This is a very contentious subject! This is the heading of an article originating in the Harvard Business Review and distributed by LinkedIn. Some of you may have read it if not have a look at it . Now, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is not against writing punchy articles and there are several others that I have read that are equally contentious such as one on provocative selling, more on this later. This article is written by the authors (Adamson and Dixon) of a recent book called The Challenger Sale. I must get the HBR to promote my next book!
This article makes some very good points especially with regards to how buyers have changed; the internet has in many ways empowered buyers. Where as in the “old day” buyers were very dependent on sales people for information and ultimately for pulling together a solution, they can do much of this work themselves. The salesperson is now a fulfiller and price negotiator. It goes on to say that salespeople must change their approach to customers. They must:
– Target organisations (or departments) where the need is not defined which are in a state of flux
– Seek out new stakeholders who prefer not to wholly trust their internal advisers, and to
– Coach these people through the buying cycle.
These “new” salespeople are categorised as challengers!
This advice is built upon lots of research but is it radical, is it new or is it just another way of expressing how the best sales people work? In the introduction I mentioned an article on provocative selling (different authors) which espouses similar views and in fact Adamson and Dixon wrote an article in the HBR (just before the publication of their book, another good marketing move) very similar called “Selling is not about relationships”. In this article they categorise relationship builders as people who just accept the status quo, who give in to customer demands, who like to be liked and who give their time to build personal relationships. They compared their performance against the challengers. The title of the article is a giveaway; it is the challengers (the provokers if you like) who win and the relation builders who lose out; they do admit that building business relationships is important. A great set of convenient facts!
At the start of the paragraph above I posed a multi part question and here are my answers. Is it radical – No? I remember being in a meeting with my best salesperson and my biggest customer in 1983 and he challenged the status quo, he had great business relationships with his customers and he was incredibly successful. In fact all the really good salespeople that I have had the pleasure of leading demonstrated these characteristics.  Is it new – NO? The previous answer applies. Is it just another way of expressing how the best salespeople work – Absolutely? The previous answer applies.
These three articles have reinforced some of my views on selling.
– If you want to consistently beat the competition you need to understand your customers business as well as they do, and ensure that you serve them better than anyone else. That’s what the so called provokers or challengers do
– Business relationships are built on trust (doing what you say, when you say it); respect (providing the best advice, delivering bad news); and delivering value (if you promise a 3:1 return on investment, then you deliver it)! I define having a good business relationship as “winning business you shouldn’t”
– Selling is a simple profession; let’s not confuse it any more as enough have already.