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Why I'm Worried About THE CHALLENGER SALE

New research released on November 10, 2011, rocked the Sales Training world.


Nine months later, many things about the value of that research are clear – but, for me at least, one thing is not!


Challengers are taught to “take control.” As I personally implement the ideas in The Challenger Sale, and as I watch other people, including those for whom I serve as a Sales Coach, using the Challenger ideas in selling efforts with their prospects, this central issue emerges: Is that a good thing?


The authors of The Challenger Sale define “taking control” as “being comfortable talking about money,” and being “able to ‘push’ the customer.” About the latter, the book says Challengers sniff out junior contacts and, if they don’t grant access to senior decision-makers, Challengers cut the sales effort short and move on to the next opportunity. (I’d call that “qualifying.”)


Later the authors draw distinctions between Relationship Builders (bad) who “learn and react,” deferring to the customer/prospect, as compared to Challengers (good) who take control, with an approach they call “lead and simplify.”


Can’t argue with simplifying. But the expression is “take control”, and, nine months out, I don’t think telling salespeople to take control is a good idea. In fact, I think that, by definition


The person who has the money is in control!


And that person is your prospect.


This is not an argument against being prepared, nor is it an argument against having a point of view, a rationale for a prospect making a purchase, or providing value in the sales process. But when you’re behaving as if you are in control, I think the average prospect is going to feel that some role-reversal is going on!


Am I the only person who thinks “take control” is a peculiarly male approach to selling? Can you imagine a female salesperson successfully taking control of a sale to a male prospect – particularly one in the over-40 age range?


Sure, be strong, have a point of view, don’t be afraid to engage in a conversation with a prospect who holds a different view, simplify – all good. But behave as if you are “in control”? I think not.  


Even selling man-to-man, is it good to frame the interaction as being about “control”? Is a prospect going to let a sales guy be in control when that prospect is spending his own budget money?


The authors of The Challenger Sale did extensive research, and claim to be reporting on “the data.” Perhaps this is a semantic issue – but tell salespeople to “take control,” and I think you’ve set them up for power struggles that may end unhappily. The three lynchpins of the Challenger approach are 


1. Teaching
2. Tailoring
3. Taking control


I’m seriously questioning bullet #3. Is it just that we need another “T”? Maybe replace it with “Take the initiative”? What do you think?

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