There has been a lot a debate among the sales training / sales enablement community about The Challenger Sale from CEB’s Sales Executive Council. Some of it has been cogent and balanced, but unfortunately a lot has been mud-slinging and poorly articulated or uninformed specious commentary that does not reflect well on the sales training industry. Most of the latter type has, probably predictably, come from those who might have good reason to be threatened by the seeming ubiquity or pervasiveness of TCS. On the other hand, where measured arguments have been put forward, it seems that these originate more often from users, practitioners, or observers who acknowledge the value of TCS while wondering about its place in an overall sales eco-system.
I have read commentary from Linda Richardson, HRChally, Jonathan Farrington, Dave Stein, Tamara Schenk, Solution Selling, and others, and you can look at the links and judge for yourself who is engaging in productive debate, who is posturing to protect their own patch, and who is being downright unprofessional. Methinks the latter doth protest too much!
Most of the anti-Challenger rhetoric seems to rail primarily against how the Sales Executive Council has presented Challenger to the market, and less about the substance of the TCS model, or the research behind its findings. Many of the commentators take umbridge at SEC’s positioning of the findings as being new or noteworthy. “There is nothing new or unique here” is a common cant. Well, clearly that is not true: Otherwise TCS would not have captured the attention that is has, resonated as strongly with the marketplace, or evoked such a – sometimes vitriolic – response from those who feel threatened by it.
At The TAS Group, we faced similar criticism from some of the traditional sales training players when we introduced Dealmaker to the market. We presented a view that effective adoption of methodology could only happen when supported by intelligent software and integrated into the daily workflow of the sales professional by combining the application of methodology with usage of the CRM. We were subsequently positioned by our competitors as only focused on technology, and we were questioned by the analysts as how we could maintain deep research in methodology and technology at the same time. Well, that was six years ago, and the evidence suggests that we were not as misguided as some would have thought. Now, although not everyone has the depth of technology resources that we do, everyone recognizes the need for software as an integral part of a sales performance system. And, the advancements we have made in methodology during that time has served our customers very well.
I don’t think TCS is either perfect or a complete sales system, or a one-size-fits-all solution; nor do I believe that the folks at the Sales Executive Council think so either. (By the way, I am struck by the fact that it is evident that many of those who are criticizing TCS had not spoken to the SEC before they expressed their views.) A complete sales performance system requires everything from market planning to territory segmentation, account stratification, account management, opportunity management and sales process, all supported by skills and technology.
But TCS has a number of undeniable strengths. It has done a better job of highlighting the need for greater sales and marketing alignment than many of its forerunners. (I have written about that problem here, here, here, here, here, and here.) With a level of clarity all too rarely seen in the industry, it has debunked the myth of the Relationship seller. Where others represent it as arrogant that a sales person should bring insight, or being able to ‘teach’ the customer as being arrogant, I see it as a customer focused approach, and an acknowledgement that buyers are more informed and therefore the sales person has to prepare much more diligently. It demands that the sales person work hard to understand their customer and the customer’s industry, and requires a level of intellectual capital that all customers should look for from their suppliers. In my opinion, any effective sales person should be able to bring insights to her customer of what has worked elsewhere. I think that is table stakes.
Through its membership community, SEC has an effective petri dish to test its approaches, before unleashing them on the market. Their heritage in research is a matter of fact – not of opinion. While they still have a way to go, I would have hoped that constructive inclusion, a recognition of how TCS complements other methodologies, would have been the response, but sadly …
More importantly though, the success of Challenger – and it is unquestionably successful – points to a failure of traditional providers, particularly those who focus on sales skills. The fact that TCS has been so quickly embraced points to a deficiency in the alternatives. Otherwise why would there be a gap in the market for SEC?
Make no mistake. SEC has done a remarkable job of positioning TCS in the market, and indeed is using the principles espoused by Dixon and Adamson in their book to effectively challenge the status quo. Something is working – and the response of the detractors only validates the approach.