The Challenger: What’s the first question you should ask?

Today I’m going to give you one quick tip on how to get you or your team in position to be a great Challenger. 

So many people are buzzing about the Challenger sales methodology that it’s worth buying the book and planning how you and your sales team will change your selling process.  I’m impressed with the methodology, not because there’s a lot that’s revolutionary in it, but because it is driving a lot of self-examination and change, mostly for the better.

But first a bit of background:

It’s well-known that if you’re a salesperson, what you really want to do is get your prospect or customer to change behavior. He isn’t buying from you. You want him to buy from you. It’s that simple.  He does something one way. You can help him do it in a different, better way, and so on.

So to be a true Challenger, you must engage in techniques that provoke, or disturb his sense of self-satisfaction or contentment with the status quo. HOWEVER, you must do so using communication skills that allow this provocation to occur without antagonism or ill feeling. In other words, you want to be a friendly partner in an effort to help, not criticize.

As an example, let’s look at SPIN selling, which uses the acronym SPIN, to describe the approach of exploring the prospect’s current SITUATION, the PROBLEMS associated with it, then the IMPLICATIONS those problems have on the prospect’s performance, and finally the NEEDS that arise that you can address.  This is a very fine model, but it misses the first key question that any good consultant should ask.

For example, if I begin to probe about the way you are doing things now (SITUATION), you can easily sidestep most of my questions simply by asserting that you are not affected by the issues that arise, that current performance is just as you expect it to be, and that there is nothing wrong with the way you do things now. It’s harder for me to make progress in getting you to self-discover your problems if I begin with situational questions, and I run the risk that you will find these probes uncomfortable and that you will soon be uncomfortable with me.

But watch what happens if I begin my discovery conversation by asking you to describe optimal performance, your strategic priorities, or your plans for the current year, as follows:

“Let’s begin by addressing the most important strategic priorities for the company right now.”

“I thought perhaps you could share with me the organizational performance you are striving for. What would it look like if you could wave a wand over it?”

“Let’s look one to two years out, and if you can, please share with me the top priorities you need to achieve.”

Now you can see that with these “OPTIMAL” questions in place, all the SITUATIONAL questions that follow will automatically expose GAPS between desired and real, and gaps are what the strong consultant will challenge, without turning the prospect off.

“So you’re saying that this process isn’t achieving the desired result. Let’s examine why not.”

“Then it appears there’s a huge time lag between your billing and your use of cash. Why do you think that is?”

There’s a ton of good, meaty, thought-provoking material in the Challenger approach, so you need to check it out.  But today I’ve just given you one useful tip to help you get started, and to…

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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