PODCAST 37: What Are the Key Foundational Elements of Challenger Sales W/ Brent Adamson

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we talk to Brent Adamson, who co-authored the foundational sales book, The Challenger Sale, and who has recently released The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results.  

Brent walks us through the key foundational elements of Challenger concepts and gives us the tools we need to get started with a new approach to sales.

If you missed episode 36, check it out here: PODCAST 36: How To Model Sales Productivity And Identify Opportunity For Marketing To Developers

What You’ll Learn

  • What is the Challenger Sale and who are Challenger Sellers?
  • Why a Challenger will perform better than a Relationship Builder
  • They key concepts of Challenger sales including commercial insights
  • Finding and identifying a Mobilizer to help you sell within a large enterprise
  • The different types of Mobilizers and what you need to arm them with to get them on your side
  • What new concepts are upcoming in future Challenger Sales editions

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [0:10]
  2. About Brent Adamson: An Introduction [3:58]
  3. How the Challenger Rep Was Discovered [5.25]
  4. First Things First–What Does Your Customer Think? [10:04]
  5. Why The Class Enterprise Sales Cycle Is Wrong [19:25]
  6. The Three Types of Mobilizers [34:41]
  7. Sam’s Corner [44:34]

Sales Hacker Podcast—Sponsored by Aircall and Outreach

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody and welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. It’s your host Sam Jacobs. Today, we are focused on an interview with Brent Adamson. Brent is the co-author of The Challenger Sale and, the newly released, The Challenger Customer.

Now, before we get started, we want to thank our sponsors. The first is Aircall, a phone system designed for the modern sales team. They seamlessly integrate into your CRM, eliminating data entry for your reps and providing you with greater visibility into your team’s performance through advanced reporting.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach triples the productivity of sales teams and empowers them to drive predictable and measurable revenue growth by prioritizing the right activities and scaling customer engagement with intelligent automation. Outreach makes customer facing teams more effective and approves visibility into what really drives results.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter, an amazing conversation with Brent Adamson, a really respected and acclaimed author and speaker from Gartner.

About Brent Adamson: An Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Today, we’re talking to one of the co-authors of not just a series of books, but a methodology and a philosophy that has really transformed how people sell over the last 15-20 years. Brent Adamson is a distinguished vice president at Gartner. He’s the co-author of The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, and the newly released The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results. Welcome, Brent.

Brent Adamson: Hey Sam, it’s great to be with you.

How the Challenger Rep Was Discovered

Sam Jacobs: There’s probably three people in the world that aren’t familiar with The Challenger Sale, and so, talk to us about what the central tenets of The Challenger Sale are, before we dive into The Challenger Customer.

Brent Adamson: If you go back to 2008/2009, things were not so great if you were selling. Even if you were selling, nobody was buying. How was it though, that in that economy, there were consistently people who were crushing their number? That led us on a journey through a huge amount of research of what set those active sales professionals apart.

That’s what ultimately led us to The Challenger Sale. The premise (and findings) is largely based on the idea that virtually every sales professional tends to fall into one of five distinct profiles–Relationship Builder, Challenger, Hard Worker, and so on.

When we stepped back and looked at these profiles and compared them to actual performance, we found that one of the five was performing head and shoulders above the other four and one was falling dramatically behind.

The profile most likely to win was the challenger rep and the one least likely was what we’ve come to call the relationship builder.

It all comes back to the relationship you’re seeking to build with your customers–what is it built on? Is it built on insight? Your ability to come to your customer and challenge their thinking. It’s those sales professionals who can challenge the thinking of their customer, to get that customer to think about running their business, they’re the ones that are most likely to win.

The Challenger story is all about who are these individuals, how can we replicate those behaviors, what does their insight look like.

First Things First–What Does Your Customer Think?

Sam Jacobs: What are some of the highlights in terms of developing the right tools, so that a rep can move from relationship-builder to challenger?

Brent Adamson: The direct answer to your question is, how do we go about challenging the customer in the way they think, not about us, but they think about their own business? If you’re going to change the way your customer thinks about their business, what’s the first thing you gotta understand? Most people would answer that you’ve got to understand their business, but if you’re going to change the way someone thinks about their business, you’ve got to understand the way they think about their business.

  1. Build a mental model: How do they think about the world? What do they prioritize? What are their goals?
  2. Breaking a mental model: If that’s what they think, what have they missed? Where might their logic be faulty? Not with a view of correcting them, but with adding to their perspective. How can we help them think more effectively than on their own?

Why The Classic Enterprise Sales Cycle Is Wrong

Sam Jacobs: I wanted to sort of articulate the classic enterprise sales cycle, and then have you just tear it to shreds, based on the research that you’ve done.

So typically, you use some kind of qualification methodology, some acronym that basically is a checklist for the rep to cross off in terms of questions they need answered, and they take that list as high as they can get it, fill out all the information and then at some point, they move through procurement, etc. Walk us through why that doesn’t really work anymore, and the key concepts we should be familiar with as it relates to The Challenger Customer.

Brent Adamson: As we’ve moved to a posture of selling a “solution”, it’s always been if you’re going to sell a wider solution, with a bigger footprint, you’ve got to claw your way up to the c-suite, that’s been the marching orders. Get as high as you can, and find that unicorn senior advocate.

What we’ve found is, first of all, that person doesn’t exist. Even if you were to find that person, they are unwilling to buy it on their own. Lots of different people have to sign off on it.

The launching pad of The Challenger Customer was this specific data point of how these solutions are getting purchased. We asked how many people were involved in the purchase and implementation and the result was 5.4. Since we did that research, we’ve continued to ask the same question. The next year it went up to 6.8. This year, it’s over 9. It’s a huge number. Why are there so many people involved?

As we seek to expand the scope and the value of the solution we deliver, so that it touches more people in the customer organization, it stands to reason that all of those people are going to want a say in what actually gets purchased.

RELATED: Sales Process Vs Sales Methodology: Adopting Sales Process Map

Mobilizers Are More Important Than Any Exec [29:12]

Sam Jacobs: Mobilizers; there’s a couple key insights. First of all, explain to us all the different flavors of mobilizer, and then, one of the most critical insights from the book for me, was you’re not connecting to all of these people, you are using the mobilizer to connect themselves to each other. Walk us through that construct.

Brent Adamson: We found, at a high level, the more effective you are at personalizing your pitch, the LESS likely you are to win a high quality sale. That made no sense to us when we first saw. We reran the data and couldn’t make that finding go away. What we found is, it’s not just a numbers problem, what we have in the customer organization as a challenge, is a diversity problem. Each one of the individual stakeholders represent a different function, a different level, a different geography, a different agenda within the organization. Their mental models don’t overlap that much. They tend to fall back on the lowest common denomination deciding factors, like reducing cost and risk. The more you personalize your pitch to the different stakeholders who are already disconnected, the more you exacerbate that disconnect, rather than overcome it.

What we’ve got to figure out when selling into this world of multiple purchase stakeholders is not doing a better job of connecting those individuals to us, but connecting them to each other.

How do we do that? What we’re looking for is not someone senior, we’re looking for individuals, within the organization, who can drive change and build consensus, and we call those people mobilizers. They’re the mobilizers of actions and ideas. They’re not looking for a solution or product or service, they’re looking for an idea. They’re the Challenger Customer–the Challenger inside the customer’s organization.

The Three Types of Mobilizers

Teacher – They are open to big ideas and good at motivating others.

Go-Getter – They are open to big ideas and good at project planning.

Skeptic – When presented with new idea and will tear it apart piece by piece (they are an incredibly powerful mobilizer if won over)

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey everyone, it’s Sam again. Another great interview. Brent is so eloquent and obviously so passionate about this subject. If you haven’t read The Challenger Sale, I really think you should. And if you haven’t read The Challenger Customer and you’re in B2B enterprise sales, I really think you should. They are two fantastic books that help codify this insight that your job is not to just show up and talk about the features of your product. Your job is to understand the life and the mental model of your customers, to help them change. What you’re selling is change, not a specific product. The Challenger method is not to be aggressive and rude, it’s about bringing commercial insight–to teach somebody something about their business that they did not know beforehand. What you’re looking for them to say is “Huh, I never thought about that.”

Don’t Miss Episode 38

So before we go we wanna thank our sponsors. Big shout out to Aircall, the advanced call center software, complete business phone and contact center, 100% natively integrated into any CRM. And, Outreach, a customer engagement platform that efficiently and effectively gauges prospects to drive more pipeline and close more deals.

If you wanna check out the show notes, see upcoming guests or play more episodes from our incredible line up of sales leaders, visit gtmnow.com/podcast-subscribe. You can also find the Sales Hacker podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

If you wanna get in touch with me, please do it, a lot of people have been reaching out to me and it’s fantastic. Please tell your friends about the podcast, please share your feedback and I’ll talk to you next time.

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