When I first read Brent Adamson and Mathew Dixon’s Challenger Sale last year, I accepted that here were some new ideas, and possibly some fresh thinking about sales approaches: It wasn’t rocket-science; after all, many members of the “sales thinking-class” had agreed long-ago that the concept of leading with a “build a relationship first” philosophy was very outdated: In fact, I illustrated this in another recent article “Realationship Selling: Don’t Propose Marriage on a First Date”
However, after a second reading, and then some further debate with some of the sharpest minds in the sales space, I realized that much of their thinking was badly flawed – this despite the fact that many of my other colleagues had quickly jumped on the “Challenger bandwagon”
I suppose the first alarm bell to ring was the size of their survey: “6,000 sales reps across geographies and industries” Well, there are around 12.8 million salespeople employed in the USA alone, and probably an equal number in Europe. You can then double that again if you add in the rest of the world, so conservatively, we are talking about 100 million salespeople world-wide. This means that their survey represented 0.006% at the very best, which can hardly be described as an accurate sample can it?
To put that in perspective, that’s like the mayor of New York asking 100 people if the Brooklyn Bridge should be replaced, and acting on that advice, claiming it is what the population of the city has demanded.
It also begs the question, how many of those surveyed were insides sales/external sales/consultative sales?
There is no mention of any distinction, they were all classified as simply “salespeople”
But actually, that is not my biggest issue with this book: The notion that relationships no longer matter in business is naive at best, and woefully inaccurate at worst. Even in B2C, we are still witnessing customer loyalty when good service is given. Do you have a favorite restaurant? Favorite clothes outlet? Preferred computer supplier? Of course you do, and it is not just the quality of the goods or products that bring you back time after time, it is the quality of service, and the fact that you are remembered – valued. This is relationship selling in its simplest form.
At the top end of the scale – and you can put whatever label you wish on it – the very best sales professionals understand that when buyer and seller act as partners, they are building a bridge to mutual profitability.
Top sales achievers regard their relationships with key customers as a partnership and cultivate it as such. When customers face tough business challenges and complex technological choice, they rely on sales people who can assist them in making the right decisions.
This means that the primary objective of a sales partnership has to be to create and sustain a mutually productive relationship, which serves the needs of both parties, now and in the future. The key word here is symbiotic. Partnership does not mean eliminating the tension between buyer and seller; it means that top-performing salespeople know how to strike a balance between achieving immediate results and developing the relationship fully.
My greatest fear is that salespeople will read this book – written by eminent academics, with no apparent in-field experience – and believe that “adversarial selling” is the new way forward.
For example, and I quote:
Challengers: What They Do Differently
While most reps focus on building customer relationships, the best focus on pushing customers’ thinking, introducing new solutions to their problems and illuminating problems customers overlook.
Well, no actually. What they have described there are the actions of a consultative sales professional, BUT we do not presume to “teach” and we certainly do not aim to “control” – for “control” you could read “manipulate”
What we do do, is to share new thinking whenever that is appropriate, and we value our company, our solutions, and ourselves: We never talk up and we never talk down – we discuss “with” We are assertive, but never aggressive – and understanding the difference is fundamental to success in a frontline sales role.
I could probably write an additional 1000 words on why I so mistrust this theory, but hopefully you will have got the gist?
As I have said on numerous occasions over the past ten years, “You have to sell first – prove yourself first – before you can hope to develop a relationship. Leading with the notion that you can build any sort of relationship from the outset is hopelessly out of touch – but that is precisely what around 90% of front-line sales professionals are still trying to do. But be assured “relationship selling” is alive and well, and reports of its death have been wildly exaggerated”
By: Jonathan Farrington
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