Top Five Things B2B Sales Reps Need to Know From “The Challenger Customer”

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Not only should B2B sales representatives be Challengers, but they should also be able to identify the qualities of a “Challenger Customer.” What characterizes a Challenger? According to Gartner, sales professionals who have a different view of the world, understand the customer’s business, loves to debate and pushes the customer, make up a Challenger.

In The Challenger Customer, written by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman, the authors propose that truly effective sales reps are those who can strategically navigate the customer’s organization and identify the high-performing stakeholders, or “Challenger Customers.”

Here are the top five things sales reps need to know to identify the Challenger Customer as proposed in the book:

1. Gather the Six to 10 Decision Makers

Gartner research shows that there are six to 10 decision makers in every decision. In order to secure the approval of each decision maker, create an environment of collective learning. Collective learning provides a space for all decision-makers to gather at the same time to identify the different priorities for a solution.

Collective learning, as defined by The Challenger Customer, is:

“An interaction where stakeholders explore and socially norm by debating and building on each other’s perspectives, finding points of unrecognized agreement, and arriving at a shared decision.” (p. 160)

In collective learning, each decision maker has the opportunity to identify his or her reservations about the solution and discuss them. For example, procurement may say that the solution needs to be easy to integrate, the CFO may need to understand the financial returns of the solution, and the CIO may inquire about the security of the solution.

2. Get an Early Start

To truly stand out from your competition, it’s critical to open the conversation with your customer before the customer begins looking for a solution. By creating awareness of the problem and subsequently offering a solution, you’ve become a success partner, not just another vendor.

The relationship you build by identifying problem areas within your customer’s organization will increase the likelihood of your customer committing to a purchase from you in the future. How do you get an early start within the customer’s organization? The key is to find a mobilizer.

3. Identify the Mobilizers

A “mobilizer” is the term that Adamson, Dixon, Spenner, and Toman use to describe the individual that you want to identify within the customer organization. The mobilizer will fight for you and your solution, acting as an internal champion of your solution to the decision makers and stakeholders.

There are three different types of high-performing mobilizers:

  • The Go-Getter – This type of mobilizer is opportunistic and will promote your solution in order to achieve personal gain or success for themselves.
  • The Teacher – The Teacher has the best interests of the company in mind and wants to improve the company’s position in the market. As a result, the teacher is a strong ally because he or she will do whatever it takes to promote your solution.
  • The Skeptic – At first, the Skeptic will be critical of your proposed solution and will ask difficult questions.  Once you pass the skeptic’s tests and successfully prove the solution’s value, the Skeptic will adopt your cause as his or her own.

4. Recognize the Talkers

The book goes on to define a group of people in your customer organization who may appear to be mobilizers, but are not. This group, called “talkers,” will not provide significant support to winning the deal.

The three types of talkers are:

  • The Friend – The Friend will listen to your explanations of the solution, offer advice, and provide support. The Friend does not possess the force needed to push the solution forward in the organization, however.
  • The Climber – The Climber is opportunistic and motivated by personal gain, but will strive for personal gain at the expense of others.
  • The Guide – The Guide will listen to you, distribute information, and help you when possible, but will not win the trust of coworkers and other decision-makers. The Guide will help you, but will not have the power to push your solution to all decision makers.

You will want to recognize the value of each of these types of internal liaisons in your customer organization, but they will not all be equally effective in mobilizing your solution.

5. Unteach and Reteach

“Regardless of whether it’s delivered through a sales rep conversation or some other content channel, insight is designed to demonstrate to customers that despite their own learning and their own expertise, they’ve missed something materially important to the performance of their business . . . Insight, in other words, isn’t designed just to teach customers something new that they’ve never thought before, but to unteach them something that they already have.”

First, the sales rep must unteach by providing unique insight. Then, the sales rep has the opportunity to use targeted content created by the organization to reteach in a way that highlights the company’s unique strengths. Each mobilizer has unique strengths that warrant a certain type of tailored content.

Sales reps can ask the following questions:

  • What are we good at?
  • What are we uniquely good at?
  • Which of our unique capabilities is sustainable?
  • How do our unique strengths align with the customer’s goals and priorities?

Find Your Mobilizer

The Challenger Customer equips sales reps with a guide to navigate the customer’s world. By identifying the mobilizers and understanding the type of commercial insight to provide, you’ll have the resources and support to credibly provide solutions to your customer.

  • Have you identified mobilizers in your customer organization?
  • What have you learned from the unteaching and reteaching process?