The Challenger Customer – From Theory to Practice

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14th April 2016

A Challenger, Sales Enablement and a Special thing


5.4                             1


These numbers tell a story about your world. About the world of selling your ideas, your products and your services.

According to the academics and excellent researchers at The Corporate Executive Board CEB (the folks who authored the book The Challenger Sale), in order for you to get a buying decision in favor of your products and services you need a “yes” from on average 5.4 executives in your target customer organization.

Their update to the Challenger Sale, the Challenger Customer, reveals this and more. CEB’s heritage is research and data. And their book has plenty of that. They identify that the best way to influence the 5.4 is to start with a persona they categorize as the mobilizer buyer. And the mobilizer may not be the most senior person in the sphere of influence that can help you.

Mobilizers in real life

The organization I am part of serves thousands of sales people in many blue chip organizations. And in the deals that these sellers win, they report that they also see the mobilizer buyer. When we or our customers have been successful, those successes are nearly always because the mobilizer in their account has found something special.

Conventional wisdom and the mantra drummed into sales people for the last 20 years has been, “Go in as high as possible. Aim for the most senior person you can find.” The theory was that because organizations adopt a command and control model, the higher up the command chain you go then the more influence you will have.

The World has changed

21st Century leaders have discovered that command and control is inefficient. With the abundant availability of information today, those lower in the command chain often have access to more information and can use that information to create great ideas and suggestions. Ideas and suggestions crucial to those senior to them and crucial to the organization. One reason for this is because they are closer to the life blood of the company: the customers.

Instead of command and control, organizations are fostering an engage-and-create model that encourages an environment where anyone who wants to can influence strategic direction – it helps if they are senior, but it’s not mandatory. This can also lead to purchase decisions, providing that their argument, their opinion, their story is strong enough. Seth Godin’s recent article “More Powerful than you know” stresses this precise point.

The Special Thing

That word you just skipped past, Story, is the special thing that mobilizers who influence find. That is the 1 at the beginning of this article. You only need 1 story. It just had to the right one. A story that includes insight, that is sticky, that is easy to re-tell, that is interesting, even entertaining. That story can make the mobilizer a hero. We call it a Cause to Act story, because that’s what it is, an easily repeatable story that has logic in it, but appeals to people’s emotional action-taking mind. And that combination of research, logic and emotion is the magic mix that moves people to take action.

If your sales people can share that story tactfully, then that story can become the mobilizer’s own story. Remember: it’s not about you, your products, your brand or your services; it’s about them and their world.

Theory into Practice: Shape your Cause to Act Story

Build a Cause to Act Story that makes CEB’s excellent data and excellent research a visceral, powerful reality.

Next steps:

  • Research your customer’s world.
  • Find what has changed that makes their current “Normal” no longer viable.
  • Find evidence that their situation will get worse if they don’t take action. now (crucially make sure that action is aligned to what you can help them with).
  • Build it into an interesting, tactful story that is not about you.
  • Enable your sales people to find mobilzers and share your Cause to Act story in their conversations.
  • Enable your sales people to follow up and show how your products solve their problems in a way that no others can.

Prerequisite. Your sales people actually need to care about helping your customers.