A decade ago, we shared our groundbreaking Challenger™ sales research with the world. This research revealed a distinct sales profile characterized by a specific set of skills and behaviors that distinguish high-performing sellers. This Challenger sales rep — defined by the ability to get customers to think about their own business in a different light — stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to high performance during complex sales.
Although that sales behavior still shows promise, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves what we might be missing given current-day buying and selling dynamics.
An information-rich buying environment
Challenger sales reps use their understanding of their customers’ businesses to deliver insights, such as how to save money or avoid risk, that customers hadn’t previously considered or fully appreciated on their own. Accordingly, most sales organizations have realized the importance of teaching customers something new. Investments in data and analytics, content marketing and sales training have made many sales organizations capable of delivering powerful insights, providing customers with more high-quality information than ever before.
Previously, the market was saturated with significant noise; now, however, Gartner research shows that 89% of B2B buyers say they found the information they encountered during a recent purchase process to be of high quality.
When Sense Making, sellers essentially move their chair to the customer’s side of the table
We find ourselves in an era of too much of a good thing — namely too much good, credible, believable and fact-based information. This abundance of high-quality information presents a problem for not only sellers but also buyers. While suppliers struggle to differentiate themselves on ideas and insights alone, customers also struggle to process and synthesize the information available to confidently make decisions.
The importance of Sense Making
So, if customers have access to so much quality information, what use do they have for sales people? Gartner’s recent research into seller skills and behaviors, surveying more than 1,000 B2B buyers and nearly 1,000 B2B sellers, revealed that a seller’s approach to engaging the customer with information is a critical determinant of sales success today. Specifically, sellers who reduce customer skepticism and promote high customer confidence by helping them make sense of all the insights and information in the market are more likely to close high-quality, low-regret deals. We call this sales approach Sense Making.
Challenger and Sense Making operate independently. Challenger is based on a supplier-out view, capturing how the best sales reps explain what makes their offerings distinctive — through helping the customer think differently about their challenges or business in a way that leads to the supplier’s unique offerings. On the other hand, Sense Making is based on a market-in view from the customer perspective.
When Sense Making, sellers essentially move their chair to the customer’s side of the table. They jointly “look out at the market” with the customer, noting the variety of good — if conflicting — information and possibilities, and offering the customer reassurance. This is decidedly not a moment for challenging; those moments can (and will) present themselves. Instead, Sense Making enables the customer to gain critical perspective on their purchase criteria, their direction, the possibilities that exist and the vendors that can support those possibilities. It also allows sellers to appropriately put their views, insights and solutions into the right context for the customer to truly appreciate.
Sense Making matters tremendously in today’s buying environment because without it, even the best insights and most thoughtful pitches get lost in the noise. In this world, Challenger sales reps — indeed, all sellers who want to be successful — should adopt a Sense Making approach, situating their insights within the customer’s broader information context and helping the buyer prioritize various sources of information, quantify trade-offs and reconcile conflicting information.
Learn more: The Sense Maker seller