In a world of information overload and so many different points of view, it can be hard to cut through the noise and figure out what’s useful. For salespeople and account managers, an emerging theme recently is the concept of the challenger approach.
With a challenger approach the salesperson or account manager:
1. Offers a unique perspective to the customer
2. Has strong 2-way communication skills
3. Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
4. Can identify economic drivers of customer’s business
5. Is comfortable discussing money
6. Can pressure the customer
Backed up by sound research, the challenger approach suggests that salespeople who tell customers new information, challenge their thinking and take control of the sales process get better results.
Whilst I agree with many of the findings and recommendations of the challenger approach, what troubles me is that the many articles and blogs on the subject send a message that it is about telling customers new information and making a lot of well-informed statements. What has been lost is the power of questions to achieve the same results.
In our consulting projects we get to interview many senior executives about their business and their strategic priorities. These interviews go for about an hour. We spend considerable time preparing so we maximise the value from this precious time.
All of our preparation goes into crafting the best possible questions that will elicit the most valuable information. Information that reveals deep insights into what is important to this executive as a business leader and a person.
The responses we look for when we’ve had a great meeting are:
“That’s a really good question” or “I haven’t thought about that before.” You can see them stop, sit back and reflect as they digest the implications of the question.
Often at the end of the meeting they say things like “I really enjoyed this discussion” and in every case they agree to see us again. This is a strong indicator that we’ve created value for them through our discussion, because senior executives don’t give up their time easily.
The point I want to focus on is that in these types of meetings we might ask only 3-4 questions.
We know from experience that the challenger approach of making too many statements, no matter how informative or educational, sends the wrong message: It’s about you not me and you aren’t listening.
So to make your sales team and account managers more effective, by all means have them be more provocative and challenge their customer’s thinking. But do it through skilled questions.
To really understand the power of killer questions that gain you deep insights into your best customers there is a public program facilitated by two of the region’s leading thinkers on B2B customer value and Strategic Account Management. 12-14 May, 2015 at UTS.