07 Sep The Challenger Sales Process

show customers the light at the end of the challenger processAt the heart of our marketing and sales strategy is a technique called The Challenger Sales Process. This is how it works:

The ultimate goal of the process is to make a sale. But getting to the point where a customer says “yes,” and then comes back later to purchase again, requires some time, some creativity and some strategy. The process should involve a little drama and perhaps some suspense or a surprise. That doesn’t sound like the old approach of showing off a product list and asking for the order, because it’s not. The goal, with challenger sales, is to take the customer first to a dark place, and then show the light, which happens, in our case, to be Qualifirst.

Challenger sales is about delivering insight. This insight must lead uniquely back to us as the supplier. That is one of the most important points to recognize. Very often, sales reps will attempt to show insight by discussing an unrecognized problem with the customer, but the insight doesn’t become exclusive enough. If the problem’s solution could apply equally to us or any other supplier, then the sale can still be lost.

Don’t sell the solution, sell the problem.

Many customers try to solve their own problems through self-education. The drawback to this is they often don’t get it right, because they look through too narrow a lens. They see their problem from the perspective of their own organization, whereas we as Qualifirst can observe the same issue from an industry perspective, seeing the issue in the context of hundreds or thousands of similar customers.

The Stages of Challenger Sales

There are seven stages in challenger sales, as this graphic shows.

the challenger sales process mind mapped

Stage 0 Pre-frame – Validate my Problem

This preliminary stage is about establishing the credibility of the problem itself. Without this, there is no need to proceed further. There is a great need for a sales rep to step through this phase with care. At this very early stage of the discussion and relationship, it would be very easy to come across as arrogant, and assumptive, if all the rep does do is tell prospects how things are. It is critical to confirm with the prospect that they share the same industry issues. Pre-framing uses a broad horizon, focusing on the industry rather than the prospect. It helps align the rep and the prospect before discussion moves to the prospect’s own business.

Stage 1 – The Warmer: (a.k.a the Frame )

The Frame stage narrows the conversation down to “customers just like them” within the industry. This helps build credibility, and sets things up for the next stage by bringing forward the pieces of wisdom that similar customers have used. This stage allows the rep to build credibility by using an example of a similar problem found at another company. The conversation could include: “We’ve worked with a number of companies similar to yours, and we have found that these three challenges come up again and again as by far the most troubling. Is that what you are seeing too, or would you like to add something to the list?”

Such comments basically say, “I understand your world and I won’t waste your time asking you to teach me your business.” For a customer who is regularly approached by vendors, this is a very valuable message to hear. It confirms the rep knows the industry.

Stage 2 – The Reframe: Un-teach. Identify the Problem Behind the Problem

Reframing should lead to the prospect saying, “I never thought of it that way before.”

Once a rep has established credibility, it is time to help the prospect think differently. This is the moment where the secret is revealed that the prospect’s problems will not be solved with the solutions they have requested. This is called “unteaching,” and is part of the suspense or tension that they need to experience to break free of a mind-set that has not worked. This tension must be between the prospect and the status quo, not between prospect and rep. It is called constructive tension, because it helps lead to a solution. (By contrast, destructive tension would be between prospect and rep; and unproductive tension happens when the rep offers nothing of value.)

At the end of a reframing session, a prospect should genuinely feel “my current solution to this problem is wrong.”

Stage 3 – Rational Drowning

This step delivers the emotional brunt of the reframing that has just happened. The prospect senses deep familiarity with the story the rep is describing, and is now starting to feel the pain of the problem. The prospect recognizes his/herself within the problem. The reaction should be, “Wow I had no idea we were wasting that kind of money” or “I’d never thought of this as an opportunity before. We’ve got to get after this or we’re going to really miss out.”

Stage 4 – Emotional Impact

Having been overwhelmed during the rational drowning stage, the rep can now lead the prospect to the centre of their own story, delivering strong emotional impact, and creating a compelling need to change. The prospect must see themselves in the story.

The rep can state, “I understand how you’re a little different, but let me give you a sense of how we have seen this play out as similar companies,” to which the prospect might respond, “Wow it’s just like you work here or something. I need to solve this problem right now!”

The implications of not changing are dawning on the prospect and are creating a sense of urgency.

Stage 5 – A New Way: The Solution Based on Insight

Stage 5 gives the prospect the vision of “what I need to do.”

After hearing the rep discuss the industry and deliver the stages, the prospect’s response should be, “what should I do?” The answer becomes an action plan – specifically what the prospect will need to have to make good on the solution. The important factor is that this is the prospect’s own solution. It is not the rep’s solution.

Stage 6 – The Solution

It is time for the prospect to ask, “Will your product address these problems?”

In all of the previous stages of the challenger sales discussion, the rep remains disciplined and leaves out any mention of products or solutions. But now it is time to share how the rep’s solution is better equipped than any other competitors to act differently and solve the problem.

This is the only stage where a demonstration should be done: when the prospect is prepared to confirm selection of the rep as the supplier once the demo is complete.

This, in a nutshell is challenger sales.