If you’re unfamiliar with the type of salesperson known as “the challenger,” you may need a quick tutorial. According to CEB, a company devoted to improving corporate performance on every level, an astonishing 40% of the top salespeople fall into this particular group. While the other types (introverts, hard workers, relationship builders, and problem solvers) certainly shine in their own ways, challengers are able to push clients to believe in their product and to strive to do more for their business and colleagues.
Every salesperson gets frustrated when they see a client struggle with a problem they know their product or service can solve, but it’s the challengers who find a way to work with clients collaboratively.
Acknowledge their side
Clients aren’t necessarily short-sighted when they disregard excited chatter about the perfect solutions for their team. They’ve probably heard it all before, and are tired of feeling disappointed when it turns out to be a mildly effective product at best. Or maybe they know just how much a new product (even the perfect one) will throw off the dynamics of their team.
An effective challenger understands this, and doesn’t just plow ahead as if these concerns are irrelevant or a means of staying stuck in the past. Instead, according to CEB, they they teach customers how to think critically about the problem they face, tailor their sales pitch accordingly and take control of the situation to combat indecision.
Talk through the challenges
Tension often occurs when a salesperson sends a prospect an unsolicited pitch. The challenger, of course, recognizes this dynamic and uses it to his or her advantage during the conversation.
Challengers take the opportunity to hear what the other person is saying, and ask them questions to find out more about how the business works on a deeper level.
Resistance is common if sales reps insist they have the definitive answer to a customer’s problem before any real information has been shared by the prospect. Even if by some miracle that does happen to be true, it’s far too soon to make that kind of a claim. The very name challenger implies that the salesperson should be forceful, but that force must be used effectively. There are people who may be turned off if it comes across as too abrasive, so this balance is crucial.
The power of debate
Some clients don’t like to be challenged, but most people don’t climb to top positions without being used to some opposition. Hopefully, they’ve noticed and truly believe that opposition is one of the best tools a company can have in terms of moving forward. Constructive debate is not only fun to the challenger: it’s what they live to do.
Instead of feeling awkward when they’re told “no,” they can’t wait to give the reasons why it should be a “yes.” A challenger neither comes across as naive nor like they’re reading from a prepared script. They know that there’s a better way to do things, and they just want the client to have the opportunity to implement it and gain a leg-up. The key to debate is: support your claims with credible anecdotes and data. Even with new products, there should be facts behind what a challenger is saying.
A tall order
Challengers exhibit behaviors that are common among all other types of salespeople. Of course, combining those skills successfully is no small feat.
Challengers are hard workers by definition, in that they’re always engaged to what the product can bring to the table, and how it’s ready to add value to its users. They’re also problem solvers in that they’re ready to step in when needed. They’re similar to introverts and lone wolfs because they’re not going to be easily swayed by differing opinions.
As you can tell, this type of employee is not easy to find, but they are staff worth retaining once you’ve recruited them. Your interview process might want to include a few chances for the person to shine as a debater. However, these are skills that can also be developed at a later point. The better salespeople get, the more they can push clients to do more for their employees, their business and themselves.