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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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