Joining the buyer’s journey, but where are they?

Tom Pisello has sparked us to revisit this topic to see the latest thinking; how much of their journey is complete before they make contact varies upwards from 57% and I have even seen numbers around 80%.

For those who have not seen this before, the concept is that as a result of the internet people wishing to purchase a product or solution can do their own research, decide what they want to buy, create a shortlist of possible suppliers and only then contact those suppliers.  If the intended purchase is straightforward; a washing machine, laptop computer, accounting package for a small business, etc., then the process may provide a good result for the customer but the supplier is largely relegated to a passenger on the buying journey.

The early bird still catches the worm!

The early bird still catches the worm!

However for more complex problems the internet is far less useful and the prospective buyer will need to engage with suppliers at a much earlier stage.  Add to that circumstances that businesses do not yet see as problems and only when approached by a sales person do they realise that not only do they have a problem but oh joy! there is already a solution available.  By way of an example consider low energy lighting; this is a solution that can cut electricity bills by 80%, is maintenance free, comes with a 10 year guarantee and will repay the initial investment in 30 months or so.  Few businesses have the foresight to research this problem/solution though.

The issue for the supplier is not so much being a passenger on the buying journey but the increased risk of missing the train altogether.

Tom Pisello, The RoI Guy, Founder of Alinean has written an excellent blog Early Bird Catches Worm based on research into this topic.

Whether you subscribe to the current fashion of The Challenger Sale, Tom’s route to “establish the clear path from vision to value” or are more traditional, following the Solution or Consultative approach to selling, our message is the same; engage early, educate the customer in the issues they have not yet acknowledged and shape the opportunity towards your solution.

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Reflections on a Challenger implementation

Interview with ThoughtWorks’ Adrian Jones regarding The Challenger Sale

“ThoughtWorks is a global technology company and community of passionate, purpose-led individuals that specialize in software consulting, delivery and products. We think disruptively to deliver technology to address our clients’ toughest challenges, all while seeking to revolutionize the IT industry and create positive social change. We make pioneering tools for software teams who aspire to be great. Our products help organizations continuously improve and deliver quality software for their most critical needs.”

Adrian Jones, ThoughtWorks Studios

Challenger Champion

Adrian is the Vice President Global Sales for ThoughtWorks Studios, who in 2012 championed the transition to Challenger concepts in his sales team.

What sales and selling process was in place before you implemented Challenger?

For larger high touch bespoke projects we had a system based on Miller Heiman with “agile flavours” suited to the agile style and culture of the business. The result was less prescriptive hence allowing sales people scope for innovation and creativity.

For smaller low touch deals we used a cut-down version of this sales work flow. This provided a higher level of structure which suited the more predictable sales cycle events and also helped the sales people who were typically less experienced and less able to engage in the full sales cycle due to geographical distance.

Both approaches were based on the philosophy of collaboration and we encourage people to bring forward their problems as a contribution to our philosophy of continuous improvement.

What made you decide to change?

Three reasons;

  • buying was changing and we had to change to match it
  • we wanted to break down internal silos; sales, marketing, product, support
  • we needed something to match our approach to business which is to challenge our customers who have ambitious missions for their businesses. ThoughtWorks is definitely viewed as a leading-edge company that helps customers solve their most pressing problems.

We found that our existing rigid processes were becoming counter cultural. As a company we hate the “hard sell” and we see ourselves helping our customers to make their own informed decisions to buy. Our aim is always to under promise and over deliver. Traditional sales processes that glorify or concentrate on selling at any cost were seen as very culturally unaligned at ThoughtWorks.

What outcomes were you seeking by changing?

To satisfy the needs described in the answer to the previous question; we wanted to inform customers encouraging them to want to buy from us.

A second outcome was to equip us to more effectively find and win larger deals. We had already been winning big deals but felt that our existing processes and approaches were inadequate so we needed something to improve our effectiveness.

What other options did you look at other than Challenger?

We looked at Solution and Customer Centric selling but found them a bit “old school” and felt they were unlikely to offer any significant improvement over what we already had.

As soon as I found The Challenger Sale it felt right so we stopped looking.

What were the main reasons that led you to choose Challenger?

We already knew that customers wanted to be challenged and they had come to expect this of ThoughtWorks. We had been gaining a reputation in the market for this approach so we needed a selling process to match enabling us to engage directly with customer thinking.

Did you have any specific reservations regarding it as the chosen solution?

We were concerned that it would not be applicable to our inside sales team who handle the smaller shorter sales cycle and deals. This proved to be the case but we were already operating two different systems for large and small deals so this was not a major issue for us.

What was the (geographic and organisational) scope of your Challenger implementation; just UK?

Challenger was installed just in the software tools side of the business; ThoughtWorks Studios. I have a total team of 20 spread between the USA, UK and India.

To what extent have the results fulfilled or exceeded your expectations; good and bad?

Messaging and alignment of business with our philosophy and actions has improved a lot. The silos have largely been broken down and people across the teams; sales, marketing and product, are using Challenger language when talking about opportunities and customers.

There was an initial large influx of ideas as we had a five year backlog of design decisions in our products that required articulating and explaining to our customers in challenger terms but this has now slowed so it needs re-invigorating.

It has helped us to articulate our proposition and its USPs and to gain increasing visibility in the market. It has helped to change the perception that customers have about ThoughtWorks and it has heightened their expectations as to what we are able to deliver to their businesses.

It is not yet seen as business as usual and is considered as the way to deal with difficult situations rather than the standard way to do everything

How did you implement Challenger; e.g. internal resources based on the book, through an external expert, combination of the two or other?

Purely internal; we drove the whole project using the book as the foundation. We created a book club for “theme” teams consisting of a mix of all the key functions. The process was to read a chapter each week (the theme), the team then worked through actual examples and we then had weekly conference calls for each region where the teams presented their approach to the theme. I developed a template so that themes would be prepared and presented consistently across the regions and as we progressed through the book.

Would you do it the same way again?

I would for a team of a similar size but it was a large additional workload for me so I would need to re-think the approach for a larger team. The team were largely behind the initiative so there was little push back which made the project easier from my viewpoint. I spoke to a number of other Challenger users who, in some cases, reported resistance from their teams including blaming the introduction of Challenger for them losing deals.

After the initial training programme how have you continued to train & develop established sales people?

It is an on-going process of top up training sessions and coaching. In fact I am in the process of planning the next set of training sessions to move things forward again. The market continues to change and evolve and so must we.

How important is coaching to maintain standards of usage and application?

Very, but this applies to any selling process; coaching is the key role for a sales leader.

How has Challenger been received by the sales team?

Very well with the sales people working on large complex deal; no one has left in the two years we have been using the system and it is used with genuine enthusiasm.

Although we have not fully implemented Challenger in the inside sales team there are concerns from team members about the things we have introduced. The main concern is the risk they perceive that the approach will lose deals.

What are the distinguishing traits of people who responded best and worst to the new approach?

Those people who already understood the domain that we sell in to, which is about improving software delivery, took most naturally to Challenger; they understand the business environment and the benefits that we deliver so they would embrace anything that helps them to sell in their way but more effectively.

For those who come from a more conventional professional selling background and who are used to using technical people throughout the selling cycle it is more difficult to adapt to Challenger and gain benefits from using it.

Is Challenger used in its entirety or does each person use it selectively? On what basis have any parts of Challenger been omitted or dropped?

I see Challenger as an approach not a complete process. We have amended it to our needs and we still have our own processes covering for example; deal management and deal progress.

As I said before we are not really using Challenger with our inside sales team who handle smaller short-sales cycle deals.

What effect has it had when recruiting new sales people?

None observed as we have not recruited anyone into the team where it is used.

What pearls of wisdom can you share for others considering Challenger?

I have covered some things already but I would like to share a couple of other thoughts.

Firstly, implementing Challenger is potentially a big change and as with any other change you need to get buy-in and genuine commitment from your people otherwise it will probably fail. It cannot be imposed from above and this is why I have remained the champion throughout the project.

Secondly, if you have already decided you need to make changes in the business, as we had, then introducing something involving a major change in approach is easier to justify and explain.

Overall how would you rate its benefits?  Negative, negligible, positive, fantastic, …

Positive but not yet fantastic. It has moved the thinking of the sales people a long way and it is helping us to align all the functions involved in sales and selling. It is definitely helping us to differentiate ourselves against competitors.

Anatomy of a sales process

It is a poor excuse to say that having a sales process is either outdated or not necessary and stifles the creativity of the sales person.  The concept of a process in this regard is a misinterpretation or perhaps a confusion with a sales script.

A sales process facilitates a common destination but a choice of routes, it is merely a way of ensuring that by the time the destination (deal closure) is reached, some required waypoints have been visited.  It doesn’t dictate the route nor the vehicle for the journey, only that on reaching the destination all the essential elements are in place for a successful delivery.

“A well thought through sales process which is embedded into the planning, action, reporting (and coaching and development) generates more consistent sales results and also saves time on identifying the minimal to no hope deals.”

A common process; enables you to induct new team members so they can get up to speed quicker, enables switching or sharing of accounts between the team without adversely affecting the customer, avoids losing essential actions down the cracks, and facilitates consistent, reliable management information for pipeline forecasts.

Your sales process helps to distinguish you from your competitors.  It minimises your risks of wasting effort or of upsetting your customers.  It enables your sales force to share successful experiences and avoid painful mistakes, but it focuses on the What not the How.

So where do concepts such as SPIN, Challenger Sales, the Blue Sheet, Key Account Management etc fit in?

Your sales process and sales methodology walk hand in hand, but the process covers cradle to grave whereas many of the common methodologies have a narrow focus in terms of discrete stages in the sales process.

For instance:

  • Huthwaite’s SPIN® provides a structured questioning concept useful  in preparation for and conduct of a meeting with a suspect or prospect; likewise AIDA.  They are each only A way, not necessarily THE way
  • Challenger again addresses a questioning style in order to elicit a buy response from your ideal target
  • Miller Heiman’s blue sheet allows for management of opportunities and bid responses
  • Key Account Management maintains customer contact for ongoing business

But what were the target market selection criteria, what territories were allocated, what distinguishes a likely buyer from a tyre-kicker, what must happen before resources can be allocated, who has what level of authority for key commitment?  By defining some of these aspects you facilitate the smooth progress of revenue generation regardless of personnel and market changes.  You also instill some consistency into the data quality of the pipeline regardless of the source of the lead.

So, by definition, a process has inputs, utilises resources, and follows a sequence of steps, or sub-processes, in order to produce outputs or outcomes.

The sub-processes of a sales process might be:

  • Market selection, for which a stage-gate process may be appropriate.  This would then feed its outputs of “ideal” customer profile into a lead generation process.
  • The lead generation may be automated to elicit in-bound leads from marketing, exhibitions, web enquiries.  Alternatively it could be driven by outbound messaging; by calling, visits or email,s identifying the pain points and your value offerings tailored to each specific target.
  • Leads need to be reviewed to minimise effort which might otherwise be wasted chasing an elusive blue bird to the detriment of a real opportunity.  As the opportunities evolve, continual review of the pipeline maintains the focus on realism over optimism.
  • The opportunity pursuit or bidding process determines the strategy and resources required for a successful pursuit of a viable opportunity, ensuring the key customer stakeholders are known and in active dialogue to shape and hone the proposal and thus avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • The feedback or review process establishes the strengths and weaknesses perceived by the recipients of your proposals, win or lose, and your service delivery to enable you to improve your success ratios and satisfaction levels.
  • The account management process maintains contact with customers past and present through sales and delivery/service personnel to build a trusted advisor relationship for ongoing renewals, extensions, cross-selling, up-selling, and acquisition of referrals and testimonials.
  • The sales management process encompasses converting business goals into target planning and territory allocation,  incentive setting and motivation, coaching the sales people through each stage of interaction with a prospect or customer as appropriate, pipeline review and team building, all with the aim of achieving or exceeding the business goals in a predictable manner.

In many businesses the game of chess is a useful metaphor for selling.  The selling activity found in most B-2-B transactions will involve multiple interactions between the supplier and potential customer, which have a purpose and structure.  As with chess that structure can be summarised, at a high level, as; opening, middle and end game.  The supplier will take actions (make moves) which have a purpose in themselves but are also intended to trigger a reaction (a counter move).   In this way the selling process (game) can progress through its series of connected phases to the ultimate goal (end game) of winning an order; check-mate.

Just like chess pieces, each participant in the relationship has their role to play, be they sales manager, sales person, or delivery bod on the supply side; decision maker, sponsor, or user on the purchasing side.  The sales person asks questions to enable the conversation (game) to progress, information to be garnered and the intention, commitment and resolve of the other side to be “tested”. True chess grand masters will not leave it there though, they will analyse the moves and counter moves after the game has ended, and of others’ games, so they are better prepared for future contests.

Performative Structured Selling® provides a methodology to match the full sales process, helping you on your way to becoming a sales grand master.

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow

The Challenger Sale: What It Means For Your Business

The Challenger Sale presents new sales thinking from the Corporate Executive Board.  Based on research conducted with over 6,000 sales reps across geographies and industries, results reveal that sales reps fall into one of five profiles:

  1. The Hard Worker
  2. The Problem Solver
  3. The Challenger
  4. The Relationship Builder
  5. The Lone Wolf

Of these, the Relationship Builder is the profile most companies expect to be successful, but is in fact the least successful profile in today’s selling environment.  Instead, the Challenger is the most successful by a mile.  The Challenger is the person who really understands how to improve business performance better than the business (s)he is selling to.  The good news is that much of what makes a good Challenger can be taught and nurtured with the support of the wider selling organisation.