Tag Archives: Challenger Sale

Content creation is team effort

Marketing Tips from Rowing: “Give Me 10 Big Ones!” Part I

I have rowing on my mind these days. October brings the Head of the Charles Regatta to the Boston area.  My good friend and training buddy, Greg, rows for the Cambridge Boat Club Senior Master Fours, who are defending champions and course record holders.  Boys in the BoatI’ve also been riveted by “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel James Brown’s story of the American rowers who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book not only covers the backgrounds of the University of Washington rowers as they struggle through their ruthless training regimen, but it also provides the historical context of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and, of course, the rise of Hitler.

What does rowing have to do with B2B marketing? You’re right to be skeptical, but it turns out that the factors that drive a fast boat also drive an effective B2B marketing program.

Power and Cadence:  Keys to a Fast Boat, and Effective Marketing

Moving an eight-oared boat through the water requires a complex choreography of physical effort and coordination. But the simple fact is that a boat’s speed depends on two factors: how powerfully the rowers pull the oars in the drive phase of the stroke, and the rate at which they do so.  A rower’s power depends on how accurately he sets his oar blade in the water at the “catch,” and how precisely he engages his legs, back, and arms to pull it through during the “drive.” Cadence is driven by the number of strokes per minute. Stronger pulls and more strokes per minute mean more speed.

The coxswain sets the power and cadence of the boat
The coxswain sets the power and cadence of the boat

It is the coxswain’s job to watch the competition and set the race strategy by dictating the power and cadence for the rowers.

Power and cadence can also be considered the two major drivers of an effective B2B marketing strategy. Just as the power of the stroke is driven by the accuracy and strength of the oar blade’s engagement with the water, the power of a marketing program depends on how precisely the messaging and selling efforts engage the target buyer. Cadence of a marketing program is set not by strokes per minute, but the frequency of activities relating to awareness, demand generation, and enablement. Just like a winning boat, a successful marketing program must have the right combination of power and cadence.

Driving Forward:  “Give Me Ten Big Ones!”

The 1936 US Olympic eight achieved its success by waiting until the last possible moment in races to drive up the stroke rate. Because of their conditioning, the team could maintain contact with their competition at a high power and moderate stroke rate, then raise the cadence in the final moments of a race and break away to the finish line.

Occasionally, the coxswain called for the rowers to increase their power for a fixed number of strokes in order to stay within striking range of their competition. Hearing “Give me ten big ones,” the rowers applied extra strength for ten strokes while maintaining a set cadence, thus vaulting the boat forward.  Here are the “Ten Big Ones” that relate B2B marketing to rowing, under the headings of power and cadence.

Marketing Power: Engaging the Buyer

shutterstock_38366425Just like a rower applies power through the rowing cycle, from catch, to drive, to recovery, the power of a marketing program is driven by the engagement with the target buyer through the buying cycle.  Many factors impact marketing program power, but here are the five with which I’ve had the most success.

1. Identify Your Moral, then Leverage It

My company has been lucky enough to work with Small Army, self-described story-tellers masquerading as an advertising agency. The Small Army team has helped us articulate our moral, or core beliefs, and leverage them in our awareness, demand generation, and enablement materials. Since so much marketing language sounds the same, core beliefs can often be a company’s key differentiation.

2. Focus Relentlessly on Target Buyer Personas

Buyer Personas help you get the most out of your marketing programs by focusing on the demographics, behavior patterns, motivations and goals of your key prospects. Your marketing program will deliver more power by crisply articulating the problems your prospects have, their objectives in solving the problem, where they go and the experience they want in seeking solutions, and their common objections.

3. Develop a Compelling Commercial Insight

In a previous post on the Challenger Sale Methodology, I discussed the importance of developing a compelling  Challenger Sale commercial insight. “A compelling, defensible perspective from a supplier that materially impacts  a customer’s performance and directly leads back to their unique capabilities.”  The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

Identifying the Commercial Insight truly takes a team, as I discussed in the earlier post. Engage your colleagues in sales, pre-sales, product management, and support to be sure you have it nailed.

4. Quantify the Business Benefit

In addition to having a laser focus on your target buyer and a compelling, unique value proposition, you need to have numbers. Words can be confusing, generic, and nuanced, but numbers don’t lie. On a rowing erg, average wattage shows exactly what the output of a rower is. Similarly, prospects want to know what business benefits can be achieved using your solution. Increased revenue. Better customer satisfaction. Faster customer service time. Lower operational cost. Fewer problems. Like average wattage, these are the metrics that matter.

Marketers need these metrics for all of the vertical markets they serve, and for all of their key solution areas. Maintain a database that can be searched by geography, vertical market, and problem area, and maintain it over time, so it continually grows. Nothing is more compelling to a prospect than a story of how someone just like them, in the same industry, addressing a similar problem, achieved a significant, quantifiable business benefit.

5. Move Forward Faster with Effective CTAs

Just before a rower’s oar blade exits the water to begin the recovery and set-up for the next stroke, she applies a strong “finish” to get every last bit of propulsion out of her effort. A strong finish is needed to deliver the maximum benefit of the preceding stroke.

Similarly, a strong Call to Action is needed to maximize the benefit of a web page, or call campaign, or sales presentation. Delivering compelling CTAs will enable marketers to successfully drive their prospects through to the next stage in the buying cycle.

Next Up:  Marketing Cadence

This post covers the first category of marketing tips from rowing – power. The next post will cover cadence. I’ll wait for the completion of the Head of the Charles Regatta for that. I may just finish “The Boys in the Boat” by then too. In the mean time, please tell me what you think.

 

 

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Patriot 2014 Still Life

Racing Season is Here – Time to Deliver Results!

It’s my favorite time of year again – triathlon racing season!  Time to deliver results for all of the hard training time invested over the past year.  Time to compare my performance to not only other racers, but also to my performance in years past.  Time to determine whether I hit my goals for the year, or came up short.  And to analyze what I can do better for the future. To deliver results in the three disciplines of triathlon is a lot like delivering results in the three disciplines of B2B marketing.  There are skills that are common across swimming, cycling, and running, like building a strong aerobic base, just as there are skills that are common across awareness, demand generation, and sales enablement, like having a strong positioning statement.  There are also capabilities that are unique to each individual area, in both triathlon, and B2B marketing.

3rd place podium finish
3rd place podium finish at the 2014 Patriot Half

Last week I competed for the 7th year in the Patriot Half Triathlon, in East Freetown, MA.  Voted “Best Small Race” by New England triathletes, the race consists of a 1.2 mile swim in Long Pond, a 56 mile bike through the rolling hills, cranberry bogs, and local ponds, and a 13.1 mile run with 3 nasty hills.  I had a great race, beating my goal time, and finishing third in my age group.  In this post, I’ll analyze my result by leg, and point to additional posts that relate B2B marketing to swimming, cycling, and running.

Top 5 Lessons from the Top 5 Finishers

A few things are apparent by looking at the top 5 finishers in my age group.

Top 5 finishers, men 50-54
Top 5 finishers, men 50-54
  1. The winner of my age group finished 4th in the whole race!  Unbelievable!
  2. There’s a big time separation between the top 2 finishers and the rest of us.  It’s darn hard to break 5 hours in this race!
  3.  Big gains happen out of the water.  The swim is the shortest leg, so it’s easy to make up any lost time on the bike and the run.  Just compare my results to the 2nd place finisher to see this.
  4.  It all comes down to the run.  Having a fast bike leg, but leaving no energy for the run can be devastating.  This is most apparent when comparing my results to the 4th place finisher.
  5.  It can pay to be a fast swimmer.  Sometimes the swim proves to be the difference in finishing position. See this by comparing my results to the #5 finisher.

B2B Marketing and the Swim Leg

Ironman, triathlonNormally, races begin with a mass start of 40-50 athletes within a cohort.  The starting gun goes off, and swimmers jockey for position at the front of the pack, each seeking the best line to the first buoy.  If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be scary, and dangerous.  Swimming isn’t known as a contact sport, but in triathlon it is.   Arms get tangled.  Faces get kicked.  Bodies get trampled. Patriot 2014 Swim

The swim start of this year’s race was done much differently than in any other race.  We were sent off in threes, every 10 seconds, in a time trial start.  The start was so civilized!  No massive scrum.  No crawling over bodies.  With less pressure to sprint out in front of the main pack, I had a swim leg that was a minute or so slower than usual, but a much more enjoyable experience.   For posts on how B2B Marketing relates to swimming, check out my post on the 4Ps of the Marketing Mix.

Cycling and B2B Marketing

Patriot 2014 BikeOver the past several years, my biggest struggle in triathlon is determining how hard to push on the bike leg.  Push too hard, and my legs are jelly when it comes to the run.  Walking tends not to have a good impact on one’s finishing time.  Go too slow, and I give up valuable time.  I’ve never found the right balance of speed and energy conservation.

Until this year.  This year’s bike leg was effortlessly fast.  I’m not quite sure why.  Spring weather wasn’t conducive to a lot of long rides, and I did fewer outside miles this year than any past year.  For whatever the reason, I averaged 20.7 mph on the bike, and felt like I could have gone faster without much effort.  During the bike leg, I knew that three racers from my age group passed me, but I expected that. For a cycling approach to B2B marketing, check out my blog on using a team pursuit for building a Challenger Sale commercial insight.

It All Comes Down to the Run

Patriot 2014 RunYou wouldn’t know it from this picture, but I had my best run leg ever at this year’s race.  Part of it was the weather.  High 60s and overcast the whole race.  Part of it was my energy conservation on the bike.  And part of it was my constant mantra to just keep running.  For the first time, I avoided walking.  I averaged 8:13s for the half marathon, taking a few walking steps at each aid station to swallow a bit of energy drink, and then getting back into my stride.  The best part of the run was at mile 12, when I caught and passed the competitor who ultimately finished fourth. Read my post on how coming up to speed as an exec at a new company is like a runner catching the leaders on Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon.

How’s Your Season Shaping Up?

In future posts, I’ll share results in the three areas of B2B Marketing.  Until then, tell me what you think.  How’s your racing season shaping up?  Have you been able to deliver results according to your plan?

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Triathlon bike positioning

Spring Training Fundamentals: 5 Benefits of a Positioning Statement

The calendar says that spring has arrived.  You wouldn’t know it from the frigid temperatures and mounds of crusty snow outside.  But if the calendar says so, then it must be time for spring training.

Baseball players aren’t the only ones preparing for the upcoming season by focusing on fundamentals.  We triathletes do too.  For us, it means getting the bike tuned up and ready to ride outside.  It’s not only a question of getting in the miles.  We also need to work on riding position.  Perfecting that tight, aerodynamic body position that delivers maximum power with minimal wind resistance.

Marketers getting ready for an upcoming product launch need to devote the same level of effort into positioning.   Building a  positioning statement is no trivial exercise.   Like in triathlon, getting the positioning statement right is the key to success, and it requires discipline.

Key Elements of a Positioning Statement

Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)
Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)

There are a variety of templates for a positioning statement.  I’ve used a template similar to the one shown here.  Although it is short, each area requires close examination and continual refinement,  just like finding that optimal riding position.  Nail the positioning statement, and you can expect at least five benefits.

1.  Identify Your Buyer(s)

A positioning statement begins with the buyer.  It therefore demands that you focus on the buyer persona.  For B2B software companies, it’s especially important to focus on the job title, company size, and target verticals of your buyer.  If you sell to multiple types of buyers, you may need to develop a positioning statement for each one.  You’ll be able to decide once you know whether there are differences in needs, benefits, and competitive advantages.

2.  Do You Need to Cross the Chasm?

Chossing-the-chasm-coverOnce you have identified your buyers,  the positioning statement has you move onto their needs.  Knowing where your buyers are on the technology adoption life cycle will help you understand their needs.   Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” discusses the psychographic differences between groups along the life cycle.

Visionaries appreciate technology for its own sake.  They often identify uses of technology not even considered by marketers.  Early adopters expect to use a new technology to get a jump on others in their industry.  They’re not looking for an improvement.  They are looking for a fundamental breakthrough.  Buyers in the early majority want to realize a gain in productivity for their current operations.    The positioning statement should reflect these instincts.

3.  Your Market – Clarify the Field You Are Playing On

seattle-277120_640This section of the positioning statement calls for another area that seems trivial.  But defining your market does require some thought.   Using a well understood existing market category has advantages, especially for buyers on the right hand side of the chasm.  But doing so will reqiure you to differentiate yourself from other vendors also in the market.  Creating a new market segment which you can own may help with differentiation, but it will require effort and time to educate the market.

4.  Leverage Your Commercial Insight for Competitive Advantage

I’ve written in previous blogs about my experience with Challenger Sale methodology.   The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.    The commercial insight therefore shows up in two places in the positioning statement – the benefit and the unique differentiator.

5.  Crafting the Positioning Statement Gets Your Team on Board

The last benefit of building the positioning statement is that it helps to get all of the functional areas in your company on board with a consistent message.  Sales, product development, support, and marketing all see your company, customers, and product from a different perspective.  Distilling the relevant information onto a positioning statement helps get everyone pulling in the same direction in how they discuss your competitive advantages for your buyers.

Content creation is team effort

I’m not saying that getting everyone to agree on the positioning statement will be easy.  It won’t.  But having the various functional groups involved in creating it, or at least reviewing it and providing feedback, will provide benefits.

What about you?  What’s your experience in building positioning statements?  Do you have a favorite template, or different approach?  Let me know.  I’m interested in feedback.

Triathlon photo credit:  Rena Shild/Shutterstock

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Speedskating B Stefanov shutterstock_49076566

Pipeline Progression: 7 Steps to Synch Sales Enablement and the Sales Cycle

In my last post, I discussed how sales can improve pipeline visibility by identifying what reps should hear from the customer at each stage of the sales cycle.   Uncovering the right comments helps qualify the opportunity and ensure proper pipeline progression.

Marketing plays a key role in this effort.  I’m not talking about qualifying inquiries at the top of the sales funnel.  I’m talking about an opportunity that has entered the sales cycle.  The customer contact has been qualified.  Sales has accepted the lead.   Marketing and sales work together to pursue the opportunity, like short track skaters drafting off of one another.

Marketing’s role in pipeline progression

Pipeline progression – isn’t that the job of sales management, not marketing?  True, but it is also another important area of CMO-CSO alignment.  For marketing to be effective in producing sales enablement kit, we have to deliver what the sales team needs at each stage of the cycle.

This task is pretty clear when you use an approach to pipeline progression that is based on what you expect to hear from the customer.   The deck below shows a real world example.


Seven Steps to Synch with Sales

Here are seven lessons learned from our approach to enabling the field for pipeline progression.

1. Make the first pitch without pre-sales

baseball-89612_640Although our product was technically innovative, we kept our sales presentation at the business level, using a Challenger Sale approach.  We based the first sales milestone on uncovering urgency and differentiation, rather than product features.  Our sales team ran this stage without pre-sales, helping to keep the conversation focused on business topics.

2. Nail the business issues up front

In order to validate the urgency of getting a cloud service to market, we needed to discover the buyer’s strategic, financial, and personal goals.  The only way to do that was to demonstrate credibility and situational fluency.  Our deck needed to quickly show that we understood the goals and challenges of the cloud market, based on our experience with other customers.

3. Recount relevant customer stories

To validate that our solution provided compelling business value, we built short summaries of relevant customer success stories into the sales deck.  We trained our sales reps so they could tell these stories, as if they were personally involved in each account.

4. Deliver a dynamic demo

Since our design goal was to complete the first pipeline milestone without pre-sales, we recorded a short, compelling demo that explained how our product’s technical capabilities helped customers achieve business goals.  We armed the sales team with product information to augment the demo, but deferred deeper technical discussion until later in the sales engagement.

5. Publish customer case studies in several formats

You never know how your prospect will want to consume a customer case study, so publish them in as many formats as possible.  We used the following:

  • Publicly available website information from customers using our product as the basis for their solutions.  Here’s an example.
  • The usual suspects:  summaries on our website and in pdf format.
  • YouTube videos of customers discussing cool topics they did with our product.
  • Blog posts about customers highlighting their successes.
  • Implementation summaries covering the technical and operational information on how the service was built.

6. Project profit with a financial model

money-167733_640Our competitive advantage was that service providers could use our product to roll out cloud services faster, and at a higher profit margin, than they could with alternative solutions.  To frame this argument, marketing created a detailed financial model to project the profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.  We worked with the customer to tailor the model to their situation, so they could use it in the financial justification for investing in our solution.

7. Generate a Go To Market plan

For our customers to have the confidence to invest with us, they needed to see a clear path to building and launching their cloud services on our platform.  So our kit included implementation and go to market plans to accelerate the customer’s launch.  The plans included timelines, templates, training, and examples based on our experience with other customers.

Are You Synched with Sales on Pipeline Progression?

If you’re a product marketer, you need to know that your kit is being actively used by sales as they progress deals through the sales cycle.   If you’re not sure, that’s a slippery slope.   Find out, or you might take a spill on the next turn.    Let me know how you stay aligned!

Speed skating photo credit:  B Stefanov

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Marketing and Sales Alignment – It’s not Ironman, Start Drafting!

Ironman, triathlonWatching the TV replay of the 2013 Ironman World Championships this weekend got me thinking about marketing and sales alignment.   Don’t worry, that wasn’t my first thought, or even my second one.   First, I realized that I have so much more training to do if I am ever to take on the 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and marathon run of an Ironman distance triathlon.  Then, I appreciated the efforts of the pro competitors’ race, and  those of amateur, “normal” athletes like Chef Gordon Ramsay, former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, and others less famous.   But THEN, I thought about marketing and sales alignment.

What does Marketing and Sales Alignment have to do with Ironman?

If you’ve seen a triathlon, you know that drafting is not allowed on the bike leg.  Competitive cycling events, like the Tour de France, allow riders to conserve energy by bunching up in a tightly packed pace line in the slip stream of the front riders.  Triathlon does not.   In order to ensure that all of the effort is individual, triathlon bike rules specify an imaginary 7 meter line behind a rider.  Faster riders have 20 seconds to cross this line and overtake a slower rider, who must then drop back beyond 7 meters.   This “no drafting” rule ensures that riders do not work together.

When it comes to marketing and sales alignment, it sometimes seems like there must be an unwritten, no drafting rule that prevents them from effectively working together.   How else to explain the wall between the two teams, the finger-pointing, and the negative attitudes?  Much has been written about how to bridge the gap between marketing and sales silos.   Having a crisply defined marketing and sales service level agreement (SLA) certainly helps.   And marketing automation software and CRM systems can add efficiency and throughput to the demand generation pipeline.

Walk a Mile in their Shoes – Five Suggestions for Marketing

In my experience, though, the best approach for marketers to understand what sales needs is to get out into the field and walk a mile in their shoes.    Once you do so, it won’t be so easy to refer to sales people as cavemen.    Here are five things every marketer should do to better understand their sales colleagues.

  1. Make some cold calls.  Spend half a day calling the names on your lead list.  Leave an effective voice mail.  Get someone on the phone, uncover their pain points, summarize your commercial insight, and ask for a meeting.   Discover for yourself the real qualifying questions and objections, so you can build a better battle card.
  2. Give your pitch.   Deliver your Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentation, or whatever approach your team uses.  Identify where your slides don’t flow, your animation bogs down, or your slide notes need improvement.   Modify your deck based on what you learn first-hand.
  3. Get Social.  Check the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of your sales colleagues and see if they can be improved.   Conduct a 40 minute webcast on how best to leverage social media tools.  The small investment on your part will yield big results in both amplification of your product line, and in sales’ ability to sell socially.
  4. Be Proactive.  Reach out to your sales colleagues proactively.  Don’t wait in your cube for them to call you.   You’re the domain expert, so act like one.  Call them up and let them know you can help them, even if it’s just on the phone.   They’ll welcome the help.  It’s one less presentation for them to give, and if you do well, you’ll build trust and a reputation as a useful resource.
  5. Keep moving forward.  Just like at Ironman, you have to keep moving.  The surest way to fail is to stand still.  There are always updates to make in product capabilities, competitive analysis, market trends.

What’s your experience?  Are your marketing and sales teams working together, or are they observing a “no drafting” rule?  Have you walked a mile in your colleagues’ shoes?

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Challenger Sale Commercial Insight is a team pursuit

Challenger Sale Commercial Insight: A Team Pursuit

Over the past year, my organization has implemented the Challenger Sale  in our business.   As the solo marketer on the team, it has been my job to create the sales enablement content for our target use cases.   Building the Challenger Sale commercial insight has been the hardest part, and we’ve learned that it takes a team to do it.   Just like cycling teams competing in a team time trial, our success depended on the coordinated efforts of specialists within our group.  Here’s how we finally crossed the line.

At first blush, the definition of a Challenger Sale commercial insight seems pretty easy:  “A compelling, defensible perspective from a supplier that materially impacts  a customer’s performance and directly leads back to their unique capabilities.”  The commercial insight is the key to the “Reframe” point in the Challenger Sale choreography.   It’s the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

At first, building the Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentation seemed simple.  Our product, CA AppLogic Cloud Platform, has unique advantages, and we have dozens of customers using it to launch profitable new services.   But we struggled with articulating the commercial insight, as if we were playing a game of hot potato.  Sales looked to me to deliver it, but I needed them for their understanding of how customers were solving problems.  The sales guys didn’t have a detailed understanding of the specific ways customers were using the product, so we turned to our technical sales staff.   Technical sales teams understood that, but they didn’t know how to quantify the business benefits the product delivered.   For that, we needed the customer.  No one group by itself could deliver the Challenger Sale commercial insight.  It took a team.

This cooperation is like that of a cycling team’s in a team time trial.  For a team of nine riders, the time trial finishing time is determined when the fifth rider crosses the line.  Therefore, the individual riders work together.   Each rider takes a turn riding hard at the front of a pace line, while their teammates follow inches behind, taking advantage of the slipstream.  After a turn of twenty seconds or so, the front rider steers off to the side and joins the back of the group to recover and prepare for the next pull at the front.  Teams succeed by synchronizing the efforts of the individual riders.

Challenger Sale Commercial Insight: Team Roles

Here’s how the riders in our pace line synchronized efforts to build our commercial insight.

Product Management:   We knew our commercial insight would be based on the unique way our cloud platform helps customers reduce costs and launch cloud services quickly.  Capital expenditures are lowered by virtualizing not just servers, but also networking and storage.  Operational expenditures are lowered by tightly coupling applications to the underlying infrastructure necessary to run them, and treating them as a single entity.   There’s less complexity, so it takes less effort, skill, and time to build, launch, and run services in the cloud.

Marketing:  Since our target customer was the revenue owner at a service provider charged with delivering profitable cloud services, we needed a Challenger Sale commercial insight that would reframe the problem in terms of revenue, profit, and fast time to market.   By studying the market, we knew that service providers measure the health of their business in terms of revenue and profit per data center square foot.   We needed to translate the unique product capabilities into a financial benefit in these terms, which the customer could then modify based on her own launch plan.

Sales:  In order to help the customer quantify the top line revenue projection, we needed examples of pricing, packaging, and take-up rate from other service providers in the market.  Luckily, many service providers publish this information publicly.  Our sales team provided public information from existing customers that was useful in building these projections.

Technical sales:  Our Challenger Sale commercial insight depended on the quantification of the capital expense, labor, power consumption, and other expenses necessary to run cloud service on our platform.  Our technical sales team had the experience to provide this information based on the product functionality and real-world implementations.

The customer:   Our customers showed us the the business model format that they used to make investment decisions in their company.  We built a model which aligned to their desired format, but helped the business owner tailor it to their particular plans.  The result was a quantified commercial insight that the customer “owned,” and presented as their justification for the investment in our product.

Here’s a snapshot of the overall P&L that results from this work.  P and L Summary Picture

As Forbes has written, implementing a Challenger Sale approach requires new marketing skills.   Through this team experience we got a good start, but there’s more to learn.  Please let me know about your experience.

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Build A Challenger Sale Commercial Teaching Presentation in 10 Steps

Challenger Sale book cover, for commercial teaching presentation blogIn their book, “The Challenger Sale,” Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board discuss how Challenger sales reps use commercial teaching to out-perform their colleagues.  Commercial teaching accomplishes two goals.  First, it provides a valuable, new insight to the buyer that causes her to think about her business problem in a different way.  Second, it spurs the buyer to take action to advance the sales cycle in your organization’s favor.  That’s why it’s called “commercial teaching,” instead of just “teaching.”  The whole purpose is to close a deal.

Marketing must be laser focused on these goals when building Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentations, since most buyers will have already progressed through the awareness and consideration stages of the customer buying cycle by the time they meet with sales.  Throw out anything that doesn’t advance the commercial teaching goals.   Here are ten steps you can take.

1.  Get rid of the corporate overview slide.  Your company’s corporate headquarters,  annual spend on R&D, and number of employees don’t help your prospect solve their business problem.  Buyers will find this information themselves if they need it.

2.  Drop the customer logo slide.   Your competitors all have their own logo slides, so it doesn’t differentiate you.  Your prospect doesn’t care about logos unless they represent companies facing the same challenges, in the same business.   And it’s very difficult for your sales rep to discuss the specific challenges faced by all of the companies whose logos are represented.

3.  Ditch the thought leadership slides.  Controversial, but necessary.  Although thought leadership is meant to get buyers to consider the benefits of an alternative way of doing business, it is not as effective as commercial insight.   First, thought leadership is broader than your company’s solution.  Unlike commercial insight, it doesn’t lead to your company’s unique advantages, so it doesn’t help you beat the competition.   Second, it doesn’t focus on the specific problem and pain associated with the customer’s current way of doing business.   Third, research on loss aversion shows that people value potential gains less than they value reducing losses of similar size.   Since thought leadership focuses on future benefits, and commercial insight focuses on avoiding current costs, take advantage of this bias in your presentation.   The CEB’s Challenger™ Marketing eBook has a nice graphic that shows the difference between thought leadership and commercial insight.

4.  Postpone the product pitch.  Focus the front part of your deck on solving your customer’s problem.  Tout the benefits of your product only after the customer has acknowledged the urgency of solving the problem you’ve uncovered.  This is especially true since your deck will highlight the problems which your product is uniquely positioned to solve.

Align Commercial Teaching with Challenger Sale Choreography

Here’s an example to illustrate these next suggestions.


4.  Tailor your title slide to your audience, their specific problem, and the benefit that your solution provides.  This shows your audience that their time will be well spent.

5.  Go vertical on the “Warmer.”  Use two or three slides to address the goals and challenges faced by companies in the same situation as your prospect.   Be sure your terminology matches that used in your prospect’s vertical market.  Add specific customer stories, with real company names when you can, in the speaker’s notes, so your sales rep can demonstrate credibility and experience.   Ensure the slides are visually appealing to facilitate the conversation your rep will have to confirm her understanding of the customer’s needs.

6.  For the “Reframe” slide, use a visual depiction of the problem you are seeking to highlight, since pictures have more impact than words.   Done right, this slide will remain in your prospect’s memory long after the sales meeting is over.

7.  Use your best slide for “Rational Drowning”  to highlight the cost of the problem you’ve just uncovered.   Remember loss aversion?  This is the slide you use to quantify the pain.   Your sales rep will stay on this slide as they confirm the “Emotional Impact” and the buyer’s personal investment in solving this problem.

8.  Introduce the “New Way” with a simple, visually compelling, quantified business benefit, such as faster time to market, reduced operational costs,or increased profitability, to show the results your customers have achieved.   This slide, and the two previous, will form the justification your prospect will use with her colleagues to further advance the sales cycle.

9.  Provide an overview of your solution in one, easy to read slide that summarizes your key competitive advantages.   Don’t go into a full product discussion yet, just focus on the benefits.  Avoid buzz-words, since those dilute your message.

10.  Show one or two customer case study slides from your prospect’s vertical market.  Here’s where you spend more time talking about the benefits that other customers have achieved.  You’ll use more detail to explain the quantified business benefit.

Done right, the front part of a Challenger Sale Commercial Teaching Presentation shouldn’t be more than ten slides.   Distilling your content down to such a small number of slides is hard work.  Even Mark Twain struggled to keep his writing short, so keep at it.

What do you think?   What’s your experience in creating Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentations?  Please share your best examples.

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