Is Challenger-Based Selling the go-to Model for Selling Solutions?

As we all know, solutions selling is not new. Over the past 10-15 years, it’s been adopted by hundreds of companies that have decided to move to a solutions business model instead of a “product push” approach. And for the most part, it’s been successful. The sales forces at these same companies have made the transition to a more consultative, problem-solving model.

The Popularity and Purpose of Challenger Selling

But is solutions selling still the right approach? The newest sales method that has swept across the corporate landscape over the past 3-5 years is Challenger Selling – also commonly referred to as Provocative Selling. This model is based upon a salesperson controlling the sales process by challenging the customer’s assumptions about…well, just about anything that can be logically and compellingly challenged . It is based on a four-step process:

1. Teaching customers about the key trends and technologies that will impact their business

2. Tailoring the message for each individual customer

3. Taking control of the sales process by leading with challenging ideas instead of accepting the customer pre-conceived ideas for growth and profitability

4. Building constructive tension in the customer conversation that leads to deeper engagement and more thorough analysis of the customer’s business imperatives.

While the Challenger sales model is well known, what is still unclear is how prevalent this method is used to sell real customer solutions and, more importantly, how effective it is.

Our Research Results

As part of our Solutions Marketing course at the Hult International Business School, we had the opportunity to interview over a dozen senior level solutions marketers and sales executives from companies like EMC, Siemens, IBM, Intel and regarding the role and relevance of Challenger-based selling in selling their solutions.

Most of the companies that we interviewed agreed that the benefit behind the Challenger sales model was an improvement in the relationships with key client. We also heard from a few companies that the methodology has increased their ability to compete with bigger players in the market that outspend them during the sales cycle. The third benefit that many of the interviewees cited was that It has allowed them to accelerate the sales cycle, leading to a reduction in the overall cost of sales.

Another insight that we gained In our discussions with these solutions-focused companies was that the most successful ones leveraged their partner ecosystems in order to do the in-depth research required on the keys issues that their customers cared the most about. This collaborative research helped allowed their customers to look at their business problems differently, which often led to an innovative approach that the companies in our survey could provide.

Industry Credibility

Another important insight that we were able to uncover in our interviews was that the more successful companies had developed and/or acquired salespeople who had deep industry knowledge and were well versed in the types of solutions their companies could provide. In other words, simply challenging the accepted approach and business models of a customer was not sufficient to move the sales process forward – the salesperson had to establish credibility by having deep industry knowledge and could then tie their ideas for a solution to the Challenger-based research.

Using Challenger Principles

Several of the companies that we talked to weren’t using the formal Challenger sales model. They hadn’t brought in professional Challenger trainers or used the official methodology. However, it was clear that they had incorporated many of the Challenger principles in their sales approach. We discovered that all of the companies we interviewed were using tools and methods that were intended to grab the attention and interest of their customers in a dramatic way.

The Challenger Model is Here to Stay

After reviewing the results of our interviews, we came to the conclusion that all of companies we talked with had adopted the Challenger sales approach in one form or another. Some were doing it under the official Challenger flag, while others had learned the principles of the approach and had come up with a “home cooked” model. In an increasingly competitive market, all of these companies seemed to have come to the realization that having a sales force that has consultative, solutions oriented skills and are able to engage in Challenger-based selling can make the difference between winning and losing deals.

Authors: Nicole Tobar & Oyindamola Okusanya

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