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The Challenger Sale: When is the best time to introduce yourself to a prospect?

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

We believe that building a long-term pipeline of viable and valuable sales opportunities requires the modern solution seller to educate & challenge prospective buyers at all stages of the buying process. This means the seller must know how to approach a prospect who does not yet have a 'burning platform' (a concrete, pressing need to purchase a solution).

Prospects who do not have a 'burning platform' often accept the offer of sales calls because they are [1] looking to the salesperson to provide suggestions on investments they could make to improve functional effectiveness/efficiency and [2] assessing the salesperson and solution provider's competence should a burning platform present itself in the future.

The job of the salesperson in these cases is to demonstrate value and credibility, and provide a new perspective on the prospect's business or business process that will teach them a new and better way of operating, perhaps by challenging/educating the prospect by presenting research that uncovers a problem they did not know they had.

Along with client referrals, these early-stage meetings (when executed correctly) form the basis of a long-term pipeline. The book 'The Challenger Sale' (which is regarded by high-performing sales teams as the bible for building pipeline and selling high-value complex solutions) highlights this theme.

According to the authors, the challenger salesperson does not wait for a prospect to identify a need before engaging with them. Instead, they actively seek out prospects and engage them in conversations that challenge their thinking, highlight new opportunities, and provide fresh insights. By doing so, they help prospects reframe their thinking and identify new solutions to their business challenges. In other words, the challenger salesperson aims to be a trusted advisor to the prospect, even before they have a specific need in mind.

By providing new insights, challenging the prospect's assumptions, and leading the conversation with value-added insights that demonstrate a deep understanding of the prospect's business and industry, a seller is able to [1] position themselves as the prospective supplier of choice [2] shape the way the prospect views their own internal problem and [3] set traps for future suppliers the prospect will speak with. To do this, it is crucial that the salesperson continues to add value to the prospect following the first call and gives the prospect a concrete reason to open a long-term dialogue. In addition to this, it is also crucial that the salesperson be persistent when following up, using email, LinkedIn and the telephone.

In our experience, (and in the experience of the authors of The Challenger Sale), looking only for meetings with prospects that already have a burning platform can lead to a dwindling long term pipeline and is an inefficient use of resources. This is primarily because a prospect will have almost certainly met with other suppliers and have a preferred solution in mind when making a decision. In other words, another supplier got to them before they had a concrete need, and helped shape that need and set traps for new incoming suppliers - as we describe above. Often the newcomer is then pitching to fulfil a specification that was co-written by the preferred supplier.

By demonstrating value and credibility, providing new insights, and challenging assumptions, sellers can position themselves as valuable partners that can help the prospects achieve their business goals in the long-term and outperform competitors who enter the buying process late.

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