Successful Challenger Sales Approach is All About Timing

The best sales reps know when and when not to disrupt customer thinking with commercial insight.

At Gartner Sales & Marketing Conference 2018, best-selling author Daniel Pink said, “We believe timing is an art. But timing is really a science.” This is particularly true when it comes to disrupting customer thinking with commercial insight — a key component of the Challenger selling methodology.

Commercial insight is one of the most effective methods of influencing customer decision making and wining bigger deals. But the best sales reps know that the delivery of commercial insight must be timed at strategic moments in the customer’s buying journey in order to be effective.

Reps who disrupt customer thinking with commercial insight during the solution exploration stage are 41% more likely to win a high-quality deal

Gartner research shows there are six distinct buying “jobs” that customers must complete as part of a typical B2B purchase: Problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation and consensus creation.

Read more: Gartner Keynote: The New Imperative for B2B Sales and Marketing Leaders

“Depending on the job they are looking to accomplish, customers may be more or less receptive to commercial insight,” says Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory at Gartner. “It all boils down to when they, the customers, will be the most receptive to change.”

Top Insights for the C-Suite
Mobilize Every Function in the Organization for Digitalization
Download the free e-Book

When commercial insight is most effective

The buying job when customers are most open-minded and therefore open to change, is the solution exploration stage. In fact, Gartner research shows that sales reps who disrupt customer thinking with commercial insight during the solution exploration stage are 41% more likely to win a high-quality deal. During this stage, sales reps are able to disrupt the root cause of the customer’s problem and show them a solution they might not have considered or explored on their own.

Commercial insight is also most effective during the requirements-building stage of the customer’s buying journey

“Sales reps who can teach customers about unknown or underappreciated causes of their challenges are able to uniquely position themselves and their solution to solve that customer’s problem,” says Adamson.

Commercial insight is also most effective during the requirements-building stage of the customer’s buying journey. According to Gartner, commercial insight is 28% more likely to drive a high-quality deal when used at this point in the journey. During this stage, customers are less certain of the solution requirements they should be considering, feeling as though they may have missed something during their initial due diligence.

When commercial insight can backfire

There are two specific jobs where commercial insight is more likely to fail. The first, and arguably the worst, time is during a customer’s problem-identification stage. Gartner research shows that most B2B customers begin the buying journey and engage suppliers only when they are confident about their problem. Utilizing commercial insight to disrupt their thinking during this stage can actually undermine their ability to agree on the problem and can stall a deal before it even gets going. However, commercial insight remains a powerful tool to prompt customers to initiate a purchase journey. This means helping customers to realize a problem that they either underappreciated or overlooked before they come to the realization on their own.

Likewise, commercial insight should also be avoided during the supplier-selection stage. At this point, customers are generally in agreement on the problem and evaluation criteria and already have a shortlist of preferred suppliers.

“During the supplier-selection stage, there’s simply less surface area for sales reps to disrupt customer thinking,” says Adamson. “Trying to reframe the buying group at this stage can come off as disingenuous and a last-ditch effort to avoid loss.”

Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can read more in Delivering Commercial Insight at Strategic Moments