating tension with a new contact by challenging their assumptions may temporarily differentiate you in a crowded field of sellers. But after you’ve made a sale, where does that leave you? How do you turn that relationship into a lasting one? All too often, you can’t. Challenger’s adversarial approach frequently leads to a single transaction—and no more.
The Challenger approach ignores a key principle of sales logic: for most businesses, about 70% of revenues come from existing customers. In fact, post-sale account expansion is where you’ll find the lion’s share of revenue opportunities. To cultivate relationships, sellers and buyers alike must engage in open, honest and regular communication—and their conversations must start long before the next opportunity begins to take shape.
In solution selling, organisations prioritise alignment between sales and customer success. Service professionals communicate with customers as much as 10 times more than sellers, which means organisations need to emphasize true collaboration between service and sales with intense focus on the customer.
When service and sales put the customer at the center of their work, customer satisfaction levels increase, which leads to deeper levels of brand loyalty and increases the likelihood of repeat business and deal growth.
4. Buyer Stereotypes Don’t Work
The Challenger selling philosophy requires a one-size-fits-all approach to sales. But a singular approach won’t work with all buyers. Not all buyers appreciate this method’s “rational drowning” approach—a strategy that makes buyers uncomfortable by bombarding them with data designed to create fear, uncertainty or doubt and thereby establish a rationale for addressing a problem or seizing a market opportunity.
Modern buyers differ in how and when they want their insights. According to the Miller Heiman Group Executive Impact program, executives exhibit five different decision-making styles, all of which consume information differently. Some want insights up front, while others don’t, depending on their decision-making style. As a result, sellers must research and communicate with a prospect to discover the best way to tailor their sales delivery to their buying influence’s preferred style. Agility is required; sellers cannot stereotype and assume all buyers value the same approach.
5. Seller Stereotypes Don’t Work Either
The Challenger seller profiles are difficult to follow for hiring and developing talent—and talent is a primary concern for organisations planning for the future, according to the CSO Insights 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study. The five profiles—Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Problem Solvers, Lone Wolves, and Challengers—are not mutually exclusive from each other. They also don’t clarify the differences between inherent attributes—those that you cannot train—from the behaviors that you can teach.
At Miller Heiman Group, we take a data-driven approach to creating a comprehensive talent strategy. Our research shows that a successful seller profile depends on the sales organisation—and it isolates the traits that allow sellers to thrive in their selling environment. The traits that differentiate between sales success and mediocrity are about the salesperson’s approach to work or their learning agility—talents and skills that must be teased out through talent assessments, compiled into a hiring profile and then developed throughout a salesperson’s career.
There Are No Shortcuts to More Sales
To win more business, you don’t need a sales gimmick or tactic. You need a proven sales methodology backed by perspective—a combination of skills, mindset and insights—that offers buyers greater value.