Consultative sales vs. the Challenger sales model
The buyer-seller gap is real. According to our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study, buyers’ dwindling reliance on sellers during the early phases of the purchase process and the presence of numerous influencers and decision-makers means that sellers must take a different approach to build relationships and close more deals. In other words, they must realign their selling process with the buying cycle.
For some sellers, that means moving away from solution selling to a more aggressive approach, like the Challenger sales model popularized after the 2011 book of the same name. The Challenger sales model encourages sellers to retool their selling process, suggesting that sellers should use aggressive tactics to create friction, control the sales conversation, and win more business.
While the Challenger sales model understands that buyers favor sellers who provide them with useful insights, it diverges markedly from solution selling. Over the years, solution selling has evolved into perspective selling — a consultative sales approach that we emphasize in our training methodologies, including Strategic Selling® with Perspective.
Here are five reasons to use a consultative sales approach as opposed to the Challenger sales approach for enterprise selling.
1. Provide the buyers with perspective
The Challenger method asserts that solution selling is dead. It describes solution selling as showing up blind to a potential customer, without having done any research, and asking them questions of little or no value along these lines: “Hi. Will you tell me all of your needs while I write them down?”
That approach won’t work with today’s sophisticated, well-informed buyers. And it’s an outdated depiction of solution selling.
Solution selling didn’t die—it evolved into a consultative sales approach that brings buyers the value ofperspective. Perspective is when sellers give their buyers new knowledge that helps them see their problem in a different light to achieve their business goals.
Providing perspective builds sellers’ credibility by differentiating themselves and their solutions. Perspective transforms a seller from a vendor into a trusted, solution-based partner. Buyers want experiences where they feel confident that sellers understand their needs and that sellers are able to deliver value. Perspective delivers that value.
A consultative sales approach also opens doors to additional conversations early in the sales cycle. Most buyers (54%) find value in discussing their needs with sellers, and the overwhelming majority (75%) are open to talking to sellers earlier in the purchase cycle. To take advantage of these opportunities for earlier engagement, buyers must follow an insightful approach to the sales process and offer perspective.
2. Make selling a mutual-value activity
Taking control of a relationship does not endear sellers to customers. When working with strong-willed buyers who are less reliant on sellers than ever for information, you won’t build any momentum if you try to tell them what to do or how they should make decisions.
Fifty-five percent of buyers say a seller’s ability to educate them during the sales process influenced the last large purchase decision they made. A consultative sales approach earns sellers the right to engage with buyers earlier and more often in the sales cycle.
Sellers must demonstrate that they’re trustworthy before buyers want to take the next step forward in a deal. In turn, the process of exchanging perspective builds credibility and trust, two essential pillars for a long-term sales relationship.
3. Build relationships that last beyond the sale
Creating tension with a new contact by challenging their assumptions may temporarily differentiate you in a crowded field of sellers. But after you’ve made a sale, where does that leave you? How do you turn that relationship into a lasting one?
All too often, sellers using Challenger sales tactics can’t build that relationship. This adversarial approach frequently leads to a single transaction—and no more.
The Challenger approach ignores a key principle of sales logic. For most businesses, about 76%of revenue comes from existing customers. In fact, post-sale account expansion is where you’ll find the lion’s share of revenue opportunities.
To cultivate relationships using a consultative sales approach, sellers and buyers alike must engage in open, honest, and regular communication. And their conversations must start long before the next opportunity begins to take shape.
Emphasizing sales and customer collaboration
In solution selling, organizations prioritize alignment between sales and customer success. Service professionals communicate with customers as much as 10 times more than sellers. This means that organizations need to emphasize true collaboration between service and sales with an intense focus on the customer using a consultative sales approach.
When service and sales put the customer at the center of their work, customer satisfaction levels increase. In turn, this leads to deeper levels of brand loyalty and increases the likelihood of repeat business and deal growth.
4. Dismiss buyer stereotypes
The Challenger selling philosophy requires a one-size-fits-all approach to sales. But a singular approach won’t work with all buyers. Not all buyers appreciate this method’s “rational drowning” approach. This strategy makes buyers uncomfortable by bombarding them with data designed to create fear, uncertainty, or doubt. This is how Challenger establishes a rationale for buyers to address a problem or seize a market opportunity.
Modern buyers differ in how and when they want their insights. According to our Executive Impact program, executives exhibit five different decision-making styles, all of which consume information differently. Some want insights up front, while others don’t, depending on their decision-making style.
As a result, sellers using a consultative sales approach need to research and communicate with a prospect to discover the best way to tailor their sales delivery to their buying influence’s preferred style. Agility is required, and sellers cannot stereotype and assume all buyers value the same approach.
5. Resist seller stereotypes
Talent is a primary concern for organizations’ planning for the future. But Challenger seller profiles are difficult to follow for hiring and developing talent.
The five Challenger profiles — Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Problem Solvers, Lone Wolves and Challengers — aren’t mutually exclusive. They also don’t clarify the differences between inherent attributes that you can’t train from the behaviors that you can teach.
At Korn Ferry, we take a data-driven approach to creating a comprehensive talent strategy. Our research shows that a successful seller profile depends on the sales organization and isolates the traits that allow sellers to thrive in their selling environment.
The traits that differentiate between sales success and mediocrity involve the salesperson’s approach to work or their learning agility and a consultative sales approach. Sales organizations must tease out these talents and skills through talent assessments, compile them into a hiring profile, and then develop them throughout a salesperson’s career.
There are no shortcuts to growing sales
To win more business, you don’t need a sales gimmick or tactic. You need a proven sales methodology backed by perspective—a combination of skills, mindset and insights—that offers buyers greater value.
If you’re ready to close more deals, you need to take a consultative approach. Enroll your sellers in our sales training courses to give them the tools and consultative sales skills they need to win more business and contact us today.