Challenge Customer Thinking


For us, it’s been about 5 years of research at CEB into the Challenger work, but the highest level we’ve been studying is the massive shift in the way customers are buying at a fundamental level. Our data shows, specifically, that customers are engaging suppliers later and later in the purchase journey.

In fact, by the time the average customer reaches out to a salesperson they’re nearly 60% of the way through the purchase journey, which means they’ve already figured out what their needs are. They’ve figured out who are the suppliers are that can serve those needs or address those needs. They figured out how those suppliers compare to one another and even have a pretty good sense of what the pricing for the supplier’s products and services looks like. By the time they call up the salesperson, they’re in a very different state of mind because they’re going out and learning on their own.

The question, really, that the challenger research addresses is: what kind of salesperson do we need in light of this, in this death spiral where the salesperson’s getting pushed later and later, farther and farther out in the purchase journey? What kind of set of sales skills do we need? What kind of conversations do we want to equip our salespeople to have with our customers?

What we found is the best salespeople go out there and they actually challenge customer thinking. In a world where customers are actually going out and teaching themselves, challengers show up and are able to unteach the customer around their key assumptions, their worldview, and the way their business operates. Not just their own company, but also how the supplier fits into that workflow and into that world.

They’re equipped with insight-based conversations and messages that they can bring to bear to really push the customer outside their comfort zone and get them to rethink, again, key assumptions about their business. We think this is a new and fundamental shift in the way the best salespeople are engaging customers who are increasingly out there and learning on their own.

What Did You Think?