Why do Problem Finders who challenge perform best?

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You will probably have heard of the Challenger Sales Model. It defines the skills and behaviour sales reps use when interacting with sales leads and clients. 

Considering my own experience in sales and supporting sales reps over many years. I was particularly interested in how they describe a rep’s natural approach to interacting with prospects is not all the same.

They introduced five types of sales rep:

  1. The Hard Worker who does not give up easily. The hard worker is self-motivated, wants feedback and personal development.
  2. The Lone Wolf, who follows their instincts, is self-assured delivering results but is difficult to manage.
  3. The Relationship Builder represents the classic consultative sales rep, advocating and supporting sales leads and clients’ needs.
  4. The Challenger takes time to understand sales leads’ and clients’ business. They debate and push them to see their situation from a different perspective.
  5. The Problem Solver is responsive, detail oriented and diligent dealing with solving problems.

I have been advocating the need for us to move from being a problem solver to a problem finder. How do we become a problem finder?

You become a problem finder by developing a challenger mindset. In other words, considering the above five types, a Problem Finder is a Challenger. 

Why do challengers perform best?

When buyers contact us, we think we are managing a sales process; reality is we have stepped into their buying process. So, how can we differentiate ourselves from our competitors if buyers are levelling the playing field?

First, we need to know where we are before we start differentiating ourselves. The buyer is in control; remember this is a buying process. We are in classic Problem Solver territory. Buyers level the playing field so they can compare us with our competitors and negotiate the best price for the value they are willing to pay.

Pause for a moment. We are meant to be the specialists selling our solutions. We also have access to deeper-dive specialists who know how to configure and get the best value from our products and services. The buyer understands their situation, which is where we need to focus our attention. Neither the buyer or seller at this moment in time as the full picture. So, why are we not reflecting on and challenging them to better understand their situation? Doing so means we better serve our clients by making sure buyers maximise their returns investing in our solutions.

The dilemma becomes further confused when we consider how complex Business to Business (B2B) selling has become. How many times have you been involved in a deal when those involved in the decision process cannot agree. So they settle for a compromise, what I call the ‘magnetic middle’. Sometimes the level of compromise is too great to reach a consensus. In these situations, maintaining the status quo may seem a better option, so they consider doing nothing. Being a relationship builder, hard-working, diligently responding to requests to solve problems, or pushing on alone to get it done – will not change this outcome.

The Corporate Executive Board or CEB, is a subsidiary of Gartner published revealing data about the decision making process. In 2014 they started measuring the number of people involved in a typical B2B purchase decision. The number was 5.4, which makes sense when purchasing a complex enterprise software solution. Different department heads need to be involved in making or influencing the final decision.

The concerning data for all of us in sales is the increasing number of people involved in the decision process. When measured again in 2016 it was 6.8, a 25 percent increase in just two years. In 2018 the figure could be closer to 10.2, which is another four stakeholders involved in the decision process compared to a few years before.

The risk being a Problem Solver

Being a problem solver raises a concern and question whether we are competitively positioning our solution to help those making decisions avoid having to make unnecessary compromises. 

It is unlikely we are competitively positioning ourselves if buyers and influencers are moving towards a compromise decision. We will be responding to problems they are presenting. We need to take more control by asking challenging questions to understand their situation better. 

Problem solvers need to understand each persons’ priority needs better. Being the specialist, we are best placed to present a way forward that can satisfy all priority needs and avoid significant compromise or a no-decision outcome.

What is the risk of being a Relationship Builder

If we are a relationship builder, how much time are we spending advocating and supporting everyone’s position? 

Making sure everyone likes us because we are reinforcing their position and confirmation biases slows down the decision process. We need to ask challenging questions to see the full picture how our solution can best serve everyones priority needs. 

Failing to do this, we often take the classic approach – find the budget holder and advocate their position. All we have done is exasperate and slow down the buying process. They may hold the final budget decision, but without the support of the other people in the decision process, they will not release the budget.

The risk of being a Lone Wolf

Some consider adopting a lone wolf approach to selling is the best approach to getting the deal across the line. We tell our pre-sales what to do, post-sales are seldom consulted, and marketing are not delivering enough leads. 

Probably sounds familiar and we can point to one or more loan wolves we know. Problem is today’s B2B solution sales is complex making it more challenging for lone wolves to succeed. Some push back from solution selling and focus more on the traditional product features and benefit sale.

Allowing this to occur allows our business become less relevant and uncompetitive within the decision-making process. Becoming product focused is less competitive when compared against those challenging and proposing a way forward that avoids unnecessary compromise.

The risk of being a Hard Worker

I remember when I moved into sales to be told, “work hard lad, and you’ll go far…”. Sales is hard work but in today’s world of sales, the harder we work does not deliver binary rewards. Working smart, not harder is how we succeed selling. 

According to CEB, the more people involved in the decision process, the odds of a purchase decision drops. If one person is making a purchase decision, the odds are stacked in our favour at 81%. Add a second person to the decision process and it drops to 55%. Interesting when a third and fourth person is involved, our odds increase to 60%. That is because they help arbitrate a compromise decision. However get to five it falls to 53%, then 31% at six, and it will keep dropping. 

We end up working harder dealing with increasing odds stacked up against us to close a sale. We need to get smarter, which means we need to see the big picture by asking challenging questions.

The benefit of being a Challenger

Developing a Challenger mindset guides and gives us the courage to ask challenging questions. The answers to these questions uncover incidental findings that give us a competitive advantage. These are findings that we did not necessarily set out to find but are proving key to delivering a competitive way forward.

Challenging buyers and influencers to see their situation from a different perspective differentiates us. It allows us to step out of a buying process and take greater control of our sales process. 

Because we show those involved in the buying process there is a better way forward, we create more value in our solution. It allows us to better understand and address the reality for the business and those involved in the decision process.

We may recognise we are one of the other types of sale rep. The good news is that we can all develop a challenger mindset and become a Problem Finder. A challenger focuses on supporting a fact-based decision-making process. Jeff Bezos provides us with the perfect reason why this is the only way forward…

The great thing about fact-based decisions is that they overrule hierarchy

Discovering facts is why being a Problem finder developing a challenger mindset trumps being a Relationship Builder or Problem Solver.

There are specific ways we can strengthen our sales skills that I work through on our training courses, coaching and consultancy engagements. We deliver these in person or online at your pace using our Training Platform. 

Make it easy to solve their problems

The day I wrote this Knowledge Article, I ordered another book from Amazon. I launched their App, did a search and purchased it with one click, all within a minute. Because I subscribe to Prime, I also received it the same day!

In today’s world of sales, we must focus on creating an effortless experience. Being a challenger means we challenge the status quo to find better ways our clients can achieve their priority needs. 

I will sign off with three tips that have served me well to become a Problem Finder with a challenger mindset. 

  1. Always respond to an objection with a question to understand the intent behind the objection.
  2. Always when presenting a threat pair it with a clear, specific, and easy to follow the plan of action.
  3. Always include effective steps to follow that will reduce the danger ahead or achieve their priority needs.

To learn more about the tools we provide to develop your Challenger skills…

Download our Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners It guides restructuring the stages of your sales to reflect your buyers’ journey. To learn more about the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard Download the Guide to Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.