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

Opportunity Planning

The best advice that we can lend is to use a method and use it consistently. … That being said, there are some important implications that today’s consensus purchase highlights, which we think you should consider incorporating into your opportunity planning approach. … Done well, it should be hard for your sales team to distinguish between the process and the plan.

So what then isthe difference between the two? Why have an opportunity plan at all? The answer is quite simple, though frequently overlooked: if the sales process captures the what, the opportunity plan captures the how. A sales process inherently is meant to capture what happened – particularly if it’s based on customer-verified outcomes to track progress. As we just discussed, those are hugely important milestones that inform deal progress, forecasting, and resourcing, among other things. The opportunity plan, however, helps prompt sellers to critically assess how. How will they get to that next customer verifier and continue deal progression?

That brings us to the third principle of good opportunity planning, which is to base the plan on a series of such questions about the customer organization, the dynamics within the organization, the Mobilizer, and commercial opportunity itself.

LEARN STAGE: What need shouldthis customer be learning about? What should be keeping this customer up at night?Here, sellers are encouraged to understand how the customer is currently mismanaging their business. In this stage, it’s also important to understand whether or not the customer is aware of this need – that likely informs whether or not they’ve already conduced their own research. Will the seller have to initially shape or reshape the customer’s demand? The thought process here encourages sellers to truly prepare for the initial sales calls with the customer.

UNDERSTAND NEEDS STAGE: How shouldthe customer respond to this need? This is the stage where a disruptive insight challenges the customer’s thinking – it’s critical for sellers to plan for that conversation. Here, sellers are encouraged to consider a variety of ways to position their insight and tailor it for customer consumption. What might go wrong in the initial sales conversation? What reactions might the customer have? Good sales planning is just as much planning for the ideal as it is planning for the unexpected. Sellers also need to consider what the customer’s reaction to the Commercial Insight meant and consider the next steps based upon that initial sales call. Was healthy skepticism observed? Did potential Mobilizers reveal themselves? Did a potential Blocker tip her hand? If so, what does that mean as the sale progresses?  This is key – it’s not just that the customer responded, but is asking “What do I take from that? What should my next step be?”

DEFINE PURCHASE CRITERIA STAGE: How shouldthe customer define the purchase criteria? Here, the opportunity planning heavily factors in the Mobilizer. Naturally, your Commercial Insight will have significant bearing on how the customer views the purchase criteria, but the Mobilizer will need to ensure that the nuanced details of the purchase criteria truly reflect that insight. Thinking through the best course of action for the Mobilizer’s support here is critical. Sellers should be reflecting upon the purchase criteria that the competition will likely advocate and how the Mobilizer can then explain how that view is flawed or insufficient.

EVALUATE OPTIONS STAGE: How shouldthe customer evaluate and reach consensus? Here, planning for Commercial Coaching interactions with your Mobilizer is the primary focus. Sellers should be considering what they’ll commercially coach their Mobilizer on, how to tailor that coaching guidance, and how to arm the Mobilizer. This phase is all about considering how to get a “Collective Yes” from the customer stakeholders.

VALIDATE AND SELECT STAGE: How shouldthe customer reach a final decision?  Here, you’ll want to consider how to arm the Mobilizer for any final objections he or she may encounter. In this final stage, as we already discussed, planning for the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of the purchase must happen. Taking stock of how to achieve the ideal customer reaction is important, but almost always there will be a late objection or challenges in the negotiation. So taking stock of the negotiable aspects of the purchase well in advance matter tremendously.

Notice the key theme throughout these questions: how shouldthe customer make their purchase. Each phase of planning encourages sellers to think through the ideal customer interactions, while realistically planning for the unexpected. These questions force sellers to think one step ahead. In this way, each customer interaction moves the deal forward – it’s not merely an “information-gathering” interaction. Even in the face of limited information, the point is to critically assess what should happen and how to best make that action happen.

The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 2 (part 9 of 10)

Implication #5: Sales Process and Opportunity Planning

If there’s one takeaway you should have from all the research and best practices shared to this point, it’s this: commercial organizations need to place far greater emphasis on supporting the customer’s purchase process.  One of our all-time classic best practices comes from an organization that has done just that and shifted their entire salesprocess to more of a purchase enablementprocess. The company is ADP, the global payroll and human capital management firm, and this is their “Buying Made Easy” Purchase Process (see figure 10.10 on page 244) … This entire approach is designed to support the customer through a series of customer outcomesthroughout a typical purchase experience.

But what ADP is doing is different. From their perspective, the real question isn’t “How do we help our reps better sell?” but rather, “How can our sales teams help our customer better buy?” … This process is predicated upon the major decision stages that nearly any customer will undergo, including:

  1. Recognizing a need – This is where the customer initially determines a reason to explore a potential purchase, whether based upon an opportunity, a risk, or a problem. In this stage, the customer will frequently make excuses to maintain the status quo. The customer may preliminarily research suppliers and even conduct an initial supplier outreach.
  2. Exploring options – Here, suppliers start to get initially compared. More extensive supplier research happens, including differing capabilities and pricing. Customers often request more detailed information at this stage.
  3. Defining purchase criteria – Here, customers evaluate the efficacy of their current business processes, assessing precise areas where improved performance is necessary, along with minimum thresholds for that performance. Customers undergo some form of risk/reward analysis. Buying groups convene and stakeholders are tapped to help evaluate the purchase. Purchase criteria are initially proposed.
  4. Evaluating options – Here, customers present a clear business case to senior leadership. Solution providers are formally evaluated and a short list of preferred suppliers is created.
  5. Validating options and selecting a favored supplier – Supplier return on investment is evaluated. Formal requirements are finalized. Funding is secured and the go/no go decision is made.
  6. Negotiating the purchase – Procurement is formally involved as terms are negotiated. A final round of executive sign-off occurs, legal reviews occur, and finally the contract is signed.
  7. Implementing the solution – A project team is assigned. Old processes are retired and new processes are implemented.
  8. Evaluating impact – Various service levels and other agreed-upon performance standards are evaluated relative to expectation.

The conventional thought is there are as many buying processes as there are customers … True, customers are all different, but the motion of buying is not nearly as different as you might initially think.

ADP has created a series of actions that salespeople can take to support the customer purchase – these are referred to as the “Seller Leads” column within their process overview (figure 10.10). The Seller Leads actions capture the activities a rep can do to move the deal forward. For each stage of the customer buying process, ADP has also included a series of expected customer actions, which are referred to as “Buyer Signals.” The Buyer Signals column notes a series of customer verifiersthat indicate the customer is committed to and ready for the next stage in their purchase. This is a dance between the seller and customer, where the seller leads and the customer responds, seller leads, customer responds. If the customer, for whatever reason, fails to respond, the seller immediately takes stock of what is happening inside the customer’s purchase process. Perhaps new stakeholders have entered the picture. Perhaps the competition is encroaching on the deal. Or maybe a new debate is happening about the purchase criteria or required performance thresholds.

Are seller actions or buyer signals the thing that is being tracked, right now, in your CRM to monitor pipeline health and forecast? For most organizations, it’s the seller actions.

At ADP, the “Seller Leads” column is no longer considered the one path to closure but a description of many different possible paths. As a result, don’t think of the Seller Leads column as the set of rules but rather a set of principles. These are suggested actions that might help the starting point for reps to apply their judgment to do what they believe is necessary in a particular situation to achieve the Buyer Signals that indicate purchase progress is being made on the customer’s side.

See Figure 10.11 on page 246. … as the customer moves from exploring options to defining criteria, the expected customer verifier is for the customer to commit to an analysis to help refine their requirements. If the customer fails to commit to this analysis, the seller is instructed to stop all progress and reassess the situation. If, however, the customer commits to the analysis, the seller then provides the customer with a tool to support the next stage. In this case, ADP may provide a questioning guide that helps the customer determine what their purchasing criterial should be. In this way, ADP’s sellers are one step ahead (but only one step) of the customer, supporting the customer as they progress through their purchase experience.

For this approach to work, the customer verifiers have to be created in a special way (see figure 10.12 on page 247). First, they require active participation on the customer’s part. In other words, a good verifier is not one where the customer could passively insinuate they’re progressing. Instead, you want the customer to clearly state their intentions, take an action step, or otherwise signal their commitment to further explore a purchase. Second, good verifiers are clear, binary, and objective. In this way, they should leave little room for misinterpretation.

Otherwise you’ll slip into a big debate about whether something is verified or not, and the power of a “customer-verified pipeline” will be lost. Finally at least someof the verifiers (certainly not every single one) need to test the customers willingness to change their current direction. These may include verifiers where the customer readily acknowledges the unnecessary costs their business is incurring, or commits resources to exploring the root causes of their business challenge. But in some way, shape, or form, you’ll want to track the customer saying “we’re currently doing this wrong and need help.”

By assessing precisely where the customer was in their purchaseprocess, ADP’s teams were able to reassess what need to happen to reinvigorate these opportunities. Mangers were able to get a clear sense of where the customer was in their purchase process – not just where the rep reported the customer was in the sales funnel. For the first time it allowed managers to ask their reps two important questions during deal review sessions: (1) where is the deal? And (2) how do you know?

By encouraging sellers to focus on the ends (the customer-verified outcomes that happen throughout the sale), not the means (the sales activities), sellers are better able to do what they need to do. … to help customers progress through the deal. In this way, sales managers and their sellers can exercise creativity without penalty.

Sample customer verifiers can be found in Figure 10.13 on page 250:

The first stage reflects customer learning. Customers are always in some state of passive learning. This includes reading articles, attending conferences, reading books, etc. The idea here is that customers are always looking for ways to improve their business and in search of a new direction. … the verifiers of this stage are merely customer willingness to take a live call – indeed, good verifiers don’t need to be overly complex!

As customers progress through their purchase, they begin to better understand and refine their needs. The verifiers at this point largely center upon the customer acknowledging that their current beliefs, mental model, and state of practice are not sustainable or somehow flawed. Ideally, you are looking for your customer to show receptivity to your Commercial Insight and commit to exploring the implications for their business.

In the third stage, customers begin to define their purchase criteria. This is where a clear Mobilizer should be identified (preferably fairly early within this stage) and have committed their support to the purchase exploration. The customer committing resources to the exploration, as well as establishing some semblance of timeliness, are important verifiers at this stage.

The fourth stage is where the customer evaluates their options. Stakeholders expressing consensus for a new direction becomes an important verifier for this stage. The customer’s defined requirements should reflect your solution’s unique capabilities as well.

In the final stage, the customer validates their selected supplier and enters into a signed deal. Gaining Mobilizer support to rally their colleagues for the implementation phase is a smart customer verifier at this point.

Tracking indicators such as these encourage the proper use of Mobilizers, Commercial Insights, Commercial Coaching, and a variety of other tactics we’ve discussed to this point. It ensures customers are well supported as they move through their purchase experience, while simultaneously understanding and acknowledging your company’s unique capabilities.


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 10, section 1 (part 8 of 10)

Chapter 10: Shifting to a Challenger Commercial Model: Implications and Implementation Lessons

There are a handful of implications that our research has highlighted as particularly tricky to navigate.

Implication #1 – Demand Generation: Most marketing teams aim their demand generation efforts at developing leads that are “ready to buy.” … While this approach delivers a ready-made customer to the sales team, it fails to do so on yourterms.

Implication #2 – Marketing Talent: Most marketing teams are disproportionately focusing their skill building in the digital space. … There are a lot of skills related to the consensus purchase that are being overlooked. These skills are the ones that drive a marketer’s ability to create and deploy Commercial Insight.

Implication #3 – Social Selling: Sales reps out to be using social media tools to engage customers, we observe many social selling efforts that amount to little more than broadcasting (or perhaps more accurately, noise). … We’ll explore how marketing and sales need to collaborate to deliver social teaching, not social selling.

Implication #4 – Managing Blockers: the prevailing thought for managing Blockers is to ignore them. Rarely do sales methods teach approaches for Blocker management. … We’ll explore several methods for actively managing Blockers in this section.

Implication #5 – Sales Process and Opportunity Planning: Much of the commoditization pressure suppliers face today isn’t the result of customers’ willingness to settle for “good enough,” it’s their failure to agree on anything more. Today’s sales process must better reflect how sellers can enable the right customer purchase behaviors, rather than march a deal forward through the supplier’s sales stages. Similarly, opportunity planning follows the same logic.

Implication #1: Demand Generation

Conventional Wisdom might lead marketers astray. There are three main failure points.

  1. Conventional wisdom leads us down a path of creating ever more content, and content quality quickly trumps content quality. Coupled with the drive to generate leads and outbound marketing efforts, marketers risk turning off customers who are already bombarded with supplier messages.
  2. Conventional wisdom is mum on the absolute criticality of upending how customers think of their own business, thereby changing the customer’s direction when they are learning on their own. That means marketers will generate demand that commoditizes their own solution.
  3. Conventional wisdom is about better connecting individuals in a buying group to you as a supplier, not about connecting them to each other. So marketers will fail to lay the groundwork for the early consensus that needs to happen about the problem and the solution (forget about the supplier!)

Don’t generate demand, Mobilize demand:

  1. Create Content Paths that Confront and Connect
  2. Adjust Lead-Scoring Criteria to Reflect Confrontation and Connection
  3. Nurture Leads Explicitly for Commercial Insight and Collective Learning

Implication #2: Marketing Talent

Here’s the key takeaway: Commercial Insight skills and knowledge are in short supply. Moreover, it takes a special blendof those skills and knowledge, put into the right operating environment, to successfully build and deploy Commercial Insight. In other words, this can’t be left to chance or to heroism on the marketing team. Marketing leaders need to step in to engineer the right kinds of working teams, and create a particular kind of environment that nurtures Commercial Insight creation.

Implication #3: Social Selling

The single most powerful behavior separating high performers from core performers is using social media as a critical channel to engage customers and generate leads. … What exactly does it mean to use social media in the context of getting in early? Well, when you unpack the data, it comes down to three things:

  1. Connecting with potential customers
  2. Using social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to share points of view valuable to customers
  3. Using social media for lead generation

When we talked to a number of sales reps having huge success with this approach, what we found is this all adds up to positioning oneself as a key influencer within social networks.

To do that, we found the best reps work very hard to tap into a large social network, extending far beyond personal contacts and current customers. These reps are accessing the entire ecosystem of the marketplace that that rep sells into. So not just existing customers, but potential customers. Even people who might never be your customer but could potentially buy your product in another territory, through a different channel, or through another supplier altogether.

But that’s just the beginning. Then there are channel partners, industry experts, market influencers, complementary suppliers, influencers from similar or adjacent industries – you name it. Basically, it’s anyone and everyone who might be interested in engaging in a conversation around the broadest set of issues your products and services potentially touch.

So the best reps find the “watering holes” or those online communities where people in their industry gather and learn. In advanced cases, the very best reps will serve as teaching connectors– serving as a hub, bringing this group of people together in order to engage in a learning conversation around a common interest. Done well, sales reps who play this role as teaching connector are much more likely to attract Mobilizers into their orbit.

Now, there are clearly ways that rep use of social medial can go wrong. The best reps who are involved in social media are very careful how they use it. The last thing star performers would do with this powerful network they’ve tapped into is to use it to broadcast messages with no interaction or teaching – in other words, using it purely as an advertising channel. Yet we see far too much of social selling happening in exactly this way.

That’s not what this channel is for. Rather, it’s about actively engaging in a productive, interesting conversation. Ideally, conversation that teaches. It fits right into the Spark-Introduce-Confront model from chapter 6. Social watering holes are the idea place to spark a target audience into exploring your ideas by sharing surprising data, insights, and provocative viewpoints. Because Commercial Insights are by definition not about you as a supplier but about customers, they are much less likely to be rejected on the grounds of being commercially slanted.

“You’ve got to weave yourself into the knowledge fabricwhere your customers learn. But you’ve got to earnthat right. You’ve got to help the customer think differently than they would have otherwise.”

We view this kind of social enablement as a critical part of the larger commercial strategy to teach Mobilizers and disrupt their mental models early, ideally when they are passively learning, but certainly before the 57 percent point when they are picking up the phone to talk to a sales rep. Teach where and when customers learn.


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 6, section 2 (part 7 of 10)

So how do marketers build that path? Take a look at figure 6.2 (on page 122). It’s a simple model that identifies the steps to overturning a customer’s mental model. Let’s unpack this then bring it to life with the Xerox example.

Fig 6.2 – Spark-Introduce-Confront (SIC) Content Path [Spark Exploration of Frame-Breaking Idea – Introduce Frame-Breaking Idea – Confront with Frame-Breaking Idea – Commercial Insight]

First off, the whole idea here is to have all of the content you produce, publish and curate – all the blog posts, all the testimonials and case studies, all the white papers, all the infographics, you name it – lead to a Commercial Insight.

There are three mental stepsthat Mobilizers (or any customer stakeholder, for that matter) go through to have their A state challenged, creating the drive for them to rally other stakeholders and mobilize change toward a B state.

The first step is to spark exploration of the frame-breaking ideaat the heart of your Commercial Insight. You need your content here to hook the Mobilizer into revisiting her mental model in the first place. That might be a killer infographic or an intriguing tweet. Individual sales repsincreasingly have a role to play here as “micro-marketers,” deploying marketing curated “sparks” in social networks. The thought bubble you’re looking for that Mobilizer to have is “Huh … I never thought of it that way before … I need to learn more” or “I’m not sure I believe it, but I’m kind of intrigued … tell me more.”

Having gotten the mobilizer to want to learn more from the Spark content, the Introduce content (second step)lays out the idea in more detail. It presents the rational evidence and makes a powerful emotional appeal that breaks the customer’s frame. That could be an animated video or an interactive white paper or a trade show booth. You want your Mobilizer to come away from this content with the thought bubble “I ‘get’ the insight conceptually … I believe it could be true generally … but I wonder how that plays out in my world – in my business.”

That’s when you path the Mobilizer to Confront content, the third step. This is where you confront the Mobilizer with the frame-breaking idea in her own terms. You dial up herpain, so that she can’t escape the sense that the pain of same is greater than the pain of change. By the way, this isn’t about pressuring the Mobilizer as a personin any way; rather, it is diplomatically but convincingly leading the Mobilizer to pressure-test her own ideas, assumptions, and beliefs about her business. Often, these kinds of content are online diagnostics or interactive pain calculators, which enable the Mobilizer to plug in information about her own reality, so that she can see where the gaps are or how big the pain really is. The thought bubble coming off this content should be “Holy cow! I had no idea we were taking this kind of hit. I need to learn more about fixing this.”

We’ll refer to this Spark-Introduce-Confront content progression as an SIC content strategy. Through a progression like this, you’ve blown up the Mobilizer’s mental model through compelling content at arm’s length. You’ve broken down the A state.

At this point, you can path Mobilizers to content that builds up the B state. But we can’t overstress that customers who consume only B state content are unlikely to feel the need to break from current course and speed.

When you put it all together, if you’re looking to teach Mobilizers with content like this, it boils down to three rules.

  1. All content should be tied in some way to a Commercial Insight
  2. Content that isn’t itself frame-breaking should directly path to content that is
  3. All other content should be discarded or never created in the first place

This won’t be easy to do. It means discarding content that doesn’t fit the model. As we’ve spent time with CEB members, running content audits on their existing content portfolios, we find that there are often pieces of existing content that can be repurposed for Spark, Introduce, or Confront. White papers that can be atomized into bite-size pieces, with some atoms being repurposed and others disappearing altogether. Blog posts that can be repurposed. Sales decks with pages that can be torn out and used.

And then there will always be the practical spec sheets that are necessary for the transactional parts of the selling process. Those can stay (but you can’t lead with them … you have to lead tothem).

But we don’t want to understate the importance of staying tightly aligned to these SIC content paths. Stay on message. Keep beating the drum. Tear down the A before you build up the B.

This is a big shift for marketers. For the majority of content types you produce, following this content strategy will shift the focus from supplier-centric to supplier-agnostic. That will feel really unnatural, at first.

For example, most marketers are used to creating customer testimonial videos focused on the B. Over 90 percent of the testimonial videos we review from marketers focus on the B. To create content paths that break mental models and drive urgency instead, they’re have to start creating testimonials about A. Imagine creating video testimonials of Mobilizers talking about how they discovered a hidden connection in their business and how it was costing them so much more than they realized. And then, how they rallied the 5.4 around a consensus view of the drivers of that pain and what kind of solution it would take to solve it. You want these kinds of A state testimonials to lead back to your Commercial Insight and the differentiators underneath that insight. It’s a really different approach, but it’s so important to breaking down the A and changing the customer’s direction.

Testimonials are but one kind of content. We’ve seen marketers apply SIC principles all over the content portfolio, from trade show booths to white paper design to online booking toolkits.

Less Is More

Create less content … but drive greaterimpact.

See example in Figure 6.3, page 126 and Figure 6.4, page 128

Example 2: Xerox

The idea is to create “on-ramps” that spark a Mobilizer, no matter where she is in the journey, to travel down a teaching content path that challenges her mental model. … For Xerox, that sparking content took multiple forms:

  • Provocative data points promoted through social media, where Mobilizers are doing Passive Learning
  • A series of e-mail scripts that sales reps could use to promote the research findings on the link between color and student performance
  • A K-12 segment microsite with resources and banner displays promoting Xerox’s Commercial Insight content
  • Third-party affiliates posting comments and blogs about the Xerox K-12 color research

Note the implications on your search engine and optimization efforts. Because your content is focused on surprising or unexpected aspects of the customer’s business, those customers won’t naturally be searching your content keywords. So the key is to find adjacencies. … the idea is to locate Mobilizers where they are searching on adjacent terms and “spark” their exploration of your Commercial Insight – take them to your infographic or a mention of your insight somewhere in earned media.

Xerox’s Introduce content included a blog series, a white paper, and testimonial style videos. … Their Commercial Insight meant it was achieving strong engagement with Mobilizers on the Spark and Introduce content alone. Leah and her team found they could rely on sales reps and  account executives to do the work of Confront content.

Sometimes the strength of a Commercial Insight will win early engagement between Mobilizers and sales reps. Here, it’ll be about having sales tools that are custom-built to Confront the Commercial Insight. At the same time, marketing will need to create Confront content so Mobilizers can engage with the personal ramifications of the Commercial Insight before they speak with the sales rep. The disciplines of field marketing, content marketing, product marketing, demand generation, and sales ops/training all need to work closely together to co-create these SIC content paths that transition seamlessly into sales conversations.



The Challenger Customer: Chapter 6, section 1 (part 6 of 10)

Chapter 6: Teaching Mobilizers Where They Learn

Wheredo your customers, and Mobilizers especially, learn? … engaging Mobilizers where they learn is going to feel hard. Because they are learning in lots of different places. They’re following varied learning paths. They’re learning from peers and subject matter experts in social networks, where the rules of engagement are different than what marketing or sales are used to. … the average B2B customer consults nearly a dozensources of information, spread across all varieties of touchpoints on the path to purchase. Only half of that information comes from suppliers, in total. So if you’re an individual supplier, and say you’re one of four that a customer knows to seek information from, you’ve got about 12 percent “share of information” that customer is consuming.

On top of that, you have to teach customers at arm’s lengthin all these places? In other words, with little to no human engagement. How are you going to do that?

“Sounds like a job for great content,” you say. Well, yes and no. “Yes” on content. That’s going to be critical to teach customers, to change their direction while they are learning in a noisy information marketplace. But “No” in that almost all conventional wisdom on content marketing

Leads us awayfrom the kind of intervention suppliers need to be doing with Mobilizers to change their direction in that 57 percent.

The Dark Side of Content Marketing

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three high-level points of guidance we repeatedly hear in the massive amount of content and marketing created to explain content marketing:

  1. Look smart – “You need to be a though leader
  2. Be useful – “Create content that speaks to customer pain points.”
  3. Be present – “Create customer personas. Publish content on a regular cadence.”

Each in its own way is a tiger trap for suppliers looking to teach Mobilizers where they are learning. Let’s take them in turn.

Look Smart. The problem here is that the vast majority of content written in the name of thought leadership focuses on building up the B and completely overlooks tearing down the A. Bottom line, customers aren’t going to change unless we give them a good reason to. That’s the tiger trap of thought leadership.

Be Useful. By definition, this line of conventional thinking has suppliers speaking to customer pain points that customers realizethey have. What are they searching for? Let’s write content that speaks to that. Even if it doesn’t relate directly back to the supplier’s solution. It’s an attention play. … In other words, suppliers who follow the be usefuladvice might be ringing up blog clicks and “engagement” metrics, but none of that is feeding through to any kind of meaningful sales activity.

Be Present. This is all about coverage. The problem here is the sheer volume of content that suppliers have to create and deploy. The back-of-envelope math on this gets really ugly, really fast. … Very quickly, the content tail wags the dog, as a big flashing light on the editorial calendar starts flashing red because no new blog post is in the queue for next week’s submission deadline. … They inexorably fall prey to putting content quantityover content quality. That’s the tiger trap of “be present.

The real devil with all of these content approaches is the opportunity cost. Every ounce of energy and resources that goes into creating and deploying “look smart, be useful, be present” content crowds outthe energy and resources needed to create surprising content that has a chance to truly change the customer’s direction.

Creating Challenging Content Paths

If the primary goal of marketing content is to break down the customer’s A and then build up a B, then suppliers should ensure that all of their content is somehow tied to that goal. In other words, once they have created a Commercial Insight, marketers need to step back and create a related content strategy. That strategy will lay out the content paths that lead Mobilizers on an ever deeper exploration of a Commercial Insight that simultaneously changes the way they think about their business and leads them ever closer to valuing the supplier’s unique strengths. Not that every piece of content must “get them to buy,” per se. But imagine if every piece of content were built back from a single, powerful insight, all thematically aligned, leading to an ever deeper treatment of that topic. The goal there is to “get them to explore.” As long as the exploration is designed to lead them exclusively back to you, the deeper the exploration, the better.

“look smart, be useful, be present” conventional wisdom in content marketing … leads marketers to create content on a very wide arrayof topics, for very different personas, and to scatter it as far and wide as possible. … Yet notice how this strategy doesn’t build a consistent path or message to anywhere, as each piece is largely independent of every other. … They may think differently about you, but they’re far less likely to think any differently of themselves.

On the other hand, when you lay a purposeful path with your content, so it’s all tied together thematically to a single, provocative insight, you get a different output altogether.

In this world, all the content is linked – almost like a trail of breadcrumbs – leading back to a single Commercial Insight purposefully designed to change the way customers (and specifically, Mobilizers) think about theirbusiness. What’s especially powerful here, each one of those links in that narrative chain provides a potential hook to catch a Mobilizer, and a possible rallying point for forging consensus.


The Challenger Customer: Chapters 4 and 5 (part 5 of 10)

Chapter 4: Building Commercial Insight

Where are we supposed to find this insight in the first place? … You don’t find Commercial Insight. You make it.

What do our customers fail to fully understand about their business, but should?

[Here’s the story:

  • Dentists care about running a profitable dental practice.
  • Hygienist absenteeism was a leading driver of loss of dental practice profits.
  • Non-ergonomic tools were a leading cause of hygienist chronic pain, ie absenteeism.
  • They sell ergonomic tools]

Draw Out the Current Mental Model (See Page 93)

Draw Out the Shift in the Mental Model (See page 96)

If you were to distill this process into basic building blocks, you’d find the entire process boils down to three ways to change a mental model:

  1. You can add a node – meaning you’re introducing a root-cause driver that a customer previously hadn’t known was there.
  2. You can increase the importance of a node – you’re showing a customer that a root-cause node is far more important than they previously believed.
  3. You can add a causal link – you’re making a connection between different nodes in a the mental model that the customer previously believed had no connection to one another.

In even simpler terms [referencing pages 93 and 96], you can:

  1. Add a box
  2. Make a box bigger
  3. Add an arrow

This is the power of a mental model. Sure, it’s just a diagram. But it’s a diagram that holds a huge amount of power, as it crystalizes in very simple terms how customers think of themselves. … After all, customers likely have a whole range of potential outcomes they care about. How would you land on the equivalent of “running a profitable dental practice” in the first place, as opposed to any other outcome that dentists might care about?

Chapter 5: Commercial Insight In Action

The idea underneath the model is to “mine for surprise.” To find a way to reframe how customers assign valueto your points of differentiation. This reframing sounds simple, but the devil is, as always, in the details.

Here are the steps that Leah and her team used to create a Commercial Insight that reframed the way customers thought about the value proposition and led to a very different kind of customer conversation:

  1. List your differentiators
  2. Create a list of outcomes your customers care most about
  3. Prioritize and choose an outcome as a starting point
  4. Map customer beliefs about outcome drivers
  5. Hypothesize connections between your differentiators and customer outcomes
  6. Test and validate connections

The first three steps in this process are the work that you’d do beforeyou get to the mental model mapping we discussed in the DENTSPLY example. Step 4 is the mental model mapping itself. Step 5 is where you figure out how to break the mental model. That’s the Commercial Insight. And Step 6 is all about pressure testing and validating the insight.

Step 3: Xerox rank-ordered the importance [of objections from customers] based on importance from the customer’s point of view. … the team went through a process of assessing the outcomes for their likelihood of having hidden connections to Xerox’s differentiators.

Step 4: They were also asking customers what they believed drovethose outcomes. Again, the team aimed to understand these mental models. … Suppliers don’t necessarily need an ever more refined view of how customers perceive them. What they need is a significantly more refined view of how customers perceive themselves.

Step 5: Hunting for potential hidden disconnects or possible opportunities for reframe:

  • What impact can we have here that we haven’t yet realized?
  • What do we know about this area that customers are overlooking?
  • What is changing in this outcome that customers aren’t aware of? What changes are customers missing?
  • What recommendations would our customers’ customers (pupils, teachers, parents) make here?

Step 6: Leading back to the differentiators:

  • Do we have customer permission to speak about this idea?
  • Can we prove the validity of this idea and the new approach?
  • Can we energize customer stakeholders to act on this idea?
  • Will this idea require the involvement of new stakeholders?
  • Does this idea surface any major risk or cost objection?
  • Does this idea carry any new change management concerns?



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?


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 3, section 1 (part 3 of 10)

Chapter 3: The Art of Unteaching

If there is one simple truth of every B2B supplier today, it is that they’re all selling the same thing: Change. … But think about what that means. What’s the one thing most organizations would like to avoid at all costs unless they have absolutely no other choice? Change. Why? It’s expensive. It’s risky. It’s disruptive. It’s unknown. … most suppliers’ single biggest competitor today isn’t so much the competition but the customer’s own status quo.

But let’s consider for a moment whycustomers are delaying contact with sales reps for as long as they are [57 percent through the process]. … Because they can. … Left to their own devices, customers will always engage a supplier as late as they possibly can. … In a world of information accessibility, customers can get all of that on the internet. Talking directly to a supplier feels like a waste of time.

That’s exactly where teachingcomes in, convincingly proving to customers – and especially Mobilizers – that they dohave to talk to you. … In this world, suppliers’ teaching must:

  1. Capture the attention of a Mobilizer, in a way that
  2. Motivates them to champion a change in behavior, leading them to
  3. Rally the support of the other 4.4, around a vision that
  4. Leads that customer back to their unique solution.

We call it Commercial Insight. [It] can impact customer buying behavior across all three stages of that buying process irrespectiveof where it’s deployed. … But for Commercial Insight to have that kind of broad influence across the customer purchase, it must follow a precise set of design principles. … Commercial Insight isn’t designed to teachas much as to unteach.

Not Teaching, But Unteaching

“What kind of supplier content can bend the path across the customer’s ‘me’ to ‘we’ mountain? … Things that don’t matter: Being Accessible, Containing Interesting Facts or Anecdotes, Being Easy to Understand, Representing a Smart/Expert Perspective.

So what doeshave a statistically significant impact on changing a customer’s purchase direction? In our analysis we found only two drivers capable of reliably driving that kind of change:

  1. Teaching the customer something new and compelling about theirbusiness, and
  2. Providing customers with a compelling reason to take action

More specifically, information laying out not just the benefits of taking action, but the costs of inaction.

Insight is designed to demonstrate to customers that despite their ownlearning and their ownexpertise, they’ve missed something materially important to the performance of theirbusiness. … Insight, in other words, isn’t designed to just teachcustomers something new that they’ve never thought before, but to unteachthem something they already have.

Insight Is Not Thought Leadership

When it comes to insight, we find the term suffers from a strong “false-positive problem,” as much of what passes under the name of insight today falls into the much broader, and arguably much less valuable, category of “thought leadership”.

If we think of all the different kinds of content a supplier might produce in the name of insight, we find there are a number of different “layers” to that content, each separated by a boundary delineating that layer from the next.

Let’s start with “general information.” From there we look at “accepted information.” Accepted information is credible, it’s relevant, but frankly it’s just not all that interesting. It sounds more or less like everyone else’s information. … Clearly, if we want someone to actdifferently, we have to first get them to thinkdifferently. To do that, we’re going to have to show them something truly newsworthy. And that brings us into the third layer of information: “thought leadership.”

Interestingly, above all other categories of content we’ve laid out so far, thought leadership is the one that can really get a supplier in trouble. Not only because this is the kind of content most suppliers are creating, but because it’s the one most suppliers aspireto create. Virtually every marketer will tell you, their company strives to be a “thought leader” in their industry. … So what is thought leadership? It’s interesting, newsworthy, incremental information that customers themselves likely could not have discovered on their own.

But the real limitation of traditional thought leadership is that it doesn’t necessarily drive action. Readers learnbut they don’t necessarily do. People may be liking or retweeting the content, but it isn’t move them to action. That’s because most thought leadership is largely focused on presenting a newidea, rather than undermining an existing one.

So what else is there? Well, the next filter is “Be frame breaking.” This is the final bar we need to clear for our content to truly be called “insight.” But why that filter, “frame breaking?” What we find is that insight is something else entirely. It’s designed to upend the status quo. As such, insight isn’t’ about onething, it’s about two things. It doesn’t just convey an idea of what the customer couldbe doing (like thought leadership), but also conveys a story around what the customer is currentlydoing, explicitly laying out why that current behavior is costing the customer time or money in ways they never realized.

That’s the key. The contrast. It’s the cost of current behavior juxtaposed to the potential of alternate action. Implicit in any good insight is the simple message: “Hey…you’re doing it wrong!” and done well, it causes your customer to say, “I have to change what I’m doing!” Thus the term “frame breaking.” … Customers’ reaction to well-designed thought leadership is: “Wow, they’re smart.” … Customers’ reaction to well-designed insight is: “Wow, I’m wrong.”

“Show me the page, show me the data point, the bar graph, the bullet point, the momentwhere you look your customer in the eye and tell them that they’re wrong.” If you can’t find that moment in your content – no matter how diplomatically formulated – chances are pretty good, you haven’t created insight at all.


The Challenger Customer: Chapter 1 (part 2 of 10)

Chapter 1: The Dark Side of Customer Consensus

Commercial leaders find themselves more frequently than ever before competing on little else but price.

As the head of sales and marketing at a global industrial fragrances company recently put it, “I just don’t understand. We’re the leading supplier in our industry.  Our products are world class, or brand second to none, and our salespeople are highly skilled. There’s not a single deal in our industry where we’re not invited to participate – we make it to the table every single time.  …. But even when we do, we’re always one of three suppliers at the table. Despite all of our commercial strength, we end up competing on nothing but price every single time. It’s killing our business. Our premium position simply can’t sustain that kind of margin erosion.”

Welcome to what we call the “1 of 3 Problem,” where a supplier commonly wins the battle for customer consideration – even preference – but ends up competing against two others on little but price nevertheless. [To fight it] They carefully redesign marking campaigns and sales collateral to better communicate the broad range of their company’s “best-in-class, cutting-edge solutions” and “unique ability to provide moments of deep customer delight.” … and yet … costly efforts to better articulate their company’s value is something akin to “Yeah, we knew that already.”

Today’s customers will often concede the point right up front, responding, “We totally agree! We think you guys are great! Your solution is by far the best, and we’d love to partner with you!” … so if we can get your solution at their price, then we’re good to go!”

There’s little evidence that today’s customers are any more willing to payfor that extra value even when they perceive it. At least not when they believe the next best alternative to be sufficiently “good enough.” … Most suppliers’ single biggest competitor isnt’ so much the competition’s ability to sell as their own customer’s willingness to settle.

Climbing the “Me to We” Mountain

If we think about the various stages customer stakeholders must pass through to move a purchase forward, we can narrow it down to three in particular, each crucially important:

  1. Problem Definition
  2. Solution Identification
  3. Supplier Selection

What we wanted to figure out is … when that purchase is most likely to fail. … One in particular stands out as especially difficult, and that’s Solutions Identification.

So while customer stakeholders might all agree they have a problem, there is going to be debate on the best way to solvethat problem. .. the place where they really need to rally agreement is around the specific solution to the customer’s problem, irrespectiveof supplier.

The analysis tells us the thing least likely to create disagreement is Supplier Selection (welcome back to the 1 of 3 problem) … [and every supplier is saying] That they’re the leading provider of whatever solution that customer is alreadylooking for.

So if a purchase decision is going to stall, more likely than not it’s going to stall far earlier than most suppliers would anticipate, particularly if they’re focused only on watching for signs of customer disagreement around the value of their offering. … so if reps do indeed manage to “get in earlier,” they need to take that opportunity to ehlp customers overcome the challenge they’re facing earlier. And that challenge has little to do with choosing a supplier and everything to do with deciding which problems are worth solving in the first place and what solutions are worth pursuing to solve them – all irrespectiveof supplier. … Suppliers’ biggest challenge in winning customer consensus has nothing to do with that supplier’s solution at all.

Even more troubling, much of the customer’s primary consensus challenge occurs far before most sellers are even present to address it in the first place.

Mind the Gap from 37 to 57

On average, customers are 57 percent of the way through a typical purchase process prior to proactively reaching out to a supplier’s sales rep for their direct input on whatever it is that they’re doing.

Now, that 57 percent number has huge implications for suppliers. If we consider what’s likely happening inside that 57 percent, changes are pretty good that customers are now doing on their ownmost of the things that suppliers were hoping to do with them together: They’re identifying a need. They’re prioritizing that need relative to others. They’re determining which capabilities they’ll require to address that need. They’re identifying which suppliers are best able to deliver that capability. In most cases, they’re conducting preliminary research on how much each of those suppliers cost. So by the time a supplier is called in at that 57 percent mark, more often than not there’s little left to discuss but price. As one senior leader memorably put it, “That 57 percent is a freight train to RFP Station. And we’re on it.”

We also asked customers to identify the point in a purchase process at which internal conflict most likely reaches a peak – or the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” hits a crescendo – and that deal is in the greatest danger of falling apart altogether. And thatnumber came back as 37 percent.

Group conflict peaks at 37 percent. That’s the summit of the “me to we” mountain where that deal is most likely to die. And you’ll remember, that peak centers around Solution Identification, not Supplier Selection – a problem most suppliers infrequently address. … If a purchase decision is most likely to stall at 37 percent, but a supplier sales rep isn’t likely to be called in until 57 percent … how many times have sellers lost before they could ever attempt to win?

That gap has hugely important implications for suppliers. … Customer consensus isn’t a sales challenge, it is a commercialchallenge. … B2B marketers are going to have to find ways to anticipatecustomer disconnects far earlier in the purchase process and avert them proactively.



The Challenger Customer (part 1 of 10)

The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results

By: Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, Pat Spenner and Nick Toman of CEB (2011)

[Pigeonhole] A Practical Principal Book

[Premise] Sequel to the Challenger Sale that integrates a marketing message into the sales process.  The message must be delivered to a ‘Mobilizer’, which is effectively a Challenger partner within the organization.


Introduction: The Hardest Part of Selling Solutions (p1-2)

  1. The Dark Side of Customer Consensus (p3-34)
  2. The Mobilizer (p35-56)
  3. The Art of Unteaching (p57- 82)
  4. Building Commercial Insight (p83-100)
  5. Commercial Insight in Action (p101-116)
  6. Teaching Mobilizers Where They Learn (p117-134)
  7. Two Types of Tailoring (p135-156)
  8. Taking Control of Consensus Creation (p157-182)
  9. Making Collective Learning Happen (p183-208)
  10. Shifting to a Challenger Commercial Model: Implications and Implementation Lessons (p209-254)

Acknowledgements (p255-260)
Index (p261)

[Key Points] The Challenger Customer

This is a book of surprises.

Chief among them is the surprising decline of historically effective selling strategies that now fail to generate anything near hoped-for returns.

Despite suppliers’ improved ability to convey their unique value, there’s strong evidence that today’s customers are less willing than ever before to actually payfor that value, even when they perceive it – at least not when they believe the next best, less expensive alternative is “good enough” to meet their needs. While today’s suppliers may win the battle for awareness, consideration, recommendation, and even preference, they still lose when it comes to what matters most: getting paid. As exasperating as it seems, the very solutions most companies developed to escape commoditization have themselves become commoditized in the eyes of their customers.

… there was a second part to this story. It turns out, the far bigger story isn’t about suppliers’ struggle to sellSolutions, it’s the customer’s struggle to buy them. … the severe dysfunction that is bred by the ever-expanding number of individuals who need to weigh in before a deal is signed.

In the end, what has long seemed to salespeople like a well-designed strategy to “stick it to suppliers” or beat them up on price is more often than not a function of a far less insister but arguably infinitely more intractable problem: the inability of customer stakeholders themselvesto achieve broad agreement on a common course of action in the first place.

It’s not just thatyou challenge, but whoyou challenge that really matters. To win today, you need a Challenger insidethe customer organization. … We call them Mobilizers, and this is their story.