Unquestionably, the Challenger Sale is the most fashionable approach to sales in today’s market.
In brief, the approach suggests that, armed with more information than ever before, people are anywhere between 40-90% through the buying process before they engage with a sales person or brand. The answer, therefore, is to be better informed than your buyer and able to offer them an alternative view to disrupt their thinking and, in the process, win them over to your product or service.
The challenge to challenger
My argument is not with challenger approach per se, which is a valid sales technique. Rather it is in making the challenger sale the answer to every sales situation. The best sales people will tell you that everything is situational. If you want drive a favourable outcome, you have to treat each buyer as unique.
Rather than Challenger, I want to advocate for the Savile Row approach to sales. It’s an approach which treats each customer as an individual and, in the case of genuine Savile Row sales people, literally tailors what they deliver to address the individual’s requirements. The Savile Row approach argues that the same tools are available to all but it is the skill and intelligence in using these tools, honed through training, coaching and reinforced daily practice, that helps shape the desired outcome for both tailor and client. Here’s an example:
The same tools are available to all but it is the skill and intelligence in using these tools….that helps shape the desired outcome
A graduate walks into a Savile Row outfitter. With his eye on a classic grey double-breasted pinstripe suit he approaches the sales person. He explains, ‘It looks like the suit George Clooney wore in his last movie, it’s very elegant.”
The sales person says, “It is a lovely suit, in heavy worsted wool, ideal for the winter. May I ask when you were intending to wear this?”
The graduate replies “It’s for my new job in the City. It’s is my first job out of university and I want to make an impression.”
The sales person, responds “Well you’ll certainly make an impression in that suit. However, may I suggest a slightly lighter fabric, especially as you will be commuting on a hot and stuffy train. Also, maybe the style is a little old for you. Have you considered this silk and wool single-breasted suit in cobalt blue? It’s cut really well for someone of your height and stature and will certainly make an impression. I would also suggest you buy two pairs of trousers as you shouldn’t wear the trousers more than two days in a row as it will ruin the way they drape.”
The man looks at the sales person and says, “Thank you, I hadn’t considered that type of suit, I really like it. Let me try it on and see how it looks.”
Let’s break down the conversation. The buyer has turned up thinking they know what they want to buy, the sales person uses their insight to politely change the buyers thinking to explain there is a better solution, and maximizes the opportunity by upselling!
Sceptics will cry that its too easy for an experienced sales person to sell to a fresh-faced first-time buyer, but the same tailored approach is required regardless of the customer.
The seasoned shopper
Imagine the next person through the door is a valued long-term customer. He knows exactly what he wants and, knowing his customer’s buying habits and preferences, the sales person would be foolish to challenge him and de-rail the sale. However, he notices the customer has put on weight and his current clothes no longer flatter his shape. The sales person suggests some bespoke additions – braces instead of a belt so as not to visually cut the body in half, and slightly higher waisted trousers to conceal the newly acquired weight. Intuition, experience and customer insight helps the sales person navigate an even more positive result. The customer is satisfied, he has bought the suit he always intended to buy. He now feels good about the purchase experience, his new suit flatters his expanded form and confirms what he already knew, these are the right guys to come to for a great fitting suit. The sales person has kept a loyal customer by understanding his goals and helping him to achieve them, even without them being fully articulated.
The price point sale
And let’s take a final, modern example: a customer has done his due diligence, he has read up on tailoring, fabrics and finishes. He wants the bespoke look but not at the bespoke price point. He is about to buy a bespoke suit online. Before he clicks buy he drops into a Savile Row tailor to confirm he has made the right decision. Sensing his reluctance to commit to a purchase the sales person points out what distinguishes his products from others on the market. Confirming what the customer already knows, that the suit is better quality but also more expensive, the sales person also provides a route to purchase without dropping the price.
He suggests the man doesn’t compromise on the quality of the suit but opts for a classic suit that can be worn for multiple occasions. He then introduces the off-the-peg shirts as an option, instead the bespoke ones, and suggests the addition of colorful socks to create a unique feel. The finance plan seals the deal. The customer gets exactly what he wanted because the sales person was able to help him navigate the wealth of information he’s acquired online to make an informed purchase decision that delivers the result both sales person and customer are happy with.
Regardless of the sector your work in, emotion forms a critical part of all buying decisions. It could be the need for a quick fix (a transactional sale), or the desire for a measurable return (anything from making themselves look better to being seen to be the most innovative in their role). The key to becoming an outstanding sales person is therefore not always to challenge but to understand. Understand the personal drivers, understand the desired outcomes and understand how you stack up against the competition. Armed with this information you can position yourself as the best person to help your buyer achieve the result they want – and that approach will never go out of fashion.
Mark Savinson is Chief Operating Officer at Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning sales enablement consultancy