Is the Relationship Sale Still Relevant?
There is a developing trend that indicates that the relationship sale is dying a slow death. The old path of using golf outings, dinner meetings, and ballgames to cultivate loyal customers seems to be falling to the wayside in a time of budget cuts and a move toward mass commoditization of once valued relationships, products, and services. Buyers are required to procure goods and services at the best possible balance of value, quality, and price regardless of who is selling it to them. SNI has always attracted the client who wanted to enhance the customer relationship by finding a mutually satisfactory process and outcome while maintaining the relationship to have another deal. This is where we align perfectly with the Challenger Sales Model – by adding tools and skills to maximize outcomes when using this modern approach to selling.
The Challenger Sale (Dixon and Adamson, 2011) is a seminal book on a new(ish) and an interesting approach to changing customers’ buying decisions and habits. By teaching customers how to differentiate your product or service (helping them to conclude for themselves the value of your offer), tailor the message to resonate with buyer interests (commanding insightful attention to the offer) and then take control of the sale (close) by using assertive, probing questions, and recommendations and developing shared expectations, Dixon and Adamson flipped relationship selling on its head and sent a generation of salespeople on the road to drive results rather than activities.
With access to over 6,000 Corporate Executive Board (known as CEB at the time, now Gartner) sales representatives who sold big-ticket services to medium/large businesses in a very down economy (2009), Dixon and Adamson studied the data and recognized the need to reinvent the sales model to reflect this new reality of complex, value-driven selling in order to survive and thrive in the B2B landscape.
The Challenger Sales Model was a natural fit for SNI’s systematic approach of Negotiation (Prepare, Probe, Propose) and Influencing, and we were fortunate to be partnered with Corporate Executive Board for nearly a decade, including the gestational period in 2008 – 2011.
SNI worked closely with the CEB on their customized Commercial Sales program for middle-market sales representatives. CEB selected SNI to develop skills in support of their sales model, which we did by molding our systematic approach to sales, negotiation and influencing the emerging Challenger model.
“Although our organization has implemented and maintains the Challenger sales methodology, which directs our sales professionals on “what” to do and “why”, we still need to ensure our sellers know “how” to do it and keep those basic skills refreshed. This is where SNI and The Power of Nice have been a great fit. As influencing and negotiation lives within the sales process and SNIs training have been a great complement to our ongoing Challenger sustainment.”
Diligent VP, Global Training and Enablement
The Challenger Sale identifies 5 types of salespeople, and the research found that the “Challenger” profile far and away outperformed the other types. SNI was asked to help teach skills that ANY of the 5 types could use to improve results while the Challenger Model was being developed.
Here is a quick rundown on how the Challenger Sale and Challenger Model work together- that drive better outcomes while establishing and maintaining relationships for future deals.
Teaching & Changing Buying Habits
To change buying behavior, the Challenger Sales rep must prepare a plan of inquiry that helps the buyer to understand WHY it is important to consider a purchase now.
SNI’s Preparation Planner was customized at CEB to incorporate the practice of researching and finding insights and leverage points around Precedents, Alternatives, Interests, and Deadlines as well as defining the differentiated value propositions that each of CEB’s myriad of services provides. Reps learned how to approach the sale more thoughtfully while strategically gathering information in an organized and meaningful way to help the buyer conclude, for themselves early in the sales cycle, that an offer is worth serious consideration. All preparation was focused on the monetization of value – helping the rep to tie the solution being pitched to its direct business impact on the potential client.
Instead of asking questions about the competition, pricing, budgets and buying processes, Challenger reps focus on asking prepared questions about interests, options, alternatives, and possibilities while making suggestions and seeking feedback. SNI’s preparation and probing model provided an effective framework for new and seasoned reps alike to rely on with a prospect or renewal opportunity in a complex B2B sale.
Probing to Prioritize and Tailor Offers
SNI’s probing and scripting model was used as a “safe harbor” option for the mid-market reps who sold over the telephone. Even the best Challenger reps can be thrown off by an unexpected objection or challenge that was real or used to avoid making a faster buying decision. This is especially tricky over the phone where body language cannot be seen, and full attention is difficult to grasp and maintain. Ultimately, our techniques helped reps increase their success rate even in the face of toughest objections and distractions, both on the phone and in-person.
Prior to learning the Challenger Sale, SNI’s experience in financial services and banking focused on decreasing average handle time and minimizing losses, along with cross-selling. In a Challenger Sale, SNI’s probing techniques and scripting process are put to a truer test. We believe time spent gathering information about interests and specific customer ‘pain’ has higher ROI than the traditional approach of connecting, proposing, persevere and try to make the final cut (with minimal discounting) to close the deal.
Since then SNI has worked with a variety of clients who use the Challenger Methodology (e.g. Software, Technology, and Pharma Firms) and they have all found that SNI negotiation and influencing skills and tools enhance the Challenger Sale by teaching an efficient and effective preparation process, a model for probing for needs and interests beyond the traditional wants – benefit match, guidelines for making maximizing proposals, and scripting to fine-tune messaging. Aisha Wallace-Wyche, Vice President of Diligent added, “Although our organization has implemented and maintains the Challenger sales methodology, which directs our sales professionals on “what” to do and “why”, we still need to ensure our sellers know “how” to do it and keep those basic skills refreshed. This is where SNI and The Power of Nice have been a great fit. As influencing and negotiation lives within the sales process and SNIs training have been a great complement to our ongoing Challenger sustainment.” Our process also helps reps navigate the Challenger process without the inherent risks of being too aggressive or making undesirable choices such as lowering price or sacrificing value when things go sideways or stall. We help sales organizations protect the margin.
The SNI process prioritizes interests, allowing buyers and sellers to move past positions (e.g. “I need a better price” vs. “if this doesn’t go well it would be a disaster for me personally and our company”; “we need to start this project by the end of the week” vs. “we need this project to finish on time because…” ) to find creative solutions that define shared expectations for a variety of issues – price, conditions, service level agreements, timelines, deadlines and even basic communication commitments such as next steps and decision processes. Trust is enhanced, and influence is amplified.
Taking Control and Maximizing Results at the Close
SNI and the Challenger Sale fit nicely together through the entire sales cycle. Buyers want less hassle, more certainty, reduced risk, and improved profits. SNI and the Challenger Sale meet at this intersection with simple yet highly effective habits (Prepare, Probe, and Propose) in a proven and relevant framework (Teach, Tailor, and Take Control).
The final Challenger stage of Taking Control is guided by SNI’s guidelines for proposing. SNI and the Challenger Sale focus on always exchanging value while moving in your desired direction. It is a skill mastered by knowing when and how to make the proposal.
At SNI, we have discovered that it is not ‘the final deal’ that satisfies the buyer, but rather how the ‘final deal’ is reached that provides a higher level of mutual satisfaction with the result. We deliver a variety of techniques and tools to help sales professionals find the right words and steps to take and maintain control of the close.
Is the Relationship Sale Dead?
All of this preparation, probing, and proposing in an effort to teach, tailor, and take control leads to a bit of an unexpected, but a desirable outcome. In a twist of ‘unconventional wisdom’, this authentic (yet planned, tailored, and scripted) approach tends to enhance the loyal customer relationship by building a foundation of mutual trust and respect as a partner.
Loyal customers call on you when they need YOU. It develops into a true Trusted Advisor relationship. Maybe it’s an unexpected emergency purchase (“I need this right away! No time for procurement!”), some advice on an RFP (“Can you help me craft this?”) or simply a chance for you to meet and share some ideas. After producing results, which after all is a professional seller’s #1 job – these relationships are what make selling fun.
If your organization uses the Challenger Sales model and you are looking to maximize your investment, or, if you are considering negotiation training, please reach out for more information.