Challenge B2B Sales Assumptions

A new hypothesis on how to succeed in B2B sales has exploded onto the scene and Freelance consultants had better take notice.  “The Challenge Sale”  (2011),  written by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon,  has turned received sales wisdom onto its head.  According to the authors there’s no such thing as Santa Claus,  the Easter Bunny is dead and relationships don’t mean much  when you’re trying to make a sale.

These  startling findings are based on extensive research.  Adamson and Dixon studied 700 sales professionals and then followed up with a global analysis of 6,000 sales people who make their living in complex B2B sales.  They first identified five selling styles:

The Hard Worker                      self-motivated;  goes the extra mile,  won’t give up easily

The Problem-solver                focuses on service issues;  detail-oriented;  excellent with post-sale follow-up

The Relationship-builder      very customer-focused;  generous with time and attention

The Lone Wolf                            self-assured,  follows his/her own instincts

The Challenger                           has a different perspective;  understands the client and his/her business;  loves to debate

When it comes to B2B sales,  Challengers blow everyone else out of the water.  According to the data,  40%  of top-performing B2B sales reps are Challengers.  A mere 7%  of Relationship-builders can claim that distinction.  How do Challengers do it?  They display six game-changing attributes and trying to be the client’s friend ain’t one of them:

1.  Offers the client unexpected options on how to get the job done

2.  Has strong interactive communication skills

3.  Knows the client’s value drivers

4.  Knows the organization’s economic drivers

5.  Comfortable discussing money

6.  Willing and able to pressure the client

The wily Challengers mix these attributes well and have come up with this recipe for the sales-winning cake they bake:

Teach for differentiation

About 53%  of what drives B2B purchase decisions  (like the awarding of project contracts)  is the Freelancer’s /salesperson’s ability to teach prospective clients something new,  to challenge their usual way of thinking,  the standard approach.  Challengers persuasively deliver information and methods that lead clients to see their situation in a new light that  (they think)  will help them improve competitive positioning,  make money,  save money or do whatever it is that they want to do,  all in a way they didn’t know was possible.

Tailor for differentiation

To win a contract today,  the Freelance consultant often has to build consensus and win over a group of stakeholders who have varying amounts of influence on the hiring process.  Job-seekers grapple with this reality also,  as they face down search committees that now control the hiring for nearly every position, no matter how lowly. 

Adamson’s and Dixon’s research shows that Challengers respond to this environment by treating each stakeholder as an individual client,  learning how each one’s role fits into the organization and tailoring a sales pitch specifically to that role and its attached priorities.

Take control of the sale

As our ailing economy drags on,  the authors estimate that 80%  of business is lost to no decision at all.  No,  it’s not your imagination.  Most sales  (or proposed projects)  really do just die on the table for lack of client follow-through.   When it comes to complex buying decisions,  clients have become paralyzingly risk-averse.  Many economists and business experts have pointed out that this practice does organizations more harm than good,  but there it is.  

Furthermore,   Freelance consultants also know that many,  if not most,  clients use the ailing economy as a pretext to get our expert labor on the cheap,  always scheming to wheedle a discount out of us when a contract does get offered.  Challengers are  not swayed by this tactic.

Rather,  s/he sidesteps requests for price cuts and re-directs focus away from price and onto the value of the product/service.   Challengers know that a solid value proposition makes clients more willing to pay a premium.   S/he sells their service’s  (or their product’s)  unique ability to meet or exceed expectations,  meet crucial deadlines,  solve a difficult problem,  or save/ make money for the organization.

Adamson and Dixon claim that the combination of teaching,  tailoring and taking control draws on constructive tension throughout the sales process.  Challengers teach clients how to build consensus for the sale  (project)  by engaging the right stakeholders with the right message.  They don’t cave in to pressure to cut their price.   Moreover,   they do it all in a respectful,  never aggressive manner.   Are you ready to Challenge?

Thanks for reading,



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