Customers today are more informed than ever before. With the accessibility of online information before they make a buying decision, they study their options and educate themselves. By the time a sales rep contacts a customer, they have already identified specific solutions for their needs (Source: CSO Insights).
Research has found that customers are 57% through their purchase process before they make any meaningful contact with a sales rep (Source: Gartner).
Brian Mitchell is a Sales Challenger Model expert. The model is a sales approach in which the seller challenges potential customers. Brian is also an associate partner with Leads Online Marketing. He served four years in the United States Marine Corps before he worked at AT&T leading a team that transitioned the company from Yellow Pages to the digital world. Brian led the sales enablement team for YP.com, which was a top 30 Digital Property. His department sold more than $300 million in digital ad revenue annually.
Today, Brian and I discuss the tectonic shift of the Yellow Pages which he has witnessed. Brian will also teach us about the Challenger Sales Model.
Sales organizations can increase business by challenging customers — delivering customer interactions specifically designed to disrupt their current thinking and teach them something new. It’s not just about selling something anymore,” (Source: Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory, Gartner, and co-author of The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation)
Helping Small And Medium Businesses Grow
Brian grew up in a household where his father owned a small business handed down to him from his father. From an early age, Brian was exposed to the ins and outs of owning and operating a business.
Working for AT&T
While Brian worked for AT&T, a huge portion of the company’s revenue came from selling Yellow Page ads. I asked Brian how efficient this advertising model was, and he told me at that time, it had a good return on investment. Brian said that sometimes a small column ad would generate enough business for a year for their customer. Based on how the return was, the customer would evaluate their marketing budget for the following year.
Brian understood the challenges which separated his customers from being great, and he consulted with them on areas where he thought there was a good opportunity. He would try to drive more exposure by taking out a bigger ad and diversifying into digital ads.
In order to measure how effective a campaign was, Brian would set performance indicators like setting a number of leads that should come in each month. If this number wasn’t met, they would place additional advertising to reach the goal of leads.
The Challenger Sales Model
In 2008, despite the recession, there were still companies with record-breaking sales. Brian said those companies were scrutinized to understand how they were able to be successful during a recession.
As it turned out, the sales teams that worked for those companies were doing a better job of understanding their customers and the challenges they were facing. Based on their understanding, they developed plans and solutions that served their customers’ needs, whether it was better branding, getting more traffic, or growing their market share. In the end, these methods led to a solid ROI for their customers.
The Challenger Sales Model is about following a process. Even during challenging times, like 2020, the Challenger model still worked. It didn’t matter if people were an introvert or an extrovert, the model worked just as well. In fact, Brian said introverts can often make better salespeople because they pay more attention to details and usually are well-prepared. The challenger model drives hard conversations with business owners about their pain points and what is holding them back from being great.
The Challenger Model vs. Relationship-Driven Sales
When I looked up some numbers prior to my interview with Brian, I found that “40% of high sales performers primarily used a challenger style, and that high performers were more than two times more likely to use the challenger approach than any other approach.” (source: Gartner)
Brian agrees that although he’s traditionally a relationship person who builds rapport and develops trust with his customers, he’s come to see how a blend of relationship skills and the Challenger model has allowed him to become more successful. Brian says it’s not enough to be successful in relationships. It doesn’t always close sales. The Challenger model is more about doing business, which comes with knowing our customer’s industry and every parameter within it.
It’s important to have challenging conversations with business owners about what differentiates them from the competition and how they’re willing to change. Brian says the most remarkable thing about the Challenger model is there isn’t much room to fail. It’s built on engaging with the decision-maker with facts and data. Even though it sounds simple, the Challenger Sales Model takes practice. We can’t read the book and just expect to hit the ground running.
What made the Challenger Sales Model easy for Brian is he had been selling that way his entire life without realizing it. Having grown up doing sales in a small business environment made this sales model feel natural to him.
Pros and Cons of the Challenger Sales Model
Brian believes that the Challenger model makes it possible for us to be present with our customers, no matter where they are in their buying cycle. We’re always trying to educate, inform, and make recommendations that are going to benefit our customers and drive sales. Another advantage Brian sees in the Challenger model is how it enabled him to grow digital ad revenue. This sales model allows sellers to come up with a fresh and insightful approach that is new to their customers.
Brian thinks the Challenger Sales Model needs to be managed appropriately. It has to be followed by proper training and role-playing with the sales reps in the front lines to show them how they should communicate and talk to the client. If this doesn’t happen, sales calls can go in different directions and down a path that will not lead to a close.
Brian believes instituting the Sales Challenger Model is a process that’s been proven. As we follow and develop it, it’s going to continue to help us help our clients.
Thank you so much Brian for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. Today, customers are more informed than ever before. That’s why we need to offer our customers a buying experience that goes beyond product selling.
2. The Challenger Sales Model helps us engage with our customers at any stage in their buying cycle.
3. Relationship skills are very important, but the Challenger sales model maybe be able to provide even more results.
4. The Challenger model is more about doing business, which comes with knowing our customer’s industry and every parameter within it.
5. When we follow the Challenger Sales Model, it brings us up to speed in a short period of time, even if we don’t have the experience.
Connect with Brian Mitchell
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