“Challenger Sale” Mastery! (Step By Step Guide)

David Pirt is a Challenger Sale expert, behavioural science enthusiast, and former soldier.

In this episode of The Salesman Podcast, David shares a step-by-step guide to what the Challenger Sale is and how we can implement its success principles into our B2B sales game.

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - David Pirt
Challenger Sale Expert

Resources:

Transcript

Will Barron:

Coming up on today’s episode of The Salesman Podcast.

 

David Pirt:

You can’t only be a high performer if you’re a challenger. The research highlighted that actually you can be high performers in any of the five profiles that were identified. It’s just it’s statistically much more likely that high performers will be a challenger than they would be something like a relationship builder, or a hard worker.

 

Will Barron:

Hello, Sales Nation. I’m Will Barron, host of the Salesman Podcast, the world’s most listened to B2B sales show. If you haven’t already, make sure to click subscribe, and with that, let’s meet today’s guest.

 

David Pirt:

I’m David Pirt, I’m head of consulting for Europe at Challenger. We recently span out from Gartner and we are the world’s only specialist company that can implement Challenger transformation programmes in large and mid-sized companies. You can find us at www.challenger.com.

 

Will Barron:

On this episode of the show with the legend that is David, we’re diving into the Challenger Sales methodology, why you need to implement it right now, why relationships are probably not as important as you think they are, why you need to teach, tailor, and take control of the conversation if you’re going to win in essentially the internet age where there’s an abundance of information, where there’s an abundance of competing products, how the Challenger Sales can help you break through the noise and close more deals. And so let’s jump right into the conversation.

 

Challenger Selling: What is it and Why we Need it · [01:22] 

 

Will Barron:

For context, I guess to set things up, in a world where there is seemingly unlimited information about all the products that we’re selling and consulting on, and doing all that side of the sales process, and additionally, in a world where pretty much every product has a very similar competitor in the global economy that we’re in, why is the Challenger Sale needed now, I guess, more so than it ever has been?

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, it’s a interesting question. I mean, the world of sales is one where there are a thousand and one, a million and one opinions shared by anybody who’s ever had a job in the world of selling. I think one of the interesting things that we learnt come from, or the organisation that we did specialise in research, is that whether it’s sales people, sales managers or leaders, when they actually want to execute a new way of doing things, it’s quite important for a lot of people to know that it’s backed by something more than an individual’s opinion.

 

David Pirt:

Our company went out, I think over 15 years ago now, to start investigating the world of sales behaviours and buying behaviours, and we spent a long time studying both those fields, year on year. And really, where Challenger came from was almost by accident, a research into high performance sales behaviours. We were looking at just some fundamental skills and behaviours across a whole range of traits, and we were interested to know what patterns might sit in the way that people behave in sales interactions, and what would make them successful? What popped out was some pretty interesting research done initially on a few 1,000 salespeople, but today that’s gone up into, I think beyond 80,000 salespeople we’ve done this study on to show that there are certain types of behaviours that disproportionately represent high performance in the world of selling.

 

The Desirable Traits that Power High-performing Sales People · [03:02] 

 

Will Barron:

Before we get into the methodology itself, is the answer here to align yourself up with the high performers? Have they inadvertently sussed all this out just by trial and error over time?

 

“It’s interesting, when you see someone who’s really good at something, you ask them to explain why they’re good at it, it’s actually quite hard to extract from them all the subtleties and the intuitions they’re applying without even thinking about it.” – David Pirt · [03:16] 

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, so it’s interesting. When you see someone who’s really good at something, you ask them to explain why they’re good at it, it’s actually quite hard to extract from them, of all the subtleties and the intuitions they’re applying without even thinking about it, so that’s we wanted to do on a macro scale. People who’ve come from a science or a research background know that you’ve got to look at things in a volume significant enough to identify patterns that are not just an anomaly, a freak of statistics. That’s what we were particularly interested in finding out, and that’s where we dug in.

 

David Explains why it’s Statically More Likely That Top-performing Salespeople Implement the Challenger Sale · [03:47]  

 

Will Barron:

And just to [inaudible 00:03:48] context on this before we get into the practical elements of how we can align ourselves with those high performing traits and things that high performers do. Because you mentioned there, David, what kind of numbers do we need to be looking at to make it statistically viable? And what I’m getting at is, if there’s a sales manager listening who has a team of 10 and has one star performer, should they be aligning all their sales team around that one individual’s traits, or do we need a lot more data than that to make these assumptions?

 

David Pirt:

For an individual sales manager, you can learn a lot from your direct team, but you also probably want to look outside of that group. If you go to statisticians, you’ll need a pretty large sample size, and when you complicate things by region, industry sector, that level of complication becomes even greater. It’s important for me to say here that you can’t only be a high performer if you’re a challenger. The research highlighted that actually you can be high performers in any of the five profiles that were identified, it’s just it’s statistically much more likely that high performers will be a challenger than they would be something like a relationship builder, or a hard worker.

 

David Pirt:

And that’s the point here, and sometimes you talk about… We talk with people who perhaps got a bit of a misconception about what challenger means. They perhaps latch on to the meaning of the word itself, rather than what the label is representing, and in fact, the labels are added after they identified these types of profiles, and if you go to different cultures, the word can even mean something subtly different to what it means in English. If you go to German, the literal translation is [foreign language 00:05:23], which means something a bit more confrontational in the meaning of the word, which is not what the research ever highlighted.

 

David Pirt:

There are different aspects of things that salespeople can do to be successful, but these were just the things that peaked more likely than others. You might see in your team you’ve got someone who works really hard, and he’s a high performer. Our research says that’s perfectly normal to see that. It’s just saying, “Are you lucky that they are particularly successful in their space?” You’ve come from the world of selling, sometimes people can be disproportionately successful in one year over another, and a lot of research is done on that as well.

 

Salespeople are More Likely to Enjoy Sales Success if they Start Using the Challenger Sale · [06:15] 

 

Will Barron:

Good, because the reason I wanted to ask all of this was, and you use the word, David, more likely. And I think this is a good context for the audience as well, that there’s clearly not a one way fits all approach to all this. But more likely for someone who is… This person doesn’t exist, but we’re going to imagine he does, or she does. They’re just totally neutral. They don’t have any of the traits, they don’t fit in any of the profiles, they’ve been Myers Briggs tested to death, and they’ve got all the traits, or they’ve got none of them.

 

Will Barron:

If this individual existed, they’re just a blank slate, when we say more likely to have success in challenger profile, does that mean it’s easier to get success if we were to aim in one direction? Basically what I’m getting at is, is that the best direction to be aiming towards, versus just doing more hours or more work or things of this nature which only have a limited return?

 

“When it comes to any kind of world of development, there might be 101 things that a person could work on, but they can’t work on 101 things at the same time. If you can statistically identify the order in which they should build skills, then you will get someone to a high performing profile faster, and they will deliver more value for your business.” – David Pirt · [06:54] 

 

David Pirt:

Exactly that. When it comes to any kind of world of development, there might be 101 things that a person could work on, but they can’t work on 101 things at the same time. If you can statistically identify the order in which they should build skills, then you will get someone to a high performing profile faster, and they will deliver more value for your business. You can invest in all of the skills that the study highlighted, because they’re all considered of some degree of significance, but if you’ve got time to focus on three to five skills in a six month period, you want to prioritise. It makes sense to say, “Relative to this person’s capabilities today, which would deliver the greatest return if we just focused on three to five things?”

 

Will Barron:

Got it, that makes total sense. I think that’s really useful for the audience to… Because we talk about a million… If you listen to every episode that we put out on the podcast, you can have your brain broken, sales nation of different things to work on. And [crosstalk 00:07:45]

 

David Pirt:

One of our-

 

Will Barron:

Yeah, go on.

 

David Pirt:

One of our advisors, I think, because I remember him do this in a workshop, he often bring this point up, especially when he’s working with managers. And I’ll definitely get the number on, he’s a golf pro, not me. But he highlights… It’s something like 150, 200 different actions involved in a golf swing, and a golf coach doesn’t after every time a professional takes a swing, take them through the 150 factors and saying, “Here’s how you performed here, here and here.” A person can’t hold that much information in their brain, I think it’s a good analogy to highlight why it’s important to pick the most important things.

 

The Top Three Characteristics of the Challenger Sale That Guarantee the Best Return on Investment · [08:18] 

 

Will Barron:

Okay, so with the Challenger methodology in mind, what are the… I guess we’ll focus on three things and we’ll see if we get through those. What are the three things that we should be focusing on improving that’s going to give us the best bang for buck in our sales performance?

 

“If you boil it down to the simple fundamentals, what challengers are particularly good at are, number one, teaching. They bring some valuable insight to an interaction that makes someone sit up and think, “Hmm, hadn’t thought about that.” It’s different from saying, “I didn’t realise your product did this.” Because it’s very rare that you’re going to walk into a business these days and say, “Hey, did you know that our XP 9000 did this? It could run 5% faster today than it did a year ago.” That’s not interesting. It’s not what they want to talk about. They want to hear something interesting that’s going on in their world.” – David Pirt · [09:01] 

 

David Pirt:

In the book we talk about three key areas. The popular title is teaching, tailoring, taking control. There is a fourth element that’s not very heavily talked about in our first book, it’s something we focused on afterwards, and we discovered something really important that is another interesting topic we might get a chance to talk about, and I’m sure it’s one you’ve talked about with other guests on the show before about how you handle emotion as part of an interaction. But when it comes to Challenger itself, these three key pieces, what they found was, if you boil it down to the simple fundamentals, what challengers are particularly good at are number one, teaching.

 

David Pirt:

They bring some valuable insight to an interaction that makes someone sit up and think, “HI hadn’t thought about that.” It’s different to saying, “I didn’t realise your product did this.” Because it’s very rare that you’re going to walk into a business these days and say, “Hey, did you know that our XP 9000 did this?” It could run 5% faster today than it did a year ago.” That’s not interesting. It’s not what they want to talk about. They want to hear something interesting that’s going on in their world. Actually, an interesting example that I think back to, a couple of years ago was we were working with a medical technology company, and they’d been working with us to build some teaching ideas, some insights, as we call them. They built this idea and took it in to meet with a functional director in the hospital.

 

David Pirt:

It’s about regulatory changes were coming in the market about 18 months time, and it was such a compelling conversation, they said, the first thing they tried it, this director stopped them in their tracks. They thought they’d done something wrong at first. Walked out the room, down the corridor. Comes back a couple of minutes later, and he brought the CEO with him. The conversation they brought was nothing to do with them, their business, their company, products or services. It was just about this issue that you may not have focused on yet, that we know a few… Because we’ve been working with a lot of hospitals and they’re not currently focusing on it, might see a massive problem in about 18 months from now if they’ve not started dealing with this.

 

“Challengers lead to a solution, not with a solution. The important thing is that the problems you’re talking about are specifically issues that you are particularly well placed in the market to solve. That’s a key subtlety when we talk about delivering insight. You could walk in and deliver an insight that is about something very compelling that your competitors solve better than you, and that’s probably not a very useful insight to take in.” – David Pirt · [10:39] 

 

David Pirt:

So bringing in something that’s about your organisation, the organisation that you want to speak to, is critically important. And one things is we talk when we say challengers lead to a solution, not with, is that the important thing is that the problems you’re talking about are specifically issues that you are particularly well placed in the market to solve. That’s a key subtlety when we talk about delivering insight. You could walk in and deliver an insight that is about something very compelling that your competitors solve better than you, and that’s probably not a very useful insight to take in.

 

David Pirt:

Another thing we sometimes talk about is idea of teaching into the desert. Here is this huge problem that costs you a huge amounts of money, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Ouch. That’s not helpful either. Yeah, we’ve got to make sure that we have a good insight, teaches around a problem, and it leads back to a capability of our organisation. That’s teaching. The second one is tailoring. I think a lot of salespeople know tailoring is fundamentally quite important, it’s just it’s easy to slip out of mind. Making sure you’re thinking about what company am I speaking to? What role am I speaking to? If you’re selling to multiple industries, what industry am I meeting today?

 

David Pirt:

If you travel internationally, you’ve got to think about culture, because what’s culturally appropriate in one country can be offensive in another. And again, if you’re not thinking about these nuances, you’re expected to, as a salesperson, understand those, and if you break those norms, you’re going to create problems for yourself. So tailoring is another really important piece. And the third piece we talk about is taking control, and I think again, a lot of salespeople, especially sales managers probably get frustrated by this, trying to make sure salespeople are seeking progress during their interactions with their clients and customers. 

 

“Relationship building on a social level, and building interpersonal relationships in today’s world doesn’t really seem to deliver impact like it used to.” – David Pirt · [12:34]

 

David Pirt:

Rather than just going in and having a conversation, having a nice chat and thinking that was a productive outcome and waiting till the next call, when someone says, “What did you achieve?” And if it’s nothing more than we had a nice chat… That was one of the big discoveries, or perhaps one of the biggest surprises for the book was that relationship building on a social level, and building interpersonal relationships in today’s world doesn’t really seem to deliver impact like it used to. And those are the big three when it came to the book.

 

“Emotion is central to the decision-making process. And ultimately, that’s what selling is all about, driving a decision in a customer.” – David Pirt · [13:08]  

 

David Pirt:

The fourth one is something we call constructive tension, which isn’t talked about heavily in the book. We’ve given it that term. It’s very much focused on managing the emotional interaction, the interplays, and how to manage, dial up and dial down that tension in an interaction, because as a lot of research from some very brilliant scientists have highlighted over recent years, emotion is central to decision making process. And ultimately, that’s what selling is all about, driving a decision in a customer.

 

Will Barron:

We’ll come on to constructive tension in a second, because I’m intrigued towards that. I think the teaching element we could go in super deep into that, and I think we’ve covered it on the show in the past, and it makes sense, right? That if you can lead with an insight, if you can come into a conversation and make someone go, “Oh, I did not know that. That is interesting.” Then you’re going to clearly get a lot further than spamming out 500 emails a day to random people on LinkedIn. I mean, that makes sense, and again, that’s probably an episode in the future, we can potentially do the tailoring.

 

David Explains Why Salespeople Don’t Tailor and Send Customized Messages as Well as They Should · [13:46]

 

Will Barron:

Again, it makes total sense, but why do we not tailor messages as well as we should do? Is this pure laziness on behalf of sales professionals? Is it the fact that we’ve got all these tools, and they almost force us to be lazy because they get in the grey area between sending an email and sending a semi-customised email, there’s not really a gap in between for more customization? Why do we not tailor things as well as what we should do?

 

David Pirt:

I think there’s a lot of dimensions to this challenge. I think someone can be organisational. Say you’re an organisation that demands high levels of customer contact, you must do this many calls per day, you must do this many visits per week. In that environment, if all your time is committed to just getting between meetings and having meetings, how are you going to prepare to make sure the next person you meet, you’ve prepared to interact with that person? That’s probably one challenge we see quite often in organisations where the metrics are actually making it harder for people to apply the behaviours that perhaps often the organisation is demanding of people, so you put these barriers in the way of people’s development.

 

David Pirt:

I think another reason, whilst laziness might be on occasion a reason, I don’t think it’s the most common. I think the other thing is selling is a very complicated job with so many dimensions you have to think about. It’s very easy to not think about things. It’s a behavioural trait that if the thought doesn’t come into my mind because I’ve got so many things to think about, then it’s easy just to let something like this slip off the agenda. And then you get to the meeting, and as you just walk through it all, you think, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t remember doing any prep for this person. I’m just going to have to muddle through when I get there.”

 

Success is Sales Ultimately Comes Down to the Number of Next Actions and Progress in a Sales Conversation · [15:30] 

 

Will Barron:

Yeah. Well, what percentage of this then comes down to metrics? And we’ll imagine that we’re in an ideal world right now where perhaps we’re all hitting our targets, there’s no sales manager looking over our shoulder trying to either carrot on a stick in front of us, or just whipping us on the ass with a stick to get us going. So ignoring [inaudible 00:15:51] metrics, because clearly there’s organisational, there’s cashflow things that they’re worried about that perhaps salespeople on the ground aren’t. But should our metrics then be perhaps rather than number of calls, conversations, or is even better than that, coming on to the next point of taking control, should the metrics be number of next actions a day that we’re achieving, rather than just even calls or conversations?

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, I really like the way you said that, the number of next actions to demonstrate progress and success in your interaction. Success is not, I had a meeting, success is, I shared something compelling, and I got something in return. I got the customer to… We call it, in our terminology, verifiers. We’ve shared information, but the customer has asked for more. Our condition is you must share access to another person, you must share internal data with us on your business so we can quantify the scale of the problem in your business, and then you’re starting to talk about this as a partnership rather than a, I’m a vendor, you are the controller of this interaction.

 

David Pirt:

And from listening to several your podcasts, you hear other people talk about it, and it’s such an important point recognising this idea that you behave like it’s a partnership, otherwise, you will get treated like a pretty commoditized vendor.

 

How to Create and Initiate a Sales Partnership with a Prospect · [17:07] 

 

Will Barron:

And do we… Just [inaudible 00:17:08], do we have to overtly talk about partnerships and use that word, or is our behaviour enough to set that precedent in the conversation itself?

 

David Pirt:

I think different people will give you a different answer. My perspective is if you behave in that way, and you demonstrate the right behaviours, which includes the other aspects of the method, because one of the things is that these skills are not things in separation. It’s not you walk in and say, “First I’m going to do some teaching, and then I’m going to tailor, and then at the end of the meeting I’m going to take control.” It is these are overlaying capabilities. You can take control, because you’ve delivered good teaching. You have tailored, which means that the teaching has landed particularly effectively, and makes it easy for you to make these requests.

 

David Pirt:

Sometimes they might even proffer it without you asking for it, so it’s about the interplay of these skills and behaviours. And perhaps the question you had around metrics, I think there are still things that it’s important to measure. You’ve got to make sure you’re measuring the right things. Sometimes organisations are measuring things that don’t really mean anything. Do the number of visits correlate with bigger deal sizes? In transactional selling, I think there is a degree of correlation there, but in complex B2B selling, it’s very rare we’ve ever seen a correlation. you’ve got to be meeting with customers, But if you meet with too many customers, what are you not doing to make those interactions more successful?

 

David Pirt:

One of the things we did a study on a few years after the initial Challenger research was how to incentivize and measure effective challenger behaviours. And whilst there are some characteristics of activity that you can try and quantify, things like the verifies, the actions that customers demonstrated to show progress and interest… One thing we found is that when it comes to challenger selling compared to product or say, question-based selling, is that you need to also help sellers understand they have a degree of autonomy, they have some principles to follow rather than just a series of metrics. And I really relate to this.

 

“One of the things I think is very relatable to being in military environments, combat environments and selling is they’re both incredibly chaotic environments. You can go into a meeting and it can be completely different an outcome, both good or bad, but both situations you can also recover from. And in the military, principles are far more important than a series of rules, and sometimes people can underestimate that. They sometimes think a soldier is someone who’s given a slavish set of instructions to execute from 1 to 10, and actually, when you put someone a in a dangerous, chaotic environment, giving them autonomy and principles to follow rather than strict rules will enable them to think creatively and be agile when they interact with customers.” – David Pirt · [19:09] 

 

David Pirt:

I spent seven years as a soldier, and one of the things I think is very relatable to being in military environments, combat environments and selling, is they’re both incredibly chaotic environments. You can go into a meeting and it can be completely different an outcome, both good or bad, but both situations you can also recover from. And in the military, just like I think we recommend to clients, principles are far more important than a series of rules, and sometimes people can underestimate that. They sometimes think a soldier is someone who’s given a slavish set of instructions to execute from 1 to 10, and actually, when you put someone a in a dangerous, chaotic environment, giving them autonomy and principles to follow rather than strict rules will enable them to think creatively and be agile when they interact with customers.

 

The Differences Between Principles and Rules in Sales · [19:57]

 

Will Barron:

For salespeople, David, what would be an example of a principle versus a rule?

 

David Pirt:

You got me. A principle… I should have read up the list. A good principle is giving them some degree of autonomy in determining how many calls they should make in the week. Discuss with them how much preparation time do you need versus time in the room, and maybe make that… You can, to a degree, make that some way between a principle and agree some degree of measurement to put it in place. But as a sales manager, if you think your salespeople [inaudible 00:20:32] don’t get any time off the road, maybe you need say, “Well, how much time do you think you need to get preparing?” And then again, individuals might want more time than others. 

 

David Pirt:

Another thing we learned with Challenger is that some sellers find building good teaching, good insights a lot harder than others. One solution is you give those people more time and give them more and more training, but another, perhaps more efficient and effective solution, is to say, “Where some members of my team are better at building insights than others, then I want to recognise that and reward that and then look for ways to share those good ideas with others.” Because a lot of sales people, most probably, are working environments where their insights they share with customers are probably ones they want to share with most customers.

 

“Buyers are doing so many more things by themselves. So, to tell a salesperson your job at the start of every interaction is to go in and say who you are, the history of your business, here’s a map of the world and all our clients when the customers probably today already knows all that because they’ve been to your website, and if your website doesn’t say it, they probably don’t want to talk to you.” – David Pirt · [21:30] 

 

David Pirt:

This idea of a teaching idea that will scale across many prospects is an opportunity to give a degree of autonomy, and not making every single salesperson an isolated unit working by themselves. And the way that buying is shifting in the modern world is making that ever more important, because buyers are doing so many more things by themselves. To tell a salesperson your job at the start of every interaction is to go in and say who you are, the history of your business, here’s a map of the world and all our clients. When the customers probably today already knows all that because they’ve been to your website, and if your website doesn’t say it, they probably don’t want to talk to you.

 

Will Barron:

I wasn’t trying to catch out there. The reason I asked about principles is because it’s something that I’m thinking about. With our product, the Sales School, our leading key principle is that we’re always to be focused on our students outcomes. So that aligns, and that was really powerful for me to have that implanted into my head by someone else, another guest on the show. I wasn’t smart enough to quote that myself, but that as a guiding star was really useful of, I go, then, well, do I want to spend five hours and 20 grand increasing the production value with more cameras and a bigger studio and all this kind of stuff, or do I want to spend that money hiring someone to do more research on the content, or perhaps an additional software tool, or whatever it is, that will increase the linear outcomes?

 

Daniel Talks About The Conflict Between a Salesperson’s Principles and Organisational Principles · [22:55] 

 

Will Barron:

Because I would love to spend all my time faffing around with camera equipment, and messing around and making it look pretty. Clearly the answer is, that doesn’t help learning outcomes after a certain point, so my focus needs to be elsewhere. And the reason I bring all this up is, for individual sales people, are we looking for principles of selling, or are we, in lack of perhaps even organisational principles of if you work for Microsoft, Oracle, whoever it is, they probably have a list of, we do these five things. And I don’t think salespeople always relate their day-to-day tasks, jobs and priorities with what the organisation as a whole would perhaps like them to. Does that make sense?

 

“Salespeople are one of the most significant touch points that customers get to interact with an organisation. If an organisation at the strategic level is saying one thing, and the customers see a completely different thing, That can be quite a dangerous way to damage trust with your clients and your customers.” – David Pirt · [23:40] 

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, it does, and I think there can be a detachment from what strategic priorities for a business are, and the way salespeople are incentivized, and actually, it makes for a more compelling principle if you say, “Here is why this principle is in place. This is what we want you to operate in this way, because this is the strategic direction of our business, and we want that to be represented at all levels.” And salespeople are one of the most significant touch points that customers get to interact with an organisation. If an organisation at the strategic level is saying one thing, and the customers see a completely different thing, That can be quite a dangerous way to damage trust with your clients and your customers.

 

Should Salespeople Prioritise Customer Relationships or Organisational Obligations? · [24:35]

 

Will Barron:

for sure, and I feel like it adds a level of incongruence. If you’re just trying to flog the heck out of whatever has been put in front of you, there’s perhaps some… There’s stock that needs to go, and I’ve had this for medical device sales of there’ll be equipment that’s been upgraded, and I’m getting a bigger bonus to sell that equipment, but I know if the surgeon, if the procurement team hold off for six months, they’ll get better equipment for not that much less. And that was always kind of pulling me one way to get rid of stuff, and then I made more money, but then my customers and long term relationships and the value that I can give over the next three or four years would be taking a hit on that side of things.

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, that’s… I mean, that is a tricky thing, and I don’t think organisations are going to go away from the short term incentivization metrics to drive sales behaviour in the short term, and there is a need to drive those behaviours. But you should just be very careful that those short term behaviours don’t jeopardise the future potential of your business. It’s an ever tricky balancing act to play, and commercial leaders have a big responsibility of making sure you don’t make those mistakes.

 

Why the Buyer’s Journey Needs to Have Some Constructive Tension · [25:30]

 

Will Barron:

For sure. For sure. And honestly and openly, as a salesperson, I would always err on the side of the bonus, because that’s what we’re there to do, so having said all about long term relationships and that side of things, I would always chase the bonus, rightly or wrongly, if it was put in front of me. So that’s a conversation for sales leaders, perhaps, as opposed to us sales people. To wrap up the show here, David, why do we need… I think you used the term constructive tension. Why does a buyer’s journey need some kind of tension within it? Why can’t we just have this magical unicorns and rainbows and glitter, just five conversations and then they spend four million quid with us? Why isn’t it as simple as that?

 

“The emotion, intuitive centre of the brain is probably the most powerful influencer of the decision making centre of the brain. It also affects attention, and it affects memory. If you think about attention, memory and decision making, these are probably the three most important things that a seller must drive in a buyer.” – David Pirt · [26:18] 

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, so if you actually look at, especially behavioural science studies that come out in recent years, also brain imaging studies into how the brain actually operates, a lot has been discovered in recent years that the belief or the assumption for most of probably human age, that we are, by nature, rational beings, is that actually, it’s the intuitive and the emotion centres of the brain play a very powerful role in influencing decision making. In a simplistic sense, the emotion, intuitive centre of the brain is probably the most powerful influencer of the decision making centre of the brain. It also affects attention, and it affects memory.

 

David Pirt:

If you think about attention, memory and decision making, these are probably the three most important things that a seller must drive in a buyer, that kind of thinking. If you can’t capture good attention, someone’s thinking about their lunch while you think they’re listening to your product pitch, or if you deliver information in a way that won’t make it easy to be remembered, then you are… In a funny way, it’s rational to focus on the emotional aspects of an interaction, because if you don’t, you’re not activating the most powerful decision making drivers that’s inside somebody’s brain. There’s fantastic research that’s come out just recent years. I think I remember studying Antonio Damasio’s work on how damage to the rational centre and the emotion centre of the brain affects how people make decisions.

 

“If you can’t drive emotion, you are probably not very effective at driving decision-making in your buyer. And that’s your number one job as a salesperson.” – David Pirt · [27:44] 

 

David Pirt:

But in more recent years, Nobel Prize has been going to people like Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler for their work in showing how intuitions and emotions play a far bigger role in decision making, perhaps even the biggest role. I think experience of working with engineering and technology firms especially, is people who’ve come from a background of the more technical environment, perhaps find that less of a familiar thing to go through. But this point around understanding the mechanics with inside the brain, and saying that, “If you can’t drive emotion, you are probably not very effective at driving decision making in your buyer.” And that’s your number one job as a salesperson.

 

How to Develop and Share Relevant Insights in Your Sales Process · [28:06] 

 

Will Barron:

We’ve had a number of neuroscientists and different people from the medical space and the research space come on the show to talk about this. Clearly, it’s a developing science at the moment, and it’s… I would classify it as fact, clearly. The [inaudible 00:28:06] you just outlined then, but I think we can cover it better in the practical sense of the conversation here of what we should be doing day to day, because I’m pretty sure you’re not saying, David, that we have a great conversation, and then halfway through, we just hurl some abuse at the person sat opposite us to drive a bit of tension, and then try and dig our way out of the hole, right? How does this look day to day, meeting to meeting, for individuals? How do they leverage this as a tool? 

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, the key word in the term is constructive. It has to have a productive outcome, so if I’m going to bring an insight, and I’m going to come into hospital and say, “Listen, I’ve been doing a bit of research, I’ve noticed in your board minutes that you’ve had ward closures recently, bed access is becoming a growing problem. And yet, when you look at some of the disciplines and where you’re applying this sort of technique, or this technology, this is having an impact in blocking out all those beds. This is a strategic issue for the executive level of your business, and these tactical activities across 50 to 100 staff are playing a big role in undermining that strategic goal.”

 

David Pirt:

What you’re trying to do there is build tension with a person. You are, in a more diplomatic way, saying, “What you’re doing today is putting your organization’s success at risk, and if you take that seriously, you need to do something about it.” And we talked about this dial attention. If someone’s heard that and they freaked out, your job is probably to just dial it back a little bit and say, “You know what? This is not unusual. We see this in a lot of hospitals.” But if someone’s still not taking it seriously enough, maybe you need to pull out the numbers and the data and say, “Listen, I’ve actually pulled the numbers for your hospital. This how many beds have been shut over the last year. This is how many beds what you’re doing today is blocking on an annualised basis. If your leaders see these numbers, they’d probably be rightly worried about them, and we need to do something to fix that.”

 

How to Influence a Buyer’s Emotions by Utilizing Logic, Data, and Statistics · [30:04] 

 

Will Barron:

I don’t know if this was done strategic then, and if this is part of the process, but it was interesting to me of, you pulled on emotion by only talking in logic and data and statistics, or some kind of analysis. Is that what we should be doing? Should we be saying, “Your goal is this, you’re here.” Which drives tension, because there’s a gap, which obviously then brings in emotion into the conversation. Should we be sticking to logical ways to do that versus saying, “Your…” How else would I describe it? You’ve got this gap. How does it make you feel? And overtly trying to pull emotion into the conversation, if that makes sense.

 

David Pirt:

Yeah. Well, we say it’s both are critically important, the rational and the emotional. How you deliver that comes back to the point we talked about earlier of tailoring. If somebody is more of an amiable, expressive nature, and you can work that out through your interactions over time, they’re more likely to be affected by the more emotional arguments. The consequences this will have on your colleagues, on your leaders, on your patients. Whereas someone who’s more analytical and logical will probably be both rationally and emotionally activated if you prove the scale of the problem, so you’ve got to go in on with both, because you never know who you’re going to talk to, and the skill then is, when do I dial up digging into numbers, or how do I explain what impact this will have?  

 

David Pirt:

I’ve walked around your hospital department, I can see this is the impact that it’s having on your staff. Again, you’re focusing on the emotional factors, because if you’re talking to say, physicians, what do they worry about? And one of the little mistakes [inaudible 00:31:33] see is that people are going to say, “Well, clearly, they worry about all the distress patients are in.” Because us as, as civilians, not doctors, will get freaked out about someone who’s in a bad state, but that’s their day job. They’ve been trained to see that as normal. What they worry about is their interactions with their colleagues and staff, so making sure that you tailor to that individual. If they’re more affected by the emotional aspects, you’re talking about things that emotionally affect them, the difficulties that are being created by working with their colleagues, for example.

 

Will Barron:

And I know for surgeons in particular, it’s not even their interactions with the colleagues directly around them. For a lot of the… And there’s a lot of world-leading colorectal surgeons that I’ve worked with and urologists who are using robotic surgery and all this kind of stuff, really on the cutting edge here in the UK, which is really incredible with our wonderful National Health Service. They’re more concerned about what other surgeons in Germany think of them, as opposed to the nursing staff next door. They’re more concerned with their performance and the data that they’re gathering for research that they want to push out there, versus the people who are doing similar work and similar studies at Harvard in the States.

 

Key Indicators to Look Out for When Analysing Whether Our Insights are Making an Impact on the Buyer · [33:10] 

 

Will Barron:

And it’s a level removed from what you think of. They don’t just want this camera system that I’d be selling them, which is top of the line, the best in the world for better patient outcomes. That’s almost a given. That’s almost their baseline. They want to talk about how it’s going to help them compete when they do a presentation with 4,000 other urologists in the room, and their images look far better on these incredible big screens they got behind them, versus Joe Blow who’s going to be on before or after them doing the presentations. So there’s multiple levels to all this. And with that, David, how do we know… And this is a weird question to ask, because I don’t know what the answer is, or if there’s an answer to it, but how do we know when we are really hitting the mark of all of this? How do we know when we need to go a few steps deeper, and how do we know when, to use the dial analogy, when we need to tone it back a little bit?

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, so [inaudible 00:33:32] you work with sellers and things you should definitely look at. Most companies have these behavioural models. What category does this individual fit in, and what are the traits that demonstrate someone’s interest? When someone leans in, what are the little behavioural… What do you call it? You call in poker the tells, that shows that somebody is more or less interested. If someone started the meeting slouched back, cross armed, you probably got to expect to talk about as much about [inaudible 00:34:01], but as they start to sit up… When you see this happen, if you’re not paying attention to it, then you might not think too much on it, but if you know that this is the important thing, compelling interest in action, they sit forward, they start picking their pen up, start taking notes, you’re seeing potential indicators that you’re having an impact.

 

David Pirt:

But back to also that comment earlier on verifies, the truest demonstrations of impact are black and white things, when a customer has put effort in, so be careful. We sometimes say that those verifiers in meetings are pretty weak. You want something that’s concrete that says, “I have organised for you to have access to this important stakeholder, and I’m going to chair that meeting. I’m going to share this internal data with you that will help you make a stronger business case to sell to me.” So both are important. There’s those qualitative in the moments, but make sure you’re backing them up with something tangible that you can prove to a manager, that it’s not just I thought this happened, but this is what they’ve given us in response to that powerful interaction I had.

 

In a World Full of AI and Sales Enablement Tools, Is the Challenger Sale the Differentiator Salespeople Must Have? · [35:08] 

 

Will Barron:

Good, and I’m glad you answered that way, because I wanted to wrap up the show with this, and tell me if I’m way off, because I might be. But in a world where everyone’s getting bombarded with all these sales enablement tools and everyone’s banging on about AI, even though clearly there’s no such thing as AI, otherwise the last thing we need to worry about is hitting our sales target, and Terminator is what we need to be concerned about at that point. But people are talking about AI, they’re talking about machine learning, talking about all this. Is what we talk about in the Challenger methodology, what we’ve talked about on this show, essentially the real human elements of all this and the [inaudible 00:35:32] behind it, is that the biggest competitor differentiator that salespeople have, versus both the competition, and then just people buying from marketing materials and selling further down that funnel as well?

 

David Pirt:

It has to be. We know from a study last year, the amount of time a seller gets in front of the customer is now number four on the list of time stands of a [inaudible 00:35:54] buyer’s activities. Number one, over a quarter of a buyer’s time today is spent researching online. That category didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago, they never did any of that. It’s now the number one activity. Number two is meeting with the other buyers in the group. Number three is researching offline, so almost half their time is spent just researching without interacting with you.

 

“It’s increasingly important today that the messages you’re sending through your digital channels, as well as your in-person channels, must be similar. It must be aligned, because you never know if the buyer is picking up the phone to speak to the salesperson before doing anything else, or if that’s after hours and hours of meetings and research. And both of those things can happen today. Sales and marketing are no longer sequential activities where marketing is first and sales second. They are intertwined.” – David Pirt · [36:52] 

 

David Pirt:

The world of where they learn from you, I think is vanishing very quickly. At the same time. I don’t think technology will replace salespeople for a long time. I think whenever you hear about an idea of a technology replacing something and people don’t know when it’s going to happen, they say it’s probably about 30 years from now. Fusion technology will be in, in about 30 years from now, and I think the time at which technology will replace salespeople is about 30 years from now. But it’s not to say those things will be critically important in a commercial interaction, but businesses, and this is probably more significant for commercial leaders across sales and marketing both, is that increasingly important today is that the messages you’re sending through your digital channels, as well as your in-person channels, must be similar.

 

David Pirt:

It must be aligned, because you never know if the buyer is picking up the phone to speak to the salesperson before doing anything else, or if that’s after hours and hours of meetings and research. And both of those things can happen today. Sales and marketing are no longer sequential activities where marketing is first and sales second. They are intertwined and continually always on channels that the customer we know accesses through every single stage of their buying journey, so you need to make sure your messages are consistent across those channels, which is, again, that’s beyond the salesperson. The best salesperson can do is complain and say, “Listen, if marketing is only going to put information out there about our products and solutions, then we’ve got this the wrong way around, because that’s the last thing the customer needs, and marketing should be helping us at the start of an interaction the customer, not at the end.”

 

David Pirt:

So your job as a salesperson and sales manager is say, “We need to make sure our material is aligning to our messaging, and our job as people who sit across those functions is to make sure that you are driving alignment between sales and marketing.” And for big companies especially, this is getting quite difficult, because in a big company where you separate sales and marketing all the way up to the executive board, there is nobody a tactical enough level who can drive that alignment. And they can tell people down the chain, sales went with marketing, marketing went with sales, but it’s very normal for those two to be in conflict with each other because they’re competing for budgets and access to customers, and their own ideas about how your strategy should play out, so it’s a complicated one. It’s making B2B selling a lot more difficult for a B2B seller these days.

 

David’s Advise to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [38:57]

 

Will Barron:

Well, just for a final bit of context on that, I’m still waiting for, nevermind salespeople to be replaced by AI, I’m still waiting for a Hoover that can automatically get its way upstairs and do two floors in a house, nevermind having actual people being replaced. Because once you get sellers replaced, you’ll have buyers replaced as well, right? It’ll all be AI [inaudible 00:38:54] with everyone. We’re all knackered at that point. Well, with that, David, I’ve got one final question for you, mate, it’s something that I ask everyone that comes on the show, and that is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give him to help him become better at selling?

 

David Pirt:

Advice I’d give was try harder to get in the shoes of the person facing you. You get told that so often, but it’s very hard to understand what that really means. I think working at Challenger, it took me probably 6 to 12 months to truly, consistently think about it from another person’s perspective, and I still have to now and again nudge myself back into that thinking. I think it’s one of the hardest things to intuitively do, but if you build it as an intuitive behaviour in the people that you work with, the sellers and marketers, it’s so powerful, because everything you do will look and sound different from that point forward.

 

Parting Thoughts · [39:40]

 

Will Barron:

Makes total sense. Well, with that, David, tell us where we can find out more about the Challenger methodology, or the Challenger Sale? I’ve got the book on the desk in front of me, and yeah, if anyone wants to get involved in it and learn more about it, where should we go?

 

David Pirt:

Yeah, so the website, www.challengerinc.com. There’s a great channel for marketing content in there, learning more about sales interactions, manager interactions, coaching tips and advice. The book is the very obvious one, and great, thank you for putting it on your desk there. There’s a follow-on book that also, again, plays more to complex selling and also marketing in the complex selling space. That’s called the Challenger Customer. We call it the green book. And it was a follow-on that came a couple years later with some additional research, but if you’re a salesperson or a sales manager, still absolutely the number one place to start is the Challenger Sale book.

 

Will Barron:

Good stuff. Well, I’ll link to that and everything else that we talked about in this episode of the show over at salesman.org. And with that, David, I want to thank you for your time, your insights on this, and yeah, I really enjoyed the conversation, mate. And thank you for joining us on Rhe Salesman Podcast.

 

David Pirt:

Thank you very much for hosting me, Will. I wish you a very good rest of your day.

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