The Challenger Customer: Chapter 3, section 2 (part 4 of 10)

Getting Paid For Insight

So imagine a scenario where a supplier teaches their customer something new, the customer then takes that insight, puts it out to bid, and the supplier’s direct competitor wins the business. That doesn’t feel so good. And we’d agree. In fact, we call that “free consulting.” Few suppliers ever sustainably grew their business falling into that particular trap.

Thus the term Commercial Insight (or what we’ve called elsewhere “Commercial Teaching”). It’s insight that meets the “frame-breaking” bar, but simultaneously leads the customer back to that particular supplier as the only one able to help them take action on that insight.

There are three questions a supplier must answer to do this well:

  1. What are we good at?
  2. What are we uniquely good at?
    1. This is where the pain kicks in, as most companies can successfully answer Question 1 but struggle mightily with Question 2
    2. Which of our unique capabilities is sustainable?

At its most basic level a true differentiator is unique, valuable, defensible, and sustainable.

Differentiators are not:

  1. Features and benefits common in a supplier’s market,
  2. Outcomes the supplier’s product generates, or
  3. Vague descriptions or overused descriptions that include anyof the following words: “innovative,” “green,” “user friendly,” or “solution.”

If we took all the names and logos off of your commercial content and gave it to a competitor to present to a customer, would that customer still necessarily have to buy from you?

A Very Different Kind of “Customer Understanding” 

The last ten years have seen an explosion of interest in “customer understanding” led in particular by marketing organizations seeking to ensure their company not only meets customer expectations but exceedsthem.

Not surprisingly, then, marketers have invested huge amounts of time, effort, and money developing a wide-ranging toolbox to determine whether their organization is “delivering a world-class customer experience,” designed to offer memorable “moments of delight” across “every possible customer touch point.”

Yet, as useful as those surveys are in retrospectively gauging company performance, it turns out they’re virtually useless for proactively building world-class Commercial Insight. Why? Because every one of those surveys is designed to test for the exact same thing: customers’ perceptions of the supplier.

But, you’ll remember, the key to Commercial Insight isn’t a story about the supplier at all. It’s a story about the customerand how they’ve missed something materially important in the performance of their business. … Because the only way to (diplomatically) tell a customer that they’re “wrong” is to first understand what they believe in the first place. That set of beliefs is something we like to call a “mental model.”

Building and Breaking Mental Models

The only way to change how a customer actsis to first change the way that that customer thinks. … Be that as it may, what we’ve consistently found in all of our research is that the best sales reps – Challenger Reps – and the best companies – Challenger organizations – see customers’ current mental models as their primary leverage point for driving customer behavior change. So rather than engaging customers in a debate on the merits of the supplier’s proposed solution, the best suppliers engage their customers in a discussion if the customer’s current beliefs. And in that discussion, they diplomatically, emphatically, culturally correctly, yet systematicallybreak down their customer’s current mental model, show them how it’s flawed or incomplete, and then articulate in very clear terms why a move the customer assumes would be too costly or too painful is actually less costly or painful than their current status quo.

It’s a careful, credible demonstration that the customer’s current mental model is not only flawed, but costing them money or exposing them to risk in ways they never fully realized. That, indeed, the pain of same is greater than the pain of change.

This is the true power of Commercial Insight when it’s done well. Not only does it paint a picture of how great life could be if they change, but far more important, it teaches customers that it’s not nearly as good as they think it is, were they to stay the same. At the same time, this is what virtually every supplier is currently missing in their current content creation efforts – a disciplined, systematic approach to understandingand then replacing a customer’s mental models.

Bottom line, the only way to get customers to think differently about you is to first get them to think differently about themselves.

Break Down the A, Then Build Up the B

To simplify what, admittedly, at first glance must feel like a relatively complex idea, let’s boil this down to two simple things: the customer’s currentbeliefs and behavior on the one hand, and their desiredbeliefs and behaviors on the other. … We represent this model with a large “A” connected by an arrow to a large “B.”

We like this model because it allows us to ask a very simple, but rather telling question: if you were to consider all of the collateral, all of the “pitch decks,” all of the content that your organization currently creates in an attempt to get customers to buy your solution, what’s it mostly about? Is it primarily about the A? Or is it largely about the B? … for most organizations, the predominant answer is, by far, the B.

[Competition between suppliers] by and large, is a battle for the B. But the strange thing is, more often than not, suppliers will win that battle but still lose the war. Customers will look them in the eye, emphatically agree that B is indeed better, but still not budge off their current behavior. … as one senior leader memorably told us, “If our value proposition got any ‘crisper,’ we’d have to write it on a cracker – but it’s stillnot enough!”

After studying this problem for the better part of five years, we’ve come to conclude the real challenge in changing customer buying behavior isn’t a better articulation of the benefits of B. it’s a better articulation of the pain of A. Without that, the B may seem great, but the A still remains “good enough.” Winning a solution sale, in other words, isn’t so much a batter for the B nearly so much as a battle for the A.

Again, that’s the moment where you must tell the customer that they’re wrong. The A-to-B statement isn’t a story about the supplier; it’s a story about the customer. Done properly, it’s “supplier agnostic.”

Four Questions to Build Commercial Insight

  1. What are our sustainable, unique strengths?
  2. Of those unique strengths, which ones are currently underappreciated by our customers?
  3. What is it that the customer fails to fully understand about their business that leads them to underappreciate our unique, sustainable capability now?
  4. What would we have to teach that customer about their business that would lead them to value that capability more than they do now?

[These questions] provide productive work streams for members of the commercial team:

  • What kind of evidence would we need to credibly convince customers of what we’re saying?
  • How high is the “burden of proof” of our argument?
  • How much of that evidence do we have now?
  • How/where could we build or buy the evidence that we’re missing?