How to Use The Challenger Sale to Reach the Best Prospects

By Patrice Meadows — Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 at 11:00am

How to Use the Challenger Sale to Reach Better Prospects

In 2011, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson released The Challenger Sale and forced organizations around the world to rethink their sales strategies.

The wildly successful book pushes a single point; to increase sales, organizations must provide value. Why? Because more and more purchases happen online, without the help of sales reps.

The rise of self-guided buyer’s journeys fueled by Search and Content Marketing takes the place of older, more traditional sales methods. Instead of seeking advice from a sales representative, potential customers crowd-source advice and product recommendations from a slew of online databases.

Removing salespeople from the purchase process may make for less cold calls, emails, and product demos (theoretically good things for busy prospects), but it can also lead to ill-informed customers with buyer’s remorse.

Dixon and Adamson contend that the solution is reinserting bold salespeople into the purchase process to educate, and occasionally push, prospects to make daring decisions.

This is the essence of The Challenger Sale.

The premise is simple and hinges on two ideas:

  • Consultative selling and relationship building = bad
  • Challenging prospects = good

Okay, maybe it’s a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea. To drive revenue, profits, and customer loyalty, salespeople must add value.

What is the challenger sales model?

The Challenger sales model is an approach to selling that focuses on value. Instead of sales reps pushing product features or benefits, they help uncover threats and/or opportunities impacting prospects. Then, Challengers offer solutions to help prospects respond.

Hannon Hill blog image for the Challenger Sales Model

This method is more about teaching than selling and helps both parties focus on business outcomes that matter. According to Dixon and Adamson’s research, this approach is better at getting and keeping customers.

Here’s why:

  • How prospects rate their sales experience is a better predictor of future loyalty than any other factor
  • Prospects that go through the Challenger sale rate their experiences more favorably than those that experience other sales methods
  • 40% of high sales performers use the Challenger model

Why should you care?

Well lots of reasons, but mostly because the very nature of sales is shifting. No, the sky isn’t falling, but lots of factors are converging that make traditional sales functions obsolete.

Think about it. More self-guided buying journeys mean fewer sales representatives. Fewer sales representatives mean less control over product or brand messaging. This, combined with the diminishing value (and reach) of traditional advertising (more on that later), prove that change is inevitable.

Consider it:

Without proper guidance, some prospects may never see the true value of your product or service. This is why The Challenger Sale, or Challenger sales rep, is so valuable. Instead of droning on and on about product descriptions and features, Challengers educate prospects and inspire them to act.

Accept the Challenge

Hannon Hill Blog image

Sales isn’t the only thing changing. A similar trend is playing out in marketing and advertising. Consumers are weary of company-sponsored content that heavily pushes products and services. As a result, brands are seeking new ways to reach, educate, and excite consumers.

Advertisements aren’t as effective as they once were. Some brands are responding by shifting budget elsewhere, while others are cutting them entirely. Consider this shocking example from Advertising Age, documenting P&G’s deep cut to its ad budget that resulted in an increase in sales. If other major brands have similar experiences, advertisers will see even less in the way of major ad buys.

Questions of efficacy have long plagued advertisers and are even more of an issue now that ad blockers are more common. According to the 2017 Global Adblock Report, use of ad-blocking software surged in 2016 and analysts expect growth to continue in the future.

Even when ads perform and spur engagement, tying that outcome to any resulting sales activity is difficult. Brands are left guessing the impact ads have on purchase activity.

The Challenger Sale is a part of a larger response to this shift. Instead of investing more in mass-market advertising, outsmarting ad-blockers, or other disruptive forms of outreach, brands are finding new ways to communicate with consumers.

Now, connecting with consumers, communicating value, and creating brand preference, is done across several mediums--some company controlled (or heavily influenced), while others are user-generated.

  • Content Marketing
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Search
  • Earned Media (though threatened as trust in the media is challenged)

These tactics help brands communicate with prospects without the pressure of a hard sell. In fact, the storytelling aspect of Content Marketing makes brand messaging all the more powerful because of its ability to resonate with audiences. Several studies show that emotions play a major role in consumer decision making--especially purchase decisions.

How do I know?

  • According to a study by Nielsen holdings, content that solicits an emotional response generated a 23% increase in sales
  • The same Nielsen study revealed that content’s emotive power is positively correlated with brand favorability
  • According to Psychology Today, an audience’s emotional response to content has a greater influence over purchase intent than the actual content they’re presented with

How it works:

Instead of a 30-second ad touting the stain-removing power of a laundry detergent that consumers are likely to ignore, a laundry brand might produce web mini-series showing a single mother’s struggle to balance work, home, and the needs of her children. This approach invites audiences to tune in. Instead of repelling them with features, benefits, and a hard sell, their viewership is rewarded with entertainment.

This approach works for a few reasons;

It elicits an emotional response
It encourages engagement
It illustrates the product value brings in an accessible setting

It comes down to this: brands must stand out with compelling content that creates brand preference among target consumers.

How do you take the Challenger model online?

So we know what The Challenger Sale is, why it’s so awesome, and all the things happening in and around advertising, marketing, and sales that necessitate change. What we don’t know is how to take The Challenger Sale online.

So here goes.

The key to any business or good business practice is scalability. Being able to take something good (like The Challenger Sale) and scale it to something better is the key to growing business and, coincidentally, what this article is about.

Here’s how:

1.  Look at your funnel and select high value and high potential prospects with similar needs. Why? Couple reasons;
(1) You don’t want to waste your time and talent developing leads that either won’t convert or offer little value to your organization
(2) Grouping potential prospects by their needs or opportunities takes the valuable information you offer individual prospects and make it scalable.

A common way to determine which customers to focus on is the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) formula, this equation quantifies the value each customer brings to your company while active consumers. Typically, companies target high-value prospects, though, some initiatives may require other customer types. This, again, depends on your campaign goals, budgets, and timeline.

How do the pros do it? Check out this case study on Amazon and the massive discounts they offer on Kindles to attract (and enable) high-value customers.

2.  Use Twitter, Reddit, Quora or other Social Platforms to pose controversial questions to your targets. This can be achieved manually or with the help of automated messaging tools. It’s helpful to pose your question in such a way that allows for personalization.

For example, maybe you want to change your prospects’ view of major challenges facing their industry. Instead of saying that and risking little to no engagement, consider including specific references that force your targets to respond.

Examples include:

  • Tagging them directly
  • Linking to their site or related content expressing their company’s flawed position
  • Using direct quotes
Warning: this approach is not for the faint of heart or the ill-prepared. Research is essential to success. Without research, you can easily misinterpret their organization’s position or intent, state the obvious, or make any number of other mistakes that offend your prospect.
Remember, the challenge is simply a starting point for a larger conversation that will (hopefully)  lead to a sale. Showing yourself as misinformed or incompetent almost certainly eliminates your potential to have said conversation or to be viewed as a source of valuable information.

Speaking of value...

3. Establish yourself as an authority. I know what you’re thinking; long-term goal, right? Right. Well, kind of. Building your reputation does take time, but that doesn’t mean that there are not small things you can do in the interim to help bolster your reputation.

Regularly publishing videos, how-to guides, or providing quality answers in public forums frequented by prospects can do a lot to demonstrate your expertise. Even if readers aren’t commenting directly or liking your content, they still may be consuming the information and noting the source.

The more that you showcase your knowledge in a certain area, the more likely people are to notice...and give your recommendations serious consideration.

What are other unconventional ways to reach your prospects?

Trends and best practices are awesome until everyone starts doing them. Then, it gets kind of hard to stand out again. This is why thinking outside of the dreaded 'box' is so important.

Unconventional tactics help your brand stand out, and standing out is important. Why? Because today’s digital marketing landscape is ultra-cluttered. That’s not all; if these forecasts are correct, more content is on the way.

To be discovered or noticed at all, brands must try something different.

What qualifies as unconventional?

Ideas don’t have to be crazy to be unconventional, but they do have to help you stand out. That said, unconventional tactics still have to make business sense. Ideas that are different but not justified by data, research, or other information, may be ill-advised and waste valuable resources. Remember: unconventional, not gimmicky.

Know the difference.

Be the difference.

Here are a few examples of companies that have done it right.

Unconventional tactic: Using a game to educate prospects about product features so they can experience its value first hand
Why it works: It makes product demos fun. Instead of it being a dull walk through of countless features, this approach encourages potential users to learn the product themselves.
Unconventional tactic: serialized podcasts loosely tied to products
Why it works: It sneaks critical information about their new technology into a compelling podcast series that potential prospects want to hear and seek out.

How to decide what works for your brand

Step 1: Think about key buyer personas and find out what are they interested in. Then, determine how to incorporate their supplementary interests into an alternative mode of communication.
Maybe your web designer also loves the outdoors. Finding a way to tie your product and service to hiking or boating could be the sweet spot for your brand.
Step 2: Once you find a unique communication method that makes sense for your audience, find compelling information that will either help your buyer be better or eliminate a problem for them.
Step 3: Select a small subset of prospects to test out your campaign. Compare outcomes to traditional tactics and adjust accordingly

Start today

Marketing is hard.

Sales is hard.

Business is...well, you get the picture.

Being innovative isn’t an option, it’s an imperative.

Don’t wait until 2018 to figure this out. Strategy season is here. Time to decide what is going to set you and your brand apart from the rest. Trial versions of games, quizzing, and video creation software can help you test new ideas today.

Use experiments this Fall to see which tactics are most effective at driving interest and creating brand preference. Present your findings to your team and implement the best ideas for a fabulous 2018.

How does your team create top-notch sales opportunities? Share your strategies below or tweet us your best strategies at @hannon_hill.

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