My Top Ten Takeaways from Reading The Challenger Sale

Wow, it’s been a while! What better way to ease back into blogging than by sharing my takeaways from a great marketing/sales book that I read while I was out? The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson first came to my attention after I read an interview with Brent on Kapost’s content marketing blog last month. I found Brent’s insights interesting and ordered copies of the book for my boss and me soon after. It was an easy read and by the end, my book was chock full of the Post-It page flags (these things) that I have handy whenever I read nonfiction. That’s always a good sign.

Here are my ten takeaways from the book, each accompanied by a memorable quote from Matthew and Brent.

1. You’re judged by their business outcomes.

“It’s nothing new for customers to demand just-in-time delivery or on-demand production, but more and more we’re seeing revisions to the very metrics customers use to judge the success of a solution implementation. As a result, in the world of complex solutions, supplier success is often measured by the performance of the customer’s business, not the supplier’s products.” p. 9

2. Your offering is disruptive, so be disruptive.

“The world of solution selling is almost definitionally about a disruptive sale. It’s not that you’re asking customers to buy your product and put it up on the shelf with all of the other products they’ve bought. Rather, you’re asking customers to change their behavior—to stop acting in one way and start acting in another. To make that happen, however, you have to get customers to think differently about how they operate. You need to show them a new way to think about their business.” p. 28

3. Provide insights so good, the strategy changes.

“Challengers are constantly bringing fresh insight to the table that forces people to check their strategy against reality.” p. 21

4. The role of marketing versus sales is clear.

“While there is a clear role for the individual rep on the tailoring front (namely, recognizing how to modify the teaching message for different individuals across the customer organization), the organization has an important responsibility when it comes to tailoring as well. First, organizations can leverage business intelligence and research assets to each customer’s industry and company context. The organization also bears the responsibility for identifying which teaching messages will resonate with which stakeholders.” p. 34

5. Phrases like these can get you ahead of the RFP.

  • “If any supplier tells you the following three things, they’re wrong. And here’s why.”
  • “If they say you need those four things, you actually don’t, and here’s why.”
  • “No matter what, make sure that your bid includes the following two things, and here’s why.”
  • “If any company tells you those two things aren’t necessary, tell them they’re wrong. They’re just trying to get you to buy what they want to sell, but here’s why you need to insist on these two key things.” p. 38

6. Never assume they know everything they want.

“A deeply flawed assumption is that customers actually know what they need in the first place. That customer needs are simply there waiting to be unlocked, either willingly or begrudgingly, through the mastery of our interrogative technique. What if customers truly don’t know what they need? What if customers’ single greatest need—ironically—is to figure out exactly what they need?” p. 45

7. You’re way too similar to the competition.

“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. Who wouldn’t? In today’s world, everyone is “innovative,” “solutions-oriented,” “customer-focused,” and “green,” so why pay more for it?” p. 57

8. Get off of your company’s soapbox for a minute.

“Before they buy your solution, the customer has to buy the solution.”  p. 72

9. Build in some urgency–this is important, right?

“If the rep isn’t willing to convince the customer that the problem is urgent, then he won’t be able to convince the customer it’s worth solving.” p. 126

10. Think big. Really big.

“By focusing solely on the known value of your offering, you forgo an opportunity to challenge customer thinking, which they value even more than whatever you’re selling. You win their business in the short run, but potentially lose it over time. By helping customers think differently about their company, you ultimately want them to think differently about your company.” p. 76

Now, go order the book!


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