Today, it’s all the rage in Sales Training to talk about salespeople as “educators” and “challengers.” Following from some new research into what’s working now in selling, published late last year as The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, we’ve learned that, for many buyers, the biggest single differentiator among many competing products and services is the contribution made by the salesperson.
So even if your service or product is mostly the same as your competitors’, if you’re able to provide more useful information to your prospect, if you can make him aware of the pitfalls, if you can show her how other companies have successfully taken advantage of your product or service, you’ll be preferred … you’ll get the sale.
It’s also the rage to criticize the new Challenger research, mostly because the authors have said, “Relationship Selling is dead!” They made this statement after dividing thousands of sellers into categories including “Challengers” (sellers who challenge their prospects’ thinking, who hold a point a view and stick with it even in the face of prospects’ disagreement) and “Relationship Builders” (sellers who are focused on building relationships with prospects and reducing tension).
The research says that, while relationship-building is crucial with clients who are already doing business with us, as a strategy for getting new clients it’s the least effective – in fact, almost completely ineffective, now. The most effective approach to getting new clients? Challenging.
I’m seeing a weakness in the Challenger model, though. When we send sellers out to “educate,” as is advocated in Dixon’s and Adamson’s book, sometimes we get sellers who talk way too much. And when they do, they often give their prospects a Reason to Reject their services or product.
In a busy and information-choked world, most of us view any new service or product, first, from the perspective “Why DON’T I need this?” As soon as we identify the reason we don’t need it, we’re gone – no need to pay further attention to it. So an “educating” seller, in mentioning some of the ways he’s guessing his offering may be useful to his prospect, may inadvertently mention something that his prospect just does not want – and that becomes the Reason to Reject what’s being sold!
Here’s an example: clients of mine who are tax accountants told me that they would like to sell “tax consulting” – not just after-the-fact preparation of tax returns, but work with people every month during the year to minimize their tax exposure, so at the end of the year, the tax bill won’t be so high. I asked them how an average entrepreneur might receive that idea, and my clients insisted that it was easy-to-understand and attractive.
But the average entrepreneur views accounting firms as an expense, I said. Right now, it’s a once a year expense for tax preparation, but, now it won’t be one bill from the accountants every year (or every quarter) – it will be a monthly “consulting bill”! Reason to Reject!
The risk in talking too much – the risk in seeing yourself as an educator when you’re selling – is that you’ll talk about things that sound good to you, but that strike your prospect as a Reason to Reject. How to avoid that?
Engage him. Ask her about her circumstances, rather than pushing your point of view too early. Be informed about their business, have some ideas as to the difficulties they may be facing, come prepared to challenge them with information that they may not have or be acting on – but attempt to draw them into a conversation about their situation first, and listen closely to what they talk about.
If you’re clearly a knowledgeable person, and you’re honestly curious about your prospect’s specific, unique circumstances -- rather than just advocating for what you have to sell -- many people will be willing to have a brief conversation with you.
When they do, you’ll learn more about them, so that when you mention what you’re offering, you’ll do that in a way that’s customized to their specific circumstances. And that raises your chance of selling success.