The Future of Selling: An Interview with the Authors of The Challenger Sale and Solution Selling

The authors of The Challenger Sale and Solution Selling discuss where the future of sales is headed — and how you can make sure you don’t get left behind.

 

Introduction

The Challenger SaleLast spring, Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson’s new sales book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, generated quite a bit of buzz in the business world for challenging conventional selling wisdom and bringing a new theory to the world of enterprise sales.
Naturally, that caused some traditionally-minded sales experts to vehemently disagree with Dixon and Adamson, but the CEB colleagues weren’t shy about reaffirming their theory in a widely-read follow up article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “The End of Solution Sales,” which they co-published with CEB senior director Nicholas Toman.
In that post, Dixon, Adamson, and Toman made their views on the future of selling abundantly clear: Top-performing sales reps have officially abandoned the traditional solution sales playbook and have instead embraced what they call “challenger sales.”
And while Dixon, Adamson, and Toman may still have their detractors, it appears that they’ve got one major sales influencer in their corner — Mike Bosworth. Yes, that Mike Bosworth — the one who quite literally wrote the book on solution selling.
Solution Selling
In fact, Bosworth pioneered the concept of solution selling in 1994 when he released his book, Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets. Bosworth acknowledges that times have changed, however, which is one of the reasons why he’s published a new sales handbook, What Great Sales People Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story. In it, he delivers a very different viewpoint from the one he issued in 1994, and also challenges some of the more conventional sales wisdom.
Since their publications a lot of sales bloggers and commentators have written about these books, and what implications they point to for the future of sales, but we wanted to let Bosworth, Dixon, and Adamson explain their research and thoughts in their own words. Below is a series of videos that feature the three sales experts discussing the origins of conventional selling methodologies and examining how these methodologies have evolved over time to respond to changes in the B2B sales environment.
Listen in and add your thoughts to the discussion below.

Meet the Experts

Mike Bosworth is well known throughout the business sales world as a trainer, speaker, and the author of best selling sales books Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets and What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story. Learn more at MikeBosworthLeadership.com.
Matt Dixon is the co-author of The Challenger Sale and an executive director with CEB’s sales and marketing practice. In this capacity, he has management responsibility for CEB Sales Leadership Council and CEB Customer Contact Council, which together serve more than 1,000 sales and customer service organizations globally.
Brent Adamson is the co-author of The Challenger Sale and a managing director of Executive Advisory Services for CEB Sales Leadership Council. In that role, he serves as the Council’s chief story teller, having worked on numerous sales and marketing studies broadly spanning everything from customer loyalty to sales rep performance to organizational productivity.

Insights into the Future of Selling

How Storytelling Can Help Salespeople Address the Challenges of Today’s Buying Environment


Twenty years ago, a salesperson might call a prospect and deliver a very basic pitch: This is our product, this is what it does, this is what makes us the best, and here’s why you should be interested. Today, most buyers already have that information.
So, what exactly can sellers do to push prospects down the path to purchase outside of compete on pricing? It’s simple, Dixon and Bosworth explain in this video: Become a storyteller. Doing so will allow salespeople to build trust and get buyers — even the ones that think they know everything — to look at your business differently.

What Sales Leaders Should Be Doing Differently


Today’s challenger sales environment might be making it tough on salespeople who have long relied on solution selling, but what about the sales leaders who are supposed to guide and manage those reps?
For years, conventional wisdom has suggested that by codifying the activities of the top performing reps, companies could teach other reps what to do. As it turns out, however, that’s not exactly the case. In this video, Bosworth, Dixon, and Adamson cover the many challenges that sales leaders are facing today, including the fact that a mere 13 percent of most businesses’ sales teams deliver 87 percent of their companies’ bookings.
How can sales leaders deliver training and insight that not only helps not only their top performers deliver stronger numbers, but also lift their bottom 80 percent? It’s not really about the methodology itself, it’s about how the methodology is applied and the insights delivered by your reps in the field.

New Challenges Companies Face in Today’s Buying Environment


What are the specific roadblocks and hurdles that modern sellers are facing? In this video, Adamson and Bosworth cover the new challenges that companies are facing in today’s sales environment, and discuss the importance of building trust, developing a story, and delivering insight in a world where customers are learning so much on their own.
For the last few decades, Adamson and Bosworth point out, the basic sales conundrum has been what companies could do to out-sell their competition. Today, a company’s biggest competition may be its own buyers and their ability to educate themselves.

Why Delivering Insight Is So Important to Today’s Sales Process


In this video, Adamson and Bosworth make an important point about insight selling: it’s not just about delivering insights that resonate with your buyers, it’s about delivering insights that compels your buyers to fight for consensus within their organizations, and the two may not be the same thing. This is a key point that should not be over looked by sales leaders and professionals.

Closing the Gap Between the Top 20% and Bottom 80% of Sales Performers


As most sales leaders know, having the top 20 percent of your sales force deliver 80 percent of your revenue isn’t exactly efficient. So how can you close that gap? The best way to create true efficiency and productivity, Dixon, Adamson, and Bosworth explain, is to figure out how to get your bottom 80 percent to do more than simply follow a process that encourages predictability.
For instance, if you’re selling disruptive technology, you need to hire or develop salespeople who are visionary sellers and outstanding storytellers. Yes, that’s much easier to say than it is to do, but that’s the only way that sales organizations will be able to close the gap between top performers and sales laggards in this modern sales environment.

So, what are you doing to lift your bottom 80%? Is teaching your reps to deliver compelling insights and “unteach” their prospects the future of selling? And is storytelling the best way to build trust and communicate those insights? If you haven’t tried either of these approaches yet you may be stuck in the past.

Read on for more videos on the stories behind Solution Selling and The Challenger Sale.

The Story Behind the Books

The Story Behind Solution Selling


With many authors and bloggers writing about the end of solution sales, Bosworth provides some background on how and why the solution sales methodology developed in the first place, as well as context on why the world of technology sales in 1994 was well suited for that methodology.

How the World of Sales Has Changed Since Solution Selling


Of course, Bosworth isn’t blind to change, and in this video he explains that by the time a salesperson hears from a buyer today, the buyer already know who the top three companies are going to be in the “beauty contest.”
Why is that a problem for businesses that encourage solution selling? Bosworth says today’s environment almost removes the need to sell solutions, and increases the importance of quickly building up enough trust to get buyers to look at their challenges in a different way.

The Goal of the Research Behind The Challenger Sale


Ultimately, the genesis for Dixon and Adamson’s book was some research that CEB was doing to help its clients answer a very difficult question: Why, in these very tough sales environments, are most reps missing their targets by a very wide margin, while a handful of reps are actually exceeding their targets by a very large margin?
In this video, Dixon explains how he planned to answer that question through his research.

The Key Findings of The Challenger Sale Research


What Dixon found, as he explains in this video, is that there are numerous modern factors influencing how and where buyers access information about vendors’ products, which has spawned a much more complex sales environment.
Gone are the days when reps could wait for customers to come to them or be the first to deliver information to a potential customer’s desk. Today, Dixon says salespeople – who they group into five distinct profiles – must be proactive challengers who possess the ability to “unteach” their buyers if they hope to be successful.

How do you see the future of selling evolving?

Add your thoughts and questions for the authors in the comments below.
 

Ori Yankelev
Ori Yankelev
VP, Sales

Ori Yankelev is Vice President, Sales at Own Backup. He was previously a Sales and Marketing Associate for OpenView.
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