The Challenger’s fine line: Coaching or scolding

This week I went running with my friend John, a top software salesman in a tough industry.  Since I teach the Challenger approach to selling and John is a successful professional, I asked him for his thoughts on the approach.

He said, “While it’s right to be a challenger, you have to be careful how you use it or it can set back the selling process. Here’s what happened to me. I took over an account for another salesman after he and the client had some tough issues to work through and the client was dissatisfied with his approach.

In my first meeting with the client, they told me that this salesman, from whom they had purchased the software, kept berating them for not using all of the modules and not using the application to its full potential.  This in turn sub-optimized their return on investment. 

They said, ‘He told us all the things we were doing wrong, and what we needed to do differently, and how if we didn’t use the application correctly we weren’t getting the full value and in turn that would make him look bad because he didn’t help us. Although we understood where he was coming from, we felt like we were being scolded on every visit.’”

John added, “So while you do want to challenge your customer to do what’s right, you have to use good judgment and smooth communication skills.”

I told John that one way of looking at the Challenger approach was to treat it the same way you would if you were coaching someone to do their best.  Good coaches phrase their recommendations in positive language about what success looks like and what the performer has to do next in order to succeed, rather than making the performer feel bad about poor past performance.

Here’s an example of what the rep might have said:

“You know that my job is to ensure that you get full value out of every product you buy from us, because I want you to succeed and I want you to be happy with us. So today let’s explore how you are using the product now, and then I’ll make some suggestions about your next steps to get even more performance.  I’m committed to working with you until you are getting all you need from our product.”

Never is heard a discouraging word.

So if you adopt the challenger approach and you’re in any doubt as to how you phrase your questions and recommendations, just ask yourself what you would say if you were the coach of your customer, and then just…

Think Like Your Customer