I was a Challenger Rep.
This realization occurred when I was reading the Challenger book. Not by birth, not by some divine guidance, but rather by the dedication and hard work that my Miami District Manager, Brian Torstrick, put forth towards my development as a new sales representative. He trained me to be a Challenger sales representative.
And I wasn’t alone.
In fact, Brian created an entire team of Challenger representatives – individuals who were incredibly confident in our knowledge of our products, the competition, the disease states, etc.
To drive that confidence, that prowess, we studied. Hard.
And we role-played. At EVERY meeting. My district team members and I had our own internal competition of who could present better than the other. And then we built upon our collective verbalization to build messages that were strong, tight, and compelling.
And we were good. Check that. We were GREAT!
Winning District of the year several times in a row until most of us, including Brian, were promoted into greater areas of responsibility.
Of course, we didn’t know at that time we were Challenger reps. The book hadn’t been written and labels created. All we knew was that we were winners. Period.
CHALLENGER – THE GOOD
Just like the authors state in the Challenger book, my experience is that Challenger representatives win. And they win consistently.
One reason for that consistent winning is the philosophical approach that Challenger representatives take which is highlighted in the following quotes taken from the Challenger book,
“Rather than leading with open-ended questions about the customer’s needs, you lead with a hypothesis of the customer’s needs, informed by your own experience and research.”
“…customers love it because it feels much more like a “get” than a “give” – they get informed perspective rather than having to educate you with information you should have been able to figure out on your own.”
Some might see this as contrary to the common sales practice of asking engaging questions. The fact is however that most questions representatives ask, regardless of the industry, are not all that engaging. In fact, the vast majority of questions that I have seen asked while working with sales representatives are questions for which both the representative and the customer already know the answer. And even worse, the customer knows the representative knows the answer!
And we wonder why time with customers is declining, especially in the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s because, as a whole, our customers think WE DON’T ADD VALUE.
And that is the one of the key objectives behind Challenger – BRING VALUE. Demonstrate that you understand what you’re talking about and the pain your customers are facing and offer a real solution to that pain.
While both of the above quotes are extremely important in understanding the underlying philosophy behind the Challenger sale, some of the keywords within those quotes are, “experience”, “research”, and “informed perspective”.
Quite frankly, I believe Challenger representatives win because they often outwork their counterparts. They do so before the day ever begins through their preparation and their practice. Both are incredibly important for the equation of consistent success and Challenger representatives lead the way. In the field, their presentations are tight and their verbiage in communicating both the pain the customer is facing and the gain the customer can realize from the sales person’s product is precise.
And it’s that precision which gives them the confidence to be able to discuss and engage, i.e., “challenge” their customer’s beliefs. And since beliefs lead to behaviors the only way to change a customer’s behavior is by changing their beliefs.
Challenger representatives change beliefs. They do so thru preparation, practice, and execution. And they win.
Again, and again, and again.
CHALLENGER – THE BAD
I was working on a Challenger workshop for one of my clients during a flight just the other day. The gentleman next to me leaned over and said, “Challenger. Wow. We’ve never really been able to get that to work.”
He was surprised when I told him that the Challenger framework was really quite good but that in my experience, the ownership for failed execution typically lies squarely on the shoulders of the organization.
From my observations, there are 3 key areas where organizations struggle with Challenger:
• Struggle to Commit
• Struggle to Align
• Struggle to Coach
Struggle to Commit
The unfortunate labeling of “Challenger” as the preeminent sales style and the miss-labeling of the “Relationship Builder” as the less-than-worthy selling style (see last week’s blog), has led to significant apprehension of the Challenger Model by sales forces in general.
Given that apprehension, organizations tend to not fully commit to implementation but rather try to gradually introduce Challenger into their training processes – to make it seem less intrusive, more complementary to whatever their current engagement philosophy is – if there is indeed one to complement.
Thus, the birth of Challenger-Lite, Challenger 2.0, Challenger Bio-Pharma, Challenger Plus, etc., etc., etc.,…
Indeed, we could have a contest to see what derivations of Challenger have been developed all in an effort to make it more palatable to our sales forces.
Crazy, huh?! But many people are reading this thinking, “Thank goodness, I’m not alone!”
For Challenger to work, truly work, i.e., more than the selling strategy du jour, it takes organizational commitment. True multi-functional commitment across the organization.
And that leads to the struggle for alignment.
Struggle to Align
The Challenger philosophy believes that for a customer to truly change their current behavior they must believe that the pain to change is less than the pain to stay the same.
For sales representatives to effectively drive that belief in a limited amount of time they must be focused and well-skilled in the Challenger Choreography – Warmer, Reframing Insight, Rational Drowning, Emotional Impact, A New Way, and Our Value Proposition.
Equally important is that the sales representative have the resources and tools necessary that support this choreography and that is where much of the misalignment I have seen resides.
Most marketers are focused on the “gain”, i.e., value proposition of their brand and too often I see little emphasis, if any, on the pain of the insight and the flow of the discussion; therefore, the sales representative is left to figure out how to manipulate (from a usage perspective) the brand visual or e-visual in a way that supports true Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact prior to the “gain” part of the Challenger Choreography – the value you and/or your product brings to the customer.
The alignment struggle continues in the definition of our insight – what is it that our brand or company does better than anyone else? As noted by the Challenger authors, this is a point of struggle for almost every organization and from my perspective, organizations – sales, marketing, training, and leadership – need to align as to EXACTLY what that is and how they drive that value via the insights they share with customers.
And by the way, chances are you only have 1 (really lucky if you have 2!) in this ultra-competitive world, and they are going to the exact same 1-2 values six months from now.
As has always been the case with marketing, you don’t need new insights. You need to find new ways to make those insights meaningful for customers (and representatives) and provide different views of the data that supports Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact of those insights.
Want to see Challenger really take off in your organization? Start with aligning your brand story and the visuals you build to support the Challenger Choreography. Then sit back and watch what true alignment and a skilled Challenger sales force can do for a brand.
Struggle to Coach
Quite honestly, this is the easiest for organizations to fix. And probably the most important as well.
Sales leaders at every level and especially first-line leaders need to be able to model what great looks like with each element of the Challenger Choreography. I have always loved a line my old boss Jerry Acuff used to say, “You can’t teach what you don’t know.” Spot on.
Like all training, true understanding and proficiency doesn’t happen in a day. Organizations need to consistently help their field leaders improve their skills in modeling the Challenger Choreography of Warmer, Reframing Insight, Rational Drowning, Emotional Impact, A New Way, and Our Value Proposition. When done well by an accomplished Challenger representative it is just that – a beautifully choreographed engagement of the customer that results in a more positive belief in our product and where it can be used for their benefit, and in the case of life sciences, the benefit of the patients we collectively serve.
Once our leaders have this basic choreography down and can effectively model each of the components, i.e., coach and train to them effectively in the field, then we can then move to the more macro, cool vernacular that I hear thrown around organizations who are trying to become Challenger-centric organizations – “Teach, Tailor, Take Control”.
Until then, I recommend leave the over-arching, philosophical, cool vernacular of TTTC (that most representatives and field leaders don’t understand) in the desk drawer and maintain focus on perfecting the Challenger Choreography basics until every field leader can model excellence.
CHALLENGER – THE UGLY
Many years ago, when I walked into my district in Columbus, OH fresh out of being a Home Office Training Instructor at Mead Johnson Pharmaceuticals, I quite frankly didn’t really know exactly what I was doing.
So I took this great group of individuals for whom I was honored to serve and did the only thing I really knew worked – I emulated what Mr. Torstrick did back in Miami a few years earlier. And we trained. Hard.
And we won. Three years in a row we were #1 in our Region and #2 in the US. I have to admit I simply couldn’t beat Ms. Amy Tyler’s district in Little Rock but she was well, a Rock Star.
Over those 3 years, 11 of the 13 members of my district were promoted and we continued to win. And train. And execute.
And this leads me to the Ugly.
I have heard that the Challenger folks now offer a service to find “Challenger-style” sales representatives for companies.
Personally, I don’t like it. And more importantly, I don’t believe it is desirable. I can’t imagine a sales team or an organization made up of one type of person for I believe it is diversity of thought, perspective, and experience that makes a team great.
I wasn’t born a Challenger rep. Neither was the incredible Miami team that I was a part of or the Columbus Team I had the great fortune to lead. We simply committed to total preparation. We committed to excellence. Indeed, we committed to being Superstars aka Challenger/Relationship Builders. And in Miami, we had a leader committed to making us the Superstars we wanted to become. No shortcuts.
Our commitment led to confidence.
Our confidence led to success.
And the beauty and diversity of individuality of each of my unique team members in Miami and my incredible Columbus District team shone brightly in helping improve the lives of the patients we served.
And we won.
Again, and again, and again.
Have a safe and successful week everyone!