The Challenger Customer: A book review by Bob Morris

Challenger CustomerThe Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results
Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman
Portfolio/Penguin Random House (September 2015)

How re-writing the rules enables “the best companies to connect with current customers, dramatically boosting sales as a result”

This is a sequel (sort of) to The Challenger Sale, previously published in 2011, in which Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at CEB Global what their rigorous and extensive research has revealed about how to “take control of the customer conversation” by becoming “challenger sellers.”

In their latest book, with co-authors Pat Spenner and Nick Toman, they explain how and why, based on more recent research, “it is equally (if not more) critical to have challenger buyers” within organizations. They would be what Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell characterize as “customer evangelists.”

Buyers are more knowledgeable, better informed, and more demanding than at any prior time that I can remember. It is also true that there are more people now involved in the purchase decision process than ever before. In fact, as Adamson, Dixon, Spenner, and Toman explain, there may not be a single “challenger customer”; rather, sellers may need to cultivate those who comprise what I call a “circle of influence.” And even if there is a “Mobilizer” (challenger or champion), that person may be overruled by several others. More often than not, collective judgment prevails.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of s coverage:

o Track Them All Down and Win Them All Over (Pages 10-13)
o Solving for the Right Problem (17-20)
o Fighting the Lowest Common Denominator (27-32)
o Seven Flavors of Customer Stakeholders (42-46)
o The Mobilizers (46-52)
o Three Keys to Unlocking Mobilizer Potential (52-56)
o Mobilizing the Mobilizer (58-61)
o Insight Is Not Thought Leadership (64-68)
o Building and Breaking Mental Models (73-76)
o Four Questions to Build Commercial Insight (79-81)
o The Dark Side of Content Marketing (118-120)
o Building Mobilizer Messages (137-139)
o Progressively Disqualify (145-147)
o Identifying and Tailoring to Mobilizer Types (149-153)
o A Better Way Forward (160-164)
o The Three Principles of Collective Caring (164-175)
o The Contours of Building Consensus (175-182)
o Equip Mobilizers to Bring Stakeholders Together (188-192)
o Implications and Implementation Lessons (209-249)

The co-authors also include several mini-case studies that provide real-world examples of how strategies and tactics have been applied:

o DENTSPLY (84-100)
o Xerox Printing Solutions (101-115)
o Skillsoft Mobilizer Toolkit (193-199)
o Cisco Systems (183-188)
o Alpha Company’s Stakeholder Alignment Workshops (199-207)

During the course of their lively and eloquent narrative, they challenge their reader to answer a series of open-ended questions about “the customer organization, the dynamics within that organization, the Mobilizer, and commercial opportunity itself.” For example:

o What need should this customer be learning about?
o What should be keeping this customer up at night?
o How should the customer respond to this need?
o How should the customer define the purchase criteria?
o How should the customer evaluate and reach consensus?

Note the repetition of the word “should.” It is imperative for the seller to determine what the answer to each of these and other questions should be and then manage the cultivation/initiation process accordingly. I commend Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman for providing an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that will prepare their reader to achieve far greater success when managing that process. No matter how many people are involved in a purchase decision, no matter what the given issues are, it is imperative for the seller to be able to answer thoroughly and honestly whatever questions may be asked.

Long ago in Art of War, Sun Tzu asserts that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. The same is true of complicated sales.

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