By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Challenger Sale has created a great deal of buzz in the sales training space over the last few years or so. Their sales approach has its roots in an article written by The Chasm Group describing provocative selling that appeared in the Harvard Business Review 3 or 4 years ago. The concept is to start buying cycles by telling buyers about leading edge approaches that are being or could be used in their industries.
Despite embracing Geoffrey Moore’s work by expanding on this approach, Challenger Sale casts a blind eye to the core concepts described in his books (i.e. Crossing The Chasm and Inside The Tornado) that describe at what point in product life cycles different buyers are likely to buy.
Innovators and early adopters (10-20% of the potential market) are most likely to be interested and/or buy very early in product cycles. These buyers evaluate offerings quickly, may see business applications vendors had not thought of, willingly take risks, and often view implementing disruptive offerings as a competitive advantage. Vendors with “hot new offerings” can lead with product. Early market buyers “get it.” Some buy. There actually isn’t much selling to be done as the early market chooses to buy. Decisions are quick because they want to buy early in product cycles. They savor the chance to be the “first on the block” to implement.
The majority of buyers want to follow, not lead. How many people do you know that want a recommendation from a friend or other source before they will try a new restaurant, read a book, buy a car of go and see a movie? Most buyers are followers, not leaders.
Geoffrey Moore highlights potential problems for vendors with new offerings. There aren’t enough early market buyers to achieve revenue targets. Vendors that gain traction by leading with offerings will have difficulty “crossing the chasm” to mainstream market buyers that comprise the lion’s share of the potential (80-90%). These buyers do not want to be “first or early” in buying offerings. They are likely to ask questions like:
- What other companies have bought this offering?
- What other companies in our space have bought?
- What types of results have been achieved?
- How much market share does a vendor have?
- How financially stable is the vendor?
- Are there at least 3 different vendors that can be evaluated and compared?
Buying cycles proceed glacially in contrast to the early market. It isn’t unusual for RFI’s or RFP’s to be issued. Instead of welcoming disruption, the mainstream market resists change whenever possible. They prefer making no decision if there appears to be a chance of making a wrong decision. They respond poorly to sellers that lead with product. Their preference is to have sellers share business results others have achieved early in the process. References to being first or early to buy are likely to have them realize this isn’t a “safe” choice and defer evaluating the offering until a later time (no decision).
Geoffrey Moore suggests vendors should not approach the mainstream market until they have a “beachhead” of clients. When they do, sellers must be patient in explaining potential usages and business outcomes because these buyers won’t “get it” by sitting through product pitches. In many instances the “chasm” must be crossed vertical segment by vertical segment. Pursuing markets by challenging buyers with new or unproven offerings aligns with early market buyers. While vendors can buy lists of potential prospects, none of them will have a category for “early market buyer” for individuals or companies as a whole. Provocative selling calls on Mainstream Market buyers who will likely alienate them and are premature, absent beachheads that have been established and measurable results that have been achieved. Challenger Sale defines 5 different types of sellers, but fails to recognize the 5 different types of buyers Geoffrey Moore identified:
- Innovators and Early Adopters comprising the Early Market
- Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards comprising the Mainstream Market
Revenue outcomes are optimized when sellers align with buyers. For example, it is important for sellers to take a different approach with buyers that have done research via the Internet versus those that haven’t. Early Market approaches conflict with how Mainstream Market buyers want to buy and are unlikely to deliver the desired top line results.