One of my favorite books of 2015 was “The Challenger Customer,” coauthored by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner and Nick Toman. This book is the sequel to the very successful “The Challenger Sale.” But this time it focuses on consensus purchasing dynamics. The number and diversity of stakeholders involved in purchases is increasing. And those parties are failing to arrive at the kind of consensus early on in the purchase to give suppliers any chance of winning high quality deals. The implication of these findings has a ripple effect throughout the organization, and especially impacts revenue growth.
Impact on Sales
There’s a quote in the book that resonates with many sales leaders. It’s from a head of sales and marketing leader at a global industrial fragrances company. “I just don’t understand. We are the leading supplier in our industry. Our products are world class, our brands second to none, and our sales people are highly skilled. There’s not a single deal in our industry where we’re not invited to participate. We make it to the table every time.” Sounds great, right? But then the sales leader went on to explain, “We end up competing on price every single time. We’re always one of three suppliers. The issue of consensus buying is causing a downward pressure on deal size, margin and growth.”
This quote demonstrates how too often companies end up competing on price because they lack other differentiation. And, many times sales leaders will try to put a “Band-Aid” on the problem, such as additional sales training. But that only attacks a strategic problem with a tactic. What’s the difference? Strategy is doing the right things, while tactics is actually doing things right. The goal is to have a brilliant plan that is executed brilliantly. Throwing new tactics at the problem will not produce results. Instead, organizations must look at their overall strategy.
Applying “The Challenger Customer”
The book discusses the changes in buyer dynamics, and introduces the concept of the buying decision team. Historically a seller will go to one buyer at a time individually and try to gain a series of “yeses” from the buying decision team. What’s wrong with that? It won’t work because each person is different. And will have a different lenses in which they view to problem, and the solution to the problem. Everyone has their own agenda, and their own objectives. Ultimately, teams are unable to come to an agreement.
A different approach is to look at the impact to the overall strategy of the organization, specifically strategic alignment. This means linking your internal strategies with the external marketplace. This means alignment with the new buyers as described in “The Challenger Customer”. How do you do this? By following these steps:
- Market research – understand how your buyers have changes and determine what markets you want to play in.
- Corporate strategy – determine how to allocate people, money and time.
- Product strategy – determine your product mix; what are the bullets in the gun that you want to arm your sales force with?
- Marketing strategy – determine how to create demand for your product in the marketplace.
- Sales strategy – understanding how to convert that demand into revenue.
- Talent strategy – Determining the right people to execute your functional strategies.
The days of individual initiatives are gone. Strategic alignment is the only way to achieve your desired revenue growth. Your buyer has changed, as shown by “The Challenger Customer”. So, you must also change, and align your growth strategy with the external marketplace. It’s the only way to systemize revenue growth and avoid competing on price in every deal.