In 2011, a new piece of sales research took the sales industry by storm: The Challenger Sale. With it came a new sales method touted as the best way to sell in the modern age, but how good is it really? It’s time to take a look at how well it stacks up next to it’s very close cousin, consultative selling.
What is The Challenge Sale method?
The Challenger Sale method is all about challenging the status quo. Rather than relying on the extremely ineffective relationship selling approach, The Challenger method takes control of the sale and proactively educates their customers with insights into how a customer can save and make money. This usually comes in the form of finding problems in a customer’s business and then following up with a tailored solution to help the customer address that problem.
“Rather than being everybody's nice guy, The Challenger works to create a state of constructive tension by pointing out problems to the customer. And sometimes it’s problems that the customer didn't even know that they had,” says Alex Chan, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global. “This is all with good intents, because we intend to fix those problems.”
How is it different from consultative selling?
Think The Challenger method sounds a lot like consultative selling? You’d be right. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that The Challenger approach is more like a child of the consultative sale rather than its cousin. The two are very similar.
“It's kind of like a spinoff from consultative selling, but it's gone a step further,” says Alex.
That extra step is in how the salesperson goes about educating the client about their problems.
The Challenger Sale works on the assumption that people are busy and don’t have time for a long line of questioning. So this method straight out tells the customer what their problem is.
The consultative approach, on the other hand, seeks to help the client to realise what these problems are on their own. Essentially, they lay the path and ferry the customer down it until they uncover the problem. In contrast, The Challenger Sale skips all that and simply plonks the equivalent of a neon sign down saying “this is your problem”.
It’s this key difference that sets the two strategies apart.
The key weakness of The Challenger Sale approach
It’s important to understand that The Challenger Sale is not a bad strategy. Salespeople who have the right mentality and use this approach in the right situation have had great success with it.
“It challenges the status quo and it strives to help the client be in a better position tomorrow than they are today, much like the consultative method does,” says Alex. “That is where the strategy is good.”
But The Challenge’s weakness lies in its tactics. That is, they way salespeople go about executing it.
“The Challenger’s tactics is where it can really unravel,” says Alex. “People read the research and say "this is great, I'm going to start challenging the client". They start pointing out problems: “this is where you're wrong”, “this is what you should be doing in order to enhance your profit”. Unfortunately this can make them look arrogant and, if they're not careful, come across as lacking in the use of basic psychology.”
By comparison, the consultative approach avoids this risk entirely since it uses a series of searching, open-ended questions to guide the client.
“If you do take the time to ask them questions, the customer goes on a journey where they arrive the conclusion themselves without you actually telling them that what they're doing is wrong,” says Alex. “Because they’ve arrived at this conclusion themselves, it creates a high level of motivation, rather than defensiveness.”
Last of all, while The Challenger does get results, sales leaders must realise that the research it is based on is just one research project.
“If we base all of our sales philosophy off one research project then you're going to be subject to some massive failures, because it's just one philosophy,” says Alex.
So, what is the best sales strategy? While The Challenge method has its time and place – it’s not something you want to solely rely on. The consultative method, however, is an approach you can use in almost any situation without fear of reprisal from your client. Our advice? The Challenger Sale poses a lot of risk compared to the consultative. So, unless you’re sure you can pull The Challenge approach off, play it safe and stick to the consultative approach that’s still guaranteed to get results.
Want to know more about selling consultatively? Read our free guide, Stop selling, start consulting: the power of consultative sales strategy.