Nov 152012

Book Short: The Challenger Sale

Book Short: The Challenger Sale

I’ve written a couple times in the past about how we sell at Return Path.  I’ve written about our principle sales methodology for the past decade, SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham (and Major Account Strategy, also by Rackham, which is basically SPIN Selling for Account Managers), which focuses on a specific technique for solution selling by using questioning to get the prospective client to identify his or her own needs, as well as Jeffrey Gitomer’s two short books, the Little Red Book of Selling and Little Red Book of Sales Answers, which are long on sales questioning techniques.  And I also wrote this post about another book called Why People Don’t Buy Things, by Kim Wallace and Harry Washburn.  The great thing about this book is that it dives into the need for variation in sales communication strategies based on BUYER personae, such as The Commander, The Thinker, and The Visualizer.

While both these principles are good – asking questions and tailoring communication styles based on the buyer – anyone who has ever tried to run a whole sales call by asking questions knows that it’s REALLY HARD and can sometimes just outright flop.  There’s a new movement that I’ve been reading articles about for a few months now called The Challenger Sale, and I finally finished the book about it this past week.

If you run a company or a sales team that has any kind of complex sale or a hybrid software/service model, then you should read The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.  Whether you adopt the methodology or not, there are a few really great insights in the book that will help you recruit and manage a sales team.  Some of the insights include:

  • Understanding the five types of sales reps and why/when they’re successful/not successful.  The labels are telling in and of themselves:  the Lone Wolf, the Hard Worker, the Relationship Building, the Reactive Problem Solver, and the Challenger
  • Why sales reps can be trained as Challengers, and how important it is to rally an entire organization around this sales model, not just train sales reps on it (that’s probably a good reminder for any sales methodology)
  • The ingredients of the Challenger sale – Commercial Teaching for Differentiation, Tailoring for Resonance, Taking Control of the Conversation.  I found the section on Commercial Teaching the most enlightening, particularly in our business, where we’re not selling an established category with established budget line items

The Challenger Sale feels like the beginning of a wave that will take over a lot of selling organizations in the next decade, either directly as written or as it inspires ancillary works and related techniques.  For that reason alone, it’s worth a read.

May 122008

Book Short: A SPIN Selling Companion

Book Short:  A SPIN Selling Companion

At Return Path, we’re big believers in the SPIN Selling methodology popularized by Neil Rackham. It just makes sense. Spend more time listening than talking on a sales call, uncover your prospect’s true needs and get him or her to articulate the need for YOUR product. Though it doesn’t reference SPIN Selling, Why People Don’t Buy Things, by Kim Wallace and Harry Washburn is a nice companion read.

Rooted in psychology and cognitive science, Why People Don’t Buy Things presents a very practical sales methodology called Buying Path Selling. Understand how your prospect is making his or her buying decision and what kind of buyer he or she is, be more successful at uncovering needs and winning the business.

The book has two equally interesting themes, rich with examples, but the one I found to be easiest to remember was to vary your language (both body and verbal) with the buyer type. And the book illustrates three archetypes: The Commander, The Thinker, and The Visualizer. There are some incredibly insightful and powerful ways to recognize the buyer type you’re dealing with in the book.

But most of the cues the authors rely on are physical, and lots of sales are done via telephone. So I emailed the author to ask for his perspective on this wrinkle.  Kim wrote back the following (abridged):

Over the phone it is fairly easy to determine a prospect’s modality. I’ve developed a fun, conversational question which can be asked up front, “As you recall some of your most meaningful experiences at XYZ, what words, thoughts, feelings or visuals come to mind? Anything else?”

If you’re interested in letting your blog readers test their modalities, the link below will activate a quick 10 question quiz from our website that generates ones modality scores along how they compare with others. (It’s like Myers-Briggs applied to decision making.)

In any case, if you are a sales, marketing, or client services professional (or even if you just play one on TV), Why People Don’t Buy Things is a quick, insightful read.  Thanks for the quick response, Kim!

Filed under: Books, Business

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Jul 182006

Listen Up!

Listen Up!

I’ve always felt that the ability to listen (and the related ability to ask smart questions) is highly underrated in business, while presentation and speaking skills tend to be overrated.

We practice the art of SPIN Selling at Return Path, which is a sales methodology based on asking questions and listening rather than constantly pounding features and benefits.  And boy, does it work.  When done well, sales close much more quickly and prospects/clients are much more engaged because they really understand the need that they have for our services.

The same principles apply to management and leadership as well.  While you certainly have to be somewhat authoritative and clear thinking as a leader, it’s almost always better to ask questions, listen to conversations, and shape them around the edges rather than dive in with the answer at the onset of a debate.

I remember when I was a little kid, my cousin David asked my Grandpa Bill why, at some extended family gathering, he spent the whole time listening to some friend or distant relative yammer away rather than talk more himself.  Grandpa’s response:  “I already know what I have to say — what I didn’t know was what he had to say.”

While Grandpa’s words ring true, I heard an even more memorable catch phrase today from my colleague George Bilbrey that summarizes this point:  “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”

Filed under: Leadership


Jul 032006

Book Shorts: Sales, Sales, Sales, Sales, Sales

Book Shorts:  Sales, Sales, Sales, Sales, Sales

Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling and Little Red Book of Sales Answers were great refreshers in sales basics for you as CEO (and head of sales, and sales manager, and sales rep).  The books were a bit “self-help” flavor for my taste as a reader, but they were excellent on content, and I have two long pages of notes of “back to basics” items I need to remind myself and my team about.

Anyone at Return Path in sales/account-project management/marketing — your copy is on the way, hopefully by way of a barter I proposed with the author (sorry, Stephanie and Tami…), but in any case, we’ll buy them.  Anyone else who is interested at RP, let me know, and the copy is on me.

Some of the most critical reminders — although you have to read the books to get to get the color:

– Ask questions, don’t talk talk talk at prospects (just like the SPIN Selling methodology we always train with at Return Path)

– Never say “tell me a little bit about your business” — do the research first

– Importance of testimonials in selling

– Never blame others or blame circumstances when things go wrong.  Take control and solve the problem (good for sales and for everyone!)

Nov 182004

Everyone’s a Marketer, Part II

Everyone’s a Marketer, Part II

In Part I of this posting, I talked about how everyone’s job function is increasingly touching customers and therefore, in our networked world, everyone needs to think like a marketer.  This posting has the same theme but a different spin.  From the perspective of the individual person (in a company, and in life), marketing is central to success, although the definition of your target market needs to change with the circumstances.

Interviewing for a job?  How good a job have you done building the brand of you (your list of accomplishments)?  How good is your collateral (resume)?

Want to get an increase in your department’s budget or buy a new piece of hardware?  Have you adequately defined the return on the incremental investment you’re proposing?

Need to get that project done?  What’s your universal selling proposition to get others to help you out (“here’s why it’s good for you to cooperate”)?  Are there any incentives involved (“I’ll buy dinner if you stay late and help with this”)?

Working hard to get a promotion?  Identify a new customer segment, or a new problem to solve for your customers, or a solution to that problem, and your marketing skills will get you there.

Want to go somewhere off the beaten path on vacation?  Better come up with some great selling points that resonate with specific members of your family (it’s beautiful, it’s inexpensive, the food is great, no one else has ever been there) to convince them all to go along with you!

I suppose this posting (and maybe the other one as well) could be entitled “Everyone’s in Sales,” and that would also be fitting.  Anyone who’s not in marketing or sales but who’s interested in learning a few of the basics should consider some outside reading.  I’d recommend Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, SPIN Selling, and Getting To Yes, but there are many, many other great books that would also do the job.