The Challenger Sale: Chapter 5, section 1 (part 3 of 4)

Chapter 5: Teaching for Differentiation (Part 2): How to Build Insight-Led Conversations

If you were to map a world-class teaching conversation – or teaching “pitch” – you’d find it moves through six discreet steps, each building directly to the next. … Frankly, it isn’t so much about delivering a formal presentation as it’s about telling a compelling story.

Step 1: The Warmer

Lay out what you’re seeing and hearing as key challenges at similar companies. If you have it, this is a great place to provide bench-marking data. … anecdotes from other companies that capture the challenges most likely of highest concern to your customer in ways that corroborate their own experience. … Conclude your review by asking for their reactions:

“We’ve worked with a number of companies similar to yours, and we’ve found that these three challenges come up again and again as by far the most troubling. Is that what you’re seeing too, or would you add something else to the list?”

What you’re saying to your customer is, “I understand your world,” and “I’m not here to waste your time asking you to teach me about your business.” It’s an approach we’ve dubbed “Hypothesis-Based Selling.” … it makes the entire sale both faster and easier for them. … A Commercial Teaching pitch cuts right to the chase. It honors the customer’s time and shows that you’ve done your homework.

So what’s next? What are you going to do with the goodwill you’ve just established? Present your solution? Lay out your “value proposition”? That’s the lastthing you want to do now! Although it is the next step they’re probably expecting, and it’s absolutely the next thing a core-performing rep would do – and without a doubt what your competitor’s sales rep did when he was sitting in the same customer’s office an hour earlier.

Think about it. You just got your customer to warm up to you by talking about their business. Why in the world would you want to ruin all that goodwill by spouting off about yourbusiness? You haven’t yet given them a reason to care. Instead, now you go to a place your customer never saw coming: the Reframe.

Step 2: The Reframe

This is the central moment of a Commercial Teaching pitch.  Mind you, you’re not expect to actually come up with the insight in the moment. … that kind of spontaneous flash of brilliance is not only too hard, it’s actually a bad idea. … Rather, the Reframe is simply about the insight itself. It’s just the headline. And like any good headline, your goal is to catch your customer off guard with an unexpected viewpoint – to surprise them, make them curious, and get them wanting to hear more.

Remember, the reaction you’re looking for here is … “Huh, I never thought of it that way before.” … If you’re doing a reframe, then be sure you really reframe. This is not the place to be timid, as the entire pitch rests on your ability to surprise your customer and make them curious for more information. You’ve just bought yourself another five minutes. So what’s next? Well, you’ve shown your customer a different way to think about their business, now you’ve got to show them why it matters.

Step 3: Rational Drowning

Rational Drowning is where you lay out the business case for why the Reframe in step 2 is worth your customer’s time and attention.

So now it’s time for the data, graphs, tables, and charts you need to quantify for the customer the true, often hidden, cost of the problem or size of the opportunity they’d completely overlooked. Rational Drowning is the numbers-driven rationale for why your customer should think differently about their business, but presented specifically in a way designed to make them squirm a little bit – to feel like their drowning.

Putting steps 2 and 3 together, you’ve got to show them something new, and show them why it matters. This is what good teaching is all about. Great teaching, however, requires something else: emotional impact.

Step 4: Emotional Impact

Emotional Impact is all about making absolutely sure that the customer sees themselves in the story you’re telling. … Simply repeating the business case in greater detail will never get you past the “we’re different” response. That’s because you’re solving for the wrong problem. The problem isn’t that you’ve failed to make a logical presentation, the problem is that you’ve failed to make an emotional connection.

Now you’ve got to make it personal. And this is where a Challenger rep’s storytelling ability really comes into play. … You’ve got to paint a picture of how other companies just like the customer’s went down a similarly painful path by engaging in behavior that the customer will immediately recognize as typical of their own company.

“I understand you’re a little bit different, but let me give you a sense of how we’ve seen this play out at similar companies …” And for this to work, whatever you say next has to feelimmediately familiar (which is another reason why a deep understanding of the customer must be acquired priorto the sales call, not just during it). The reactions you’re looking for are a rueful shake of the head, a wry smile, a thoughtful faraway look. Why? Because you’re looking for the customer to replay the same scenario in their head as it actually happened to them in their own companyjust last week. Ideally, the customer’s response to your story is something like, “Wow, it’s like you work here or something. Yeah, we do that all the time. It just kills us.” And that is how you slay the dragon of “we’re just different”: by creating an emotional connection between the pain in the story you’re telling and the pain your customer feels every day inside their own organization. If your customer still thinks they’re different after step 4, you either have the wrong customer or the wrong story.

Step 5: A New Way

As tempting as it might be at this point to launch into a review of how you can help, step 5 is still about the solution, not about the supplier. … It is deeply tempting to talk specifically about how you can help. For most reps it simply feels like the obvious thing to do. But step 5 isn’t a story about how much better customers’ lives would be if they bought your stuff (which is what most reps want to talk about), it’s about showing customers how much better their life would be if they just acted differently. It’s about behaving differently, not buying differently.

Don’t rush this. Before they buy your solution, the customer has to buy the solution.

Step 6: Your Solution

If step 5 is about getting customers bought in to acting differently, the goals of step 6 is to demonstrate how your solution is better able than anyone else’s to equip them to act differently. In many ways, of all six steps, this one is the most straightforward, as it’s what reps have been trained to do from the very beginning. This is where you lay out the specific ways you can deliver the solution they’ve just agreed to in step 5 better than anyone else.

Where does the supplierfirst enter the conversation? Notice it’s not until the very end in Step 6. … If, on the other hand, you’re going to take sixty minutes of your customer’s precious time for a face-to-face meeting, you’d better make sure that whatever you do with that time is valuable to your customer.


The Challenger Sale: Chapter 4 (Part 2 of 4)

The Challenger Sale

Key argument is against “relationship selling” and towards “commercial teaching.”

Chapter 4: Teach for Differentiation (Part 1): Why Insight Matters

Over the last fifteen years, most sales training has centered on a core principle: The shortest path to sales success is a deep understanding of customers’ needs. … It sounds great on paper, but this approach suffers one major problem: It doesn’t work nearly as well today as it used to. … this approach is based on a deeply flawed assumption: that customers actually knowwhat they need in the first place.

But what if customers truly don’t know what they need? What if customers’ single greatest need – ironically – is to figure outexactly what they need.

If this were true, rather than asking customers what they need, the better sales technique might in fact be to tellcustomers what they need. And that’s exactly what Challengers do. When you get down to it, Challengers aren’t so much world-class investigators as they are world-class teachers. They win not by understanding their customers’’ word as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world betterthan their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.

Selling a well-branded, highly differentiated product, supported by higher-than-industry-average service will undoubtedly get you more loyalty. If you’re way behind the competition in any of these three categories, that’s probably where you want to start. [an example company improved customer service dramatically, but saw no improvement in customer loyalty. This is because so did everyone else. The industry as a whole improved. Customer service was not a differentiator, it’s now the cost of admission]

So while we spend much of our time emphasizing subtle differences, customers tend to focus first on the general similarities.

That’s the real bombshell finding of this work. Loyalty isn’t won in the product development centers, in advertisements, or on toll-free help lines: Loyalty is won out in the field, in the trenches, during the sales call.  … 53 percent of customer loyalty is attributed to your ability to outperform the competition in the sales experience itself.

Seven attributes (out of 50) ranked the highest for importance of impact:

  • Rep offers unique and valuable perspectives on the market
  • Rep helps me navigate alternatives
  • Rep provides ongoing advice or consultation
  • Rep helps me avoid potential land mines
  • Rep educates me on new issues and outcomes
  • Supplier is easy to buy from
  • Supplier has widespread support across my organization

Each of these attributes speaks directly to an urgent need of the customer not to buysomething, but to learn something. They’re looking to suppliers to help them identify new opportunities to cut costs, increase revenue, penetrate new markets, and mitigate risk in ways they themselves have not yet recognized.

The best companies don’t win through the quality of the products they sell, but through the quality of the insight they deliver as part of the sale itself. … And the best reps win not by “discovering” what customers already know they need, but by teaching them a new way of thinking altogether.

Not just any teaching. Commercial teaching.

“What happens,” he asked, “if my rep goes out, teaches a customer something completely new and compelling about their business, gets them all excited to take action, and that customer then takes that insight, puts it out to bid, and my competitor wins the deal? In that case, it doesn’t feel like I’ve really won anything.” … and he’s right, you haven’t.

It’s one thing to challenge customers with new ideas, and another thing altogether to ensure you get paid for it.

Commercial Teaching must ultimately: teach customers something new and valuable about their business – which is what they want – in a way that reliably leads to commercial wins for us – which is what we want. Commercial teaching has four key rules:

  1. Lead to your unique strengths
  2. Challenge customers’ assumptions
  3. Catalyze action
  4. Scale across customers

Commercial Teaching Rule #1: Lead to Your Unique Strengths

If what you’re teaching inevitably leads back to what you do better than anyone else, then you’re in a much better position when it comes to winning the business.


You’ve only really succeeded when the customer asks, “Wow, how can I make that happen?” and you’re able to say, “Well, let me show you how we’re better able to help you make that happen than anyone else.” That’s the magical moment. You’ve shared new, relevant insight – which is what customers are looking for – but at the same time, you’ve tied that insight to your unique solution. You’ve taught your customer not just want help but to want your help.

There are two important caveats: you’ve got to make sure you actually canhelp. Second, you actually have to know what your unique strengths are.

How is a customer supposed to choose between two suppliers that are more or less undifferentiated? It’s actually rather simple: They choose the cheapest supplier.

Commercial Teaching Rule #2: Challenge Customers’ Assumptions

Whatever you teach your customers has to actually teach them something. It has to challenge their assumptions and speak directly to their world in ways they haven’t thought of or fully appreciated before. The word we like to use here is “reframe”.

If your customer reacts to your sales pitch with something like, “Yes, I totally agree! That’s exactlywhat’s keeping me up at night!” well, then you’ve actually failed. That may feel counterintuitive, but it’s true nonetheless. Sure, you’ve found an issue or insight that resonates, but it doesn’t reframe. You haven’t actually taught them anything. … you made a “connection” but rapport and reframe are not the same thing.

Rather than, “Yes, I totally agree!” they know they’re on the right track when they hear their customer say, “Huh, I never thought of it that way before.” … They’re clearly telling you they’re engaged, maybe even a little unsettled.

Still, just because we’ve helped them seethings differently doesn’t mean we’ve necessary persuaded them to dothings differently. That’s next and it’s just as important.

Commercial Teaching Rule #3: Catalyze Action

A well-executed teaching conversation isn’t about the supplier’s solution at all – at least not initially. It’s about the customer’s business, laying out an alternative means to either save money or make money they’d previously overlooked.


Commercial Teaching Rule #4: Scale Across Customers

Provide your sales reps with a manageably small set of well-scripted insights along with two or three easy-to-remember diagnostic questions design to map the right insight to the right customer.

We have seen Commercial Teaching work very effectively around a common need to free up cash, or reduce employee churn, or improve workplace safety. In each of these cases, the suppliers in question helped customers think about that need in new and surprising ways by reframing their thinking, convincingly laying out the fully loaded costs of inaction, and then providing a credible course of action that naturally led back to the supplier’s unique solution.