Matthew Dixon’s bestseller The Challenger Sale is renowned bedside reading for most sales executives. His unique mix of experience, research and insight is widely believed to hold the secrets to both a successful sales strategy and honing your personal selling skills. Yet in the two years since The Challenger Sale was published, the concept of ‘selling’ has changed dramatically. Whilst there is still relevance and value attached to Dixon’s ‘Challenger’ salesman, the new world presents new challenges and for me the burning question is – can the sales function alone deliver all that is needed to entice, inform and close a deal?
The simple answer to this question, is no. The stereotypical ‘salesman’ has been – and continues to be – identified as pushy and persistent, pressuring customers to make purchases they neither want nor need. Even the name ‘salesman’ details selfish intentions that aren’t always what a customer wants to listen to. As a result, even the most direct sales pitch, no matter what the mutual benefits, can either put your customer on the defensive or, as The Challenger Sale suggests, send them heading for the hills. An ‘Adding Value Consultant’ isn’t exactly catchy but at least it’s aimed at me.
Give Customers Value – and Space
The hard sell can have a distinctly impersonal feel to it and customers, quite rightly, expect to be treated as individuals with a buying experience centred around them. In order to sell successfully traditional sales strategy needs an overhaul. The campaigns which yield the best results are the ones that deliver bespoke, tailored, client experiences. The startling evolution of interactive and entertaining retail environments is a testament to this. Take Apple for example, they opened with only 4 products on the shop floor, but rather than presenting an empty space, Apple utilised the rest of the environment to entertain and engage customers with free Wi-Fi, technical support and workshops – giving them the space and support to do their own research without the pushy salesperson at their elbow. The rise of online research and showrooming tactics such as these have resulted in a staggering 70% of all purchasing decisions being made well before the transaction occurs, making the brands that engage, inform and amuse the winners at the till (McKinsey, 2013).
But what can fill the void that old-fashioned selling has left? How can we sell to clients while avoiding the hard sell? Thankfully, the solution is actually close to hand. Brands must evolve and utilise their collective expertise through merging departments and embracing hybrid roles. Aligning sales with marketing, strategy with design, product development with customer service and so on, with content providing the pulsing lifeblood of all these collaborative forces. By tag teaming departments, companies can unleash greater potential – utilise their ‘sum of all parts’ to engage with customers in new ways and find new organic, more natural ways to sell more effectively across the organisation.
The New Superpower of Sales
By continuing to cling to an aggressive sales mentality, we run the risk of alienating our target prospects. It is the brands which break down divisions with intercompany collaborations to create unified conversations and real differentiation that can compel the ‘70% already there’ buyer to cross that golden line. After all, although the striker is the scorer, it’s the support and expertise of his teammates that get him to the goal.
So my challenge to you is this, take down the invisible walls in your office and open up the floor to new ideas. Replace the sales call mentality with cross company insight-laden conversations happening everyday with clients and prospects talking to you rather than deflecting your salesman’s’ calls. Long live the challenger sale, but ignore the other crucial 70% of the purchasing decision at your peril.