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Books and Me: The Challenger Sale

Book Title: The Challenger Sale

Author :  Matthew Dixon & Brent Adamson

When you visit the sales and marketing section of any book store, you don’t find too many books that capture your attention.  There are many reasons why this is so, right from the way the book is made to the way it is titled one does not find any impact of a strong sales mind in the making of these products.  It is also quite intriguing to me that most of the books are written by individual sales men about their individual sales stories.  Most of the authors and their case references are with respect to a B2C situation.  A rather large portion of these books also tend to repeat the lessons offered. In the midst of all this, what made me pick this book up were the following reasons:

  1. It was from Corporate Executive Board Authors
  2. It was research based; where the research seemed to have been exploratory in nature
  3. Though the suggestions and practices were aimed at improving the individual it had the institutional sales piece as well. It spoke a lot about B2B situations.
  4. It also spoke about the limitations and challenges of the solution.
  5.  I must also say that a foreword by  Neil Rackham author of the famous ‘Spin Selling’ framework did influence my purchase

In recent times, consultative selling was the only advancement that sales approaches have seen. A number of other works were only extension of basic consultative selling approach.

After reading the book I feel the foreword itself is an important learning for anybody who is seriously into sales, as a profession.

When you start reading the book you may get carried away by the seemingly obvious research results. But you must persist till you reach a little deeper where the most interesting part of the research surfaces.

In every organization there are a few star performers in selling and a few who remain at the other end of the spectrum, while much of the sales people remain as average performers.  This puts institutions especially the head of sales in a rather tough spot. He can neither do away with the large portion in-between and is fairly lost when attempting find solutions to move as many as one can from the average to the star category. If you are a part of any B2B selling environment I will not be surprised if you face the above problem, even more acutely.

In my little experience of heading a management consulting firm, I have found most institutions have this problem across functions. Hence with some validations and extended thinking, this study referred in this book can provide insights even for functions such as IT, HR etc where internal selling is involved.

There are some bold findings that the book takes head-on which many sales personnel would not want to acknowledge. But that reaction is only natural!

Though the book attempts to create a simple three activity recommendation namely ‘Teach for Differentiation’, ‘Tailor for Resonance’ and ‘Take Control of the Sale’ as what separates the star performers from the good, the real take-away lies in the details of how to go about practicing them. The number of examples and early implementation cases definitely provide fresh perspectives on application. Though the recommendations seem simple at the superficial level, it calls for hard work, not just at the personnel development of the sales personnel but also at the institutional level.  The book also makes interesting references to some offbeat topics such as  ‘good questions’, ‘ability to discover needs’, ‘coaching’, ’power of insights’ and ‘training effectiveness’.

There is a fundamental shift that needs great understanding before the learning from the book are implemented, namely teaching in the context of selling. Though it may be very early for me to pass judgement on whether this will be the next phase of development in thinking on sales, it definitely will serve as a trigger.

As a person in-charge of running a consulting and training practice, I feel the book has triggered off interesting thoughts on a much needed and close to heart function: SALES. If you are a sales person especially in the B2B context involving selling of complex solutions, this is a book that should not be missed.

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