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Sales Focus: Challenger Sales Method

Several years ago I read The Challenger Sales. If you have not heard of it, or if you have and have not read it, I highly suggest picking it up. The book discusses that there are 5 basic sales personalities.

  1. Hard Worker: This professional is self-motivated, always goes the extra mile and loves to get feedback in order to development himself. This personality is a wonderful team member that you can always count on to do the right thing.
  2. Challenger: This professional has a unique perspective compared to most of your other team members. He will work to understand a customers business so that he can provide insights. This person likes debating and is willing to push the customer to critically examine what would make his business better.
  3. Relationship Builder: This person is the one that EVERYONE likes. He is a people person that is happy to give his customer however much time he needs. He is obviously great at getting along, but he is a true customer advocate. This is the guy that will make operations crazy because he will ask, “Why can’t we do that for my customer?” at ever turn.
  4. Lone Wolf: Successful lone wolves are a manager’s nightmare, but they deliver in the ultimate area of importance…sales. This person is self-assured and very independent. He does not do well in structured environments or as a member of the team where coordination is paramount, but successful lone wolfs will get sales.
  5. Problem Solver: This is a detail oriented professional that responds to customers consistently and wants to make sure all problems are solved. This will be the person that can make an operations group nuts because he wants to see the contingencies, but he is also fantastic because he never leaves a customer with an unresolved issue.

While each of these profiles is capable of creating high performance, the one profile that consistently outperforms all other profiles is the challenger salesman. More than 40% of all top performers are Challenger Sales personalities based on a survey of over 6,000 sales reps. So what is it that makes a challenger sales person so effective and how can we become more like that even if we do not fit that profile completely?

Challenger sales reps are able to build “constructive tension”. What does that mean? Constructive tension is identifying new ideas to help a customer that the customer had not previously considered or did not fully appreciate. It is constructive tension because it creates an atmosphere that says your old assumptions may not be the best path forward for you, your company or your career based on the what we know.

A good example of this was several years ago when one of our customers was engaged in spending $500K for inbound LTL to their manufacturing plant. They had over 10 suppliers that were regularly shipping LTL shipments to their production facility using our customers account number. The customer was getting generous discounts because it was all shipping under their account number, but the loads were delayed and damage was consistent.

Solution: Let’s convert all of these LTL shipments to Milk Runs. It was an uncomfortable discussion at first to tell the purchasing manager that the great savings they were having using LTL were a bad choice (obviously it is not said that way, but the tension does arrive when you have to explain there is a better alternative that the manager never considered). The results:
  • Cheaper Freight: Moving to a milk run approach actually saves real dollars on the spend reducing costs by over 20% for this particular customer
  • Improved Efficiency: Where as LTL shipments arrived randomly, the milk runs had a very specific date with exactly what was going to be on the truck. Vendors would have an open PO and ship loads on inconsistent days, as items became available and without any strong communication to the customer as to what to expect. Our solution allowed the customer to dictate what would be picked, when it would arrive and would be made in accordance with their needs, not what the vendor decided to produce that week.
  • Less Damage: We provided a solution that reduced damage. Being handled only one time to load the truck compared to going through a sort facility for every pallet reduced damage to almost nothing. The cost of lost production and administrative cost of dealing with damages by LTL lines greatly benefited the production line as well as the purchasing department.

How did we get there?
  • Knowledge: We had to understand our customer’s business in order to critically examine how we can help them improve
  • Differentiate: There were a lot of other service providers that knocked on the customer’s door. What was it that differentiated us? What did we offer and how would we tailor our message to affect the economic and value drivers of our customer? In looking at their business we did not offer to do LTL cheaper. We did not try to say we would take care of all the damage that occurred in your sort facility…we said we have a better solution if you will give it a try. We demonstrated how and where we would be better and our message was heard, even if it was not comfortable at first.
  • We took control of the sale by demonstrating savings and talking about their drivers:
    • Efficiency
    • Cost savings
    • Control

As you look at your own business and think about the customers with whom you deal, start to think about a challenger sales approach.
  • Know your customers business
  • Understand the important drivers for your customers
  • Critically examine what the pain points are for your customer and develop better ideas
  • Communicate effectively how you can help your customer improve through your new ideas

We all are looking for a way to make more money right now. I challenge you to begin approaching your sales opportunities in a challenger sales mentality.

R. Kyle Fresh
WJW Associates, LTD

Smart Way SCRA TIA Member
About WJW

As the company has grown, it has expanded its offerings to include dedicated equipment, freight management services, intermodal, flat, van, reefer, and specialized services. WJW brings the flexibility and dedication of a small company combined with the expertise and capability of a large one.
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