When the Challenger Sale was published in 2011, it rapidly became one of the "must read" handbooks for B2B CEOs and sales leaders, with a remarkably powerful word-of-mouth that I hope I contributed to in some small way.
But as I read and re-read the original book, I developed the nagging feeling that something was missing from the message - and in "The Challenger Customer" the authors fill the gap by turning their primary focus from the sales person to the customer.
Regular readers will know that I have long been a convert to the idea that the key stages in the sales pipeline should be defined in terms of where the prospect is in their buying decision process backed by buyer-activity based milestones - and not on what sales activities the sales person has conducted.
The case for buyer-centric pipeline management
One of the great advantages in taking a buyer-centric approach to pipeline management is that it forces the sales person to pay much more attention to the dynamics of the prospect’s decision-making process. And it can help us to recognise the internal challenges many organisations face in making decisions.
This is perhaps the most important central theme of the book. It draws our attention to the great difficulty that many organisations have in achieving internal consensus around whether they need to change at all, who should be involved, what the basis of decision, process and criteria should be, which options to evaluate, which solution to implement, how to eliminate any remaining decision risks, and how to secure final formal approval.
The "do nothing" dilemma
When you think of it in these terms, it’s no surprise that many buying journeys end in a decision to “do nothing” - often before any sales person is even aware of the potential for a sale. And it’s no wonder that - faced with all these complexities - many apparently promising opportunities end in a decision to stick with the status quo.
The idea that prospects often don't know how to buy, or struggle with the internal change management process isn’t new - I can remember Sharon Drew Morgen making some similar points in “Dirty Little Secrets” and “Buying Facilitation” - but this latest work by the CEB introduces some important additional perspectives.
Is your champion a true mobiliser?
Based on a new wave of profound and insightful research into B2B buying behaviours, "The Challenger Customer" identifies the critical role that mobilisers play in any complex buying decision process. The mobiliser is a very different character from the "coach" that sales people have been encouraged to engage with by traditional sales methodologies.
Mobilisers are the people that drive the change process within their organisation - the people that are capable of aligning their peers in the organisation around the need for change and around the option that is most likely to achieve it. They are respected for their ability to “make things happen”. When you have a mobiliser on board, you amplify the impact of your sales activities dramatically.
Without a mobiliser your chances of losing the deal increase significantly - whether to the competition or to "no decision". In fact, without a true internal mobiliser engaged, many apparently attractive opportunities will never make it past the evaluation stage. The book shows us how to recognise the different types of mobiliser, and how to appeal to their different motivations and modes of behaviour. It also helps us to recognise and be aware of “false mobilisers”.
Why "thought leadership" often isn't
But the book goes beyond analysing the different types of personality that we might need to engage with: it also provides a set of practical principles for orchestrating organisation-wide consensus and making collective learning happen. The ideas about the need for prospects to “unlearn” their existing perspectives are particularly profound, and a clear explanation why the majority of today’s “thought leadership” is nothing of the sort.
In short, the book delivers a deserved shock to the system to many sales and marketing traditionalists (even if they don’t currently see themselves that way). It forces readers to unlearn many of the principles they have accumulated over the years - but it then provides a framework for relearning a fresh and more effective approach.
"The Challenger Customer" is a suitable successor and an appropriate complement to the Challenger Sale. I strongly recommend it to any B2B sales or marketing leader who is anxious to enable their organisation to cope with the recent profound changes in buying behaviour.