It must surely be one of the most successful sales methodology roll-outs this millennium. Indeed, the godfather of SPIN, Neil Rackham quotes on the book’s cover “The most important advance in selling for many years”. High praise from someone who perhaps did make the most important advance in selling via the SPIN programme – one of the most well- known sales models around.
There is no doubt that the Challenger Sale by Dixon & Adamson does a great job of bringing new knowledge to the profession. Its core spirit of challenging customers to adopt better practices linked to your organisation’s USPs is an instantly logical insight well explained. Also, the book contained some nuggets of wisdom that are less well talked about: For example, that the best contribution a sales manager can make is to “generate new ways of solving deal-level problems” (Sales innovation), counting for 29% of their front-line performance.
Take up in many sectors has been rapid, especially healthcare: With many organisations being members of the CEB (Corporate Executive Board), it was an obvious choice, and offered hope for all sales people facing busy clinical staff.
The Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management featured an extensive academic review of the Challenger Sale (Vol 34. December 2014 Rapp et al.) The authors quote:
“As we demonstrate, while the Challenger Sales Model does not offer any new or novel insight, it is also subject to inherent empirical and conceptual limitations that actually represent fatal flaws”
No punches pulled there then!
From our perspective, we feel uncomfortable about the lack of interaction with customers during the given sales process. In the advice on how to structure client meetings, entitled “purposeful choreography”, are phases for ‘warming up’, ‘re-framing’ and ‘rational drowning’, but nothing for questioning, confirming and listening. It doesn’t smack of ‘adaptive selling’, a concept which repeatedly demonstrates its worth in sales research (See for example Goad & Jaramillo’s article in the same Issue).
A short stroll into history reveals a long line of sales methodologies that were rapidly sold into organisations, before going out of vogue (Think ‘Holden Power Base Selling’, ‘TAS Target Account Selling’ & ‘Professional Selling Skills’). Look at any airport business book best seller shelf, and you will see a new way to approach selling. And history is replete with organisations who have invested lots of £€$ in the latest book’s training programme, to see little return for the investment.
Why do we keep falling for them? They are the modern day equivalent of ‘snake oil’ – potions that can solve all our ailments. And since growing sales can be very challenging, it seems we are at the mercy of the market. Perhaps what we are doing wrong is spelt out exactly in that latest book…..!
In fact, it doesn’t have to be this way. In the last ten years, the field of sales has made a quiet, but substantial transition from a craft / art, handed down by some kind of oral tradition (The orator usually wearing a shiny suit) to a scientific, objective field of business improvement, closer to operations / accounting now.
There is a plethora of academic research into what works and what doesn’t; there is objective evidence from the field, fuelled by the interest in big data, and there is a significant cadre of sales excellence practitioners who cannot use snake oil as evidence at their annual appraisal (e.g. Mark Roberge Sales Director who applied engineering thinking to grow sales to $100million at Hubspot).
We began building our own sales excellence research database in 2008, searching relentlessly to find evidence based best practices for sales organisations. Our objective then, and still is, to continually look for effective ways to grow sales, without being tied to one model / methodology.
We can then intelligently apply best practices to client projects, just as modern clinicians would. We call this “building sales DNA” – giving clients a set of practices that are truly effective for them, and importantly, self-replicate because in a Darwinian way, they work. Indeed, the first place we start searching is their existing sales success.
And don’t worry if you didn’t get chance to read some of those airport books – we make it our business to do that for you.