In this issue: Links to a couple of "How to Find a Sales Job" feature stories that I wrote for FINS.com, five new posts from Sales Source on Inc.com, and an unabashedly snarky book review of "The Challenge Sale". Remember: as a newsletter member, you can send me your sales messages and I'll critique them for free!
Looking for a Sales Job? Check These Out:
New Sales Source Posts
- How to Make Failure Impossible -- Believe it or not, there is a way that you can avoid failing at anything. It's really just a matter of picking the right goal and then redefining failure to match. The end result is getting more done than you ever dreamed was possible. Read story
- Land a Customer Meeting: 4 Rules -- Yeah, I know: cold calling sucks, direct marketing is expensive and email marketing doesn't work. In fact, you can make sure your customers (and prospects) give you the time of day by following these four easy rules. Read story
- Have Customers Write Your Sales Message -- OK, this one is a bit of a rant about marketing, which you can probably ignore. However, I do believe that customers are a largely untapped resource when it comes to crafting effective sales messages. Hers are two prime examples. Read story
- Proposals That Win Business: 5 Rules -- A new research report suggests that structure, size and timing matter as much or more than content. Here's how to get the details right to make certain that your proposal gets on the short list and maybe even wins the business. Read story
- Surprising Secret to Time Management -- Many time management systems encourage you to waste time. Here's a simple method, based on a scientific principle, to spend your time more wisely and well. Read story
Book Review: The Challenge Sale
For the past few months, I've been catching the buzz about a "how to" sales book entitled "The Challenger Sale." When I finally got around to checking it out, I discovered that, even though the book positions itself as "biggest shock to conventional sales wisdom in decades," it's actually a rehash of every book on "solution selling" written since the 1980s.
For those of you not familiar with the book, it purports to describe what "top-performing reps are doing" based upon an "exhaustive study of thousands of sales reps across multiple industries and geographies." It segments sales reps into "five distinct profiles," only one of which "delivers consistently high performance": the challenger, a person who "approaches customers with unique insights about how they can save or make money." Finally the book promises that:
almost any average-performing rep, once equipped with the right tools, can successfully reframe customers' expectations and deliver a distinctive purchase experience that drives higher levels of customer loyalty and, ultimately, greater growth.
Give me a break.
Almost every sales book ever written promises a method for average reps to imitate the behavior of top sales reps. The reason is simple: that promise provides a reason for companies to buy sales training from the people who wrote the book.
Unfortunately (for the companies that drink this particular kool-aid), it's simply not possible to identify a set of sales behaviors that work in every situation, much less to train average individuals to emulate them. In fact, top sales reps tend to possess characteristics that are uniquely suited for the environment in which they are selling.
According to scientific research conducted Chally Worldwide, statistically top reps tend to fail badly when transferred to other selling environments. (I cover this subject in some detail in a special report I just wrote with Chally's CEO, Howard Stevens.)
It turns out that the disproportionate success of top sales reps is actually situational (right person, right place, right time) rather than something that can be transferred in some generalized way to average salespeople.
Now that we'd disposed of the premise, let's look at the "science" behind "The Challenge Sale." According to the book's introduction, it's based upon the authors' experience over four years with "dozens of companies and thousands of sales reps." In other words, the data behind the book appears to be purely anecdotal and, if so, possesses no scientific validity.
By contrast, Chally's data (which, as mentioned above, basically proves the non-transferability of top sales skills) is based upon more than 400 validation studies conducted over 40 years, covering more than 400,000 people.
Similarly, the recently published book "Scientific Selling" (which I co-authored) describes decades of statistical research on sales behavior suggesting that basic personality plays a huge role in determining eventual sales success.
However, even if it were possible to change average reps into top reps, there's nothing in "The Challenge Sale" that we haven't heard before.
For example, the concept of providing "unique insights about how [customers] can save or make money" is simply "solution selling" rehashed. Honestly, I've interviewed at least 60 sales trainers and gurus over the years and almost all of them have said the exact same thing.
To highlight this startlingly trite concept, "The Challenge Sale" sets up a straw man: "The Relationship Builder," who (as described) is the kind of glad-handing, no-nothing sales rep that hasn't existed in the business world since, well, since the Mad Men era.
This is "the biggest shock to conventional sales wisdom in decades?" That glad-handing doesn't work any more? That sales reps must bring something to the table that actually "saves or makes money?" What on what planet are these new ideas??
Look, I don't have anything against the authors of The Challenge Sale. I'm sure they're perfectly competent sales trainers. Heck, I think I interviewed one of the owners of the firm way back where.
Even so, isn't it time that we stop pretending that trying to train average salespeople to be top performers is as hopeless as trying to train weekend warriors to compete in the Olympics? And, for crying out loud, can't we stop pretending that "solution selling" is something new?