Challenging What the Customer Knows

The Trail: Blog Post for March, 2016

Jeff Cartwright

Times they are a changing! And with changing times comes changing sales strategies. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize the shift in how people do business in the information age, as opposed to the way deals were done 20 years ago. This post is called “Challenging what the customer knows”, for a reason. With a myriad of information a single Google click away, everyone is privy to loads of facts and data that can, at times, impede your ability to close a sale. Also your ability to really understand what the customer needs. 

Based on the extensive research done by CEB, published in the book by Adamson & Dixon: “The Challenger Sale this post will deliver an introduction on how a salesperson in today’s market can accurately navigate the information age. You’ll need to think of ways to show the customer that the cost of “same” is greater than the cost of “change”. You’ll also need to provide ‘commercial insight’; something pertinent to the customer’s business or industry, that may have missed his scrutiny!  The authors mention three new pathways to begin “breaking down the A”, and “building up the B”. The Challenger salesperson is able to master the following pathways: 


Today’s customer is more informed and particularly more aware of the needs of his business, and where he can go to satisfy those needs. The Challenger Sales Rep is able to teach the customer something new and valuable about the marketplace, and how to compete; in ways that the customer has not yet discovered. Providing industry or market insight, that the customer can use to gain a competitive advantage. This ‘commercial insight’ comes from researching the market and the customer’s industry … then teaching the customer, ways that he can and should change his perspective, thus changing the outcome. The objective is to lessen risk, or increase market share, or develop ways to become more efficient. Instead of asking the customer: “What keeps you up at night?”   The Challenger Sales Rep is teaching: “Here are a few factors that should be keeping you up at night. And, Mr. Customer, I can guide you to avoid the blind spots.”    


The Challenger Sales Rep is able to tailor the teaching message to different types of customers, and to various departments within the same company. To be able to customize the story when he is telling it to the head of marketing, versus the head of accounting.  The Challenger must become a chameleon; with the same level of passion and commitment as he travels throughout each department within the company.             

Taking Control                             

This is where the Challenger is able to assert and maintain control over the sale. The ability to stand your ground when the customer pushes back; moving the conversation away from price and back to the value perspective. Important to be assertive and not aggressive. The Challenger Rep is still about building long term relationships, leading to a unique sense of loyalty on the customer’s part.  At this point; the teaching and tailoring has placed the Challenger is an enviable position. The customer has accepted your ‘commercial insight’, and has agreed to change his perspective. The Challenger Sales Rep has earned the right to guide the customer to a close, benefitting all parties.  

 I would highly recommend reading the book: “The Challenger Sale”. If you’ve already read the book, please comment below and share your successes and challenges with this evolutionary sales process. The game has changed … Are you ready to Challenge what the customer knows, and take control of the customer conversation?

Fear of Failure is Really Normal

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” - Jack Canfield

In business and in life, fear has a sneaky little way of slithering in.  Many people may be surprised that fear can have such a crippling impact, until they are in the thick of it. It’s really normal to experience fear in business—the fear you aren’t going to make a sale, the fear no one will follow up with you, fear you won’t be able to close the deal, fear that you’re not going to gain an agreement.  The fear is very real and sometimes it can even cause you paralysis—you close down and refuse to take any action. I’ve known salespeople who would not “ask for the order”, because of their fear of being rejected. Obviously, they were not really ‘salespeople’ at all.

Today I want to talk about how you can use fear to your advantage. Oh yes I did, I said it. Using fear to your advantage can actually be quite helpful, especially if it helps you overcome a situation, or a particular individual that causes you anxiety. I’m sure you’ve heard it said: “…the only way to take on fear, is to face it head on.”  You see, fear can actually act as a motivator or a lightning bolt.  It can jumpstart you into action, the same way it can make you want to crawl in a little ball and hide away. Fear stems from the instinct we all have that signals either fight or flight.  It’s adrenaline inducing, which actually can be a good thing.  It’s harnessing that adrenaline and channeling it into something positive; that allows good to stem from something that's not so good, like fear. 

Preparation is truly key in these fear-inducing situations. If you know a situation you’re about to walk into, is going to make you want to run the other direction or shut down, then you must prepare that much more. There’s a reason professional basketball players, practice making free throws for hours.  They know that if they allow their ‘fear of missing the shot’, to reign supreme when the game is on the line, they will always choke. With muscle memory and continuous practice, they can now rely on that preparation. They know it will overcome the fear of failing, and they now are more likely to make the shot.  In business; preparing notes, writing out accomplishments you’ve had in the past, or even memorizing an introduction helps alleviate that same fear.  The more you prepare, the more you’re able to rely on that preparation, along with your renewed confidence.

It’s also important to understand that you won’t always succeed.

You need to understand and game plan for what you’ll do when you fail. In sales, you have to consider that ‘failing’ is a part of the game. Sometimes, it’s a necessary part of the process. When I fail to make the sale, it forces me to replay the situation in my mind. What did I learn about the client who didn’t buy? What did I learn about myself, my process, my analytics, my approach? And … what can I employ the next round, or my next attempt, to satisfy that particular client’s needs and objectives? Did I succeed in challenging the client’s status quo? Did I offer the insight of my research about his industry? Did I gain his trust and respect, as a fellow entrepreneur?  I know that the more I learn and listen, really listen …the more I sell. And, the more customers I’m able to serve. All of this learning and mental growth, comes from that initial failure and the real fear of failing. 

Understanding the role that fear plays in business, is crucial to your success. I promise, if before you go into that meeting, you read over your notes (visualize the shot from the free throw line), and work on harnessing those fears and channeling them into positive energy; your presentation or meeting will not fall flat.  In fact, it will soar. And … You know how it feels to soar! 


The Value of Great ‘Note Taking’ (remember … back in the day?)

In today’s fast-paced society filled with iPhone updates and 140 characters or less, the thought of carrying a legal pad and pen to a business meeting may seem utterly archaic. Is that a pen? And paper?  some people may incredulously ask you. However, today I want to talk about the benefits of taking notes in business meetings and during client follow-up sessions.  It doesn’t matter how great of a memory you (say you) have or how awkward you think taking notes makes you look, the practice is worthwhile.  There are three real benefits to this “old fashioned” method, and I think if you implement note taking in your repertoire you’ll be able to realize all three. And you’ll also become, a trusted advisor and true business partner for your clients.

1.) You will remember more important ‘stuff’!

Put simply, in many cases writing something down allows you to recall it easier.  Remember all those notes you had to take in college and high school? Remember those times you actually focused while writing, how much better your grade fared? Taking notes connects your mind to the meeting and makes the things your client is saying stick.  It’s true! I’ve tried it myself and have found, that the meetings I wrote things down as opposed to the ones I tried to rely on my memory fared much better in the long run. I was able to connect concepts and remember important things my client communicated. I was also better equipped to set up the follow-up meeting, and more knowledgeable about those important points we discussed at the first meeting. The notes became a diary of our conversations; very useful tidbits of personal client information. 

2.) The client will appreciate your ‘singular focus’.

Chances are, if you’re talking and look up to find someone copiously transcribing what you’re saying, you’re more likely to experience that little prideful glow that comes with feeling important. You know it’s true! Taking notes shows your clients that their words matter—they even matter enough to carry around an antiquated notebook and pen among sleek rows of laptops and tablets.  Taking notes is a very respectful nod to your client and if they ask “What are you doing?” you have the opportunity to honestly say, “I’m taking notes, because what you say is important and I want to make sure that I write it all down.” In more than 40 years of selling, I’ve never had a client upset at my note taking; I have seen a slight smile of approval though. This builds an enduring rapport between you and the client.  In my experience, salespeople who are really phenomenal at their craft, invariably find ways to take copious notes. 

3.) You are able to clarify needs.

Notes allow you to track the most important things your client has to say.  Notes allow you to have the opportunity to summarize and key in on significant things you need to accomplish; to satisfy client needs.  With your notes you can reference certain aspects of the conversation, repeat back what your client said, and receive clarification on important issues. Your notes become the first step towards tailoring your recommendation, and a precursor to the close. An ‘assumptive close’ that your clarifying notes caused to happen.

So you see the old fashioned habit of note taking is actually really valuable in the technology age. It’s similar to leaving a hand-written note for someone; it sets you apart from everyone else and feels a whole lot more personal. If you absolutely must take notes on your laptop or iPad, do so only if you’re capable of making eye contact a majority of the time. Maintaining eye contact is really important, whether using iPad or legal pad and pen. The next time you’re in any business meeting, or with a new prospect or current client … remember the 3 benefits of note taking. Your client will surely remember you, if you take great notes!