“Historically, our industry has been very relationship-centric. And at its root, there’s nothing wrong with that—trust is a key component of any partnership and relationships help to build trust. I suppose if a customer wants carpeting and has four or five firms to choose from, the relationship aspect plays a larger role. Assuming price, terms, timetable and installation are fairly equal, most people would choose the firm with whom they have the closest relationship. Every now and then, the cheese will slide off the cracker, and when you have friends on the supplier side, they will help you to fix it.
Where this does not hold up is in emerging technologies or the adoption of new business practices. This is where using the challenger model is critical. As a salesperson, when you challenge and help your customer extend beyond what they thought was possible or reasonable, that is when you create real value.
Everyone talks about being a “partner” and not a “vendor.” If you want to be a partner, you must see yourself on the same path as your customer (and sometimes your customer’s customer). If you really want to know what real engagement is, be focused on helping your customers succeed, not in just seeing what they will buy from you because you have been friends for 10 years.
Our company is rooted in the Challenger sales model. In fact, I personally believed in the Challenger model without knowing what it was! When I think about the multibillion-dollar platforms that completely trust our company for a critical component to their success, I believe much of this trust was rooted in their faith in our dedication to their success. And that success often requires us to challenge conclusions that perhaps were, but today are no longer, valid.
That’s not to say we don’t have deep relationships with our customers—we are an extremely social company by nature. After all, our conference rooms are named after epic cigar brands—an activity that is social by its definition. We believe that in our business any relationship needs to sit on top of a foundation of data.
Are You Telling the Truth?
Data is the flow of communication. An opinion should be used to generate a theory that is then validated by clean data. All too often, I hear folks from our industry say, “People today want X.” In my head I am thinking: All people? You asked everyone? How on earth did you have the time and how many languages do you speak? While this may be a bit of the Challenger sales model combined with a bit of sarcasm, the intent is the important part. People project their own desires across the greater population and present it as fact. It may be factual for them but applying their own desires to the greater population is where strategic missteps happen. This is true in these statements:
- “Today’s renter wants…”
- “People prefer to do that online….” Or, “People would rather talk to someone to do that…”
- “We never have a problem with….” Or, “….happens all the time.”
These are examples of applying an opinion or a small sample of data to a larger discussion—and often it is done inaccurately. Someone who believes in the Challenger approach would seek data to validate those statements to read like:
- “Across a statically significant sample of X, we learned that...”
- “74 percent of today’s renters want...”
- “42 percent of people prefer to do that online while 58% still prefer to talk to someone to do that…”
- “As it turns out, 19 percent of the time, or almost one time in five, we have a problem with….”
This approach requires people to recognize that what they hold as truth may indeed be false. And most salespeople are not willing to confront that situation, as it will be uncomfortable (and not always successful).
Continue to read "Making the Sale: The Relationship Builder vs. The Challenger" to find out salespeople's techniques or click to read "How Sales Personalities Affect the Team."
Todd Katler was 2005 NAA National Suppliers Council Chairman.