How to Craft Sales Pitches that Truly Challenge Prospective Buyers

December 16, 2015


Welcome to the third post in our sales prospecting series based on the book The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board. In the last post we shared ways that challenger reps qualify opportunities and jump-start a deal. In this post, we explore best practices for sales pitches.

In a buyer-empowered world where prospective customers feel they have a strong handle on their needs and available solutions, sales reps must work extra hard to get them to consider another perspective. Doing so is what’s needed to motivate prospects to forgo the status quo and finally take action to address a – usually unconsidered – need.

In fact, research shows that sales’ biggest competitor is not necessarily another vendor, but the status quo. About 60% of qualified leads fail to convert because the buyer fails to find value in purchasing something new. And Forrester Research has predicted the death of sales pros that don’t shift to a consultative selling approach, projecting that one million B2B sales jobs will be eliminated by 2020.

Focus on adding value

The key to survival is adding value in every sales pitch. As we discussed in our previous post, the challenger rep does this by encouraging prospective customers to think in a new way. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of Corporate Visions, advises unsettling the mindset by telling a story that hinges on the unexpected.

Rather than simply restate the buyer’s acknowledged pain, sales reps must get prospects to embrace a new reality. And that means introducing uncertainty by focusing on needs that have been underestimated or not considered at all.

In conjunction with Dr. Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Corporate Visions conducted a study to determine how (if at all) the unconsidered need moves B2B buyers. The research found that sales pitches built around the unconsidered need outperformed other pitches. Even more striking, the research revealed that putting unconsidered needs first in a pitch significantly enhanced its persuasiveness, creating a more than 10% advantage over other pitches.

In another poll of over 450 B2B marketers and salespeople, Corporate Visions found that nearly 41.5% of companies believe leading off a sales pitch with an “unconsidered need” would differentiate them from the competition, but only 13.8% of companies actually take this approach.

Pinpoint key issues and ideas

Without a doubt, each rep should build a new and customized pitch that resonates with each prospective buyer. However, The Challenger Sale authors underscore the need for organizations to pinpoint and convey the key issues and ideas that will serve to reframe how prospects think about their business. Only in this way can the organization ensure this challenger approach will be scalable and repeatable. The organization should also determine which messages will best resonate with different stakeholders and position their reps to take control of the customer conversation.
As the book makes clear, to convince reluctant customers that they must think and act differently, a pitch can’t just present data and solutions. An effective challenger pitch leaves a prospect feeling “sick about all of the money they are wasting, or revenue they’re missing, or risk they’re unknowingly exposed to.” In other words, it must tap into the emotional side while also appealing to the rational side.

Embrace the six steps of an effective pitch

All that said, here are the six steps laid out in The Challenger Sale for an effective pitch:

  • Step one: warm up the prospect: To build credibility, present what challenges you’re seeing and hearing from similar companies, either through benchmarking data or anecdotes.
  • Step two: reframe the buyer’s thinking: Introduce a new perspective connecting those challenges to a bigger problem or opportunity that the prospect has never considered. The goal is to catch the buyer off guard and incent them to want to learn more.
  • Step three: create the feeling of “rational drowning”. Assuming you’ve convinced the buyer there is a challenge worth solving, at this step, you should appeal to the buyer’s rational side. Here’s where you pull out the numbers (such as via an ROI calculator) but present them in a way that leaves them feeling overwhelmed (or as if they are drowning). Remember to focus on showing the numbers associated with solving the challenge, not the ROI of using your solution.
  • Step four: tap into emotions. Now that you’ve engaged the buyer’s rational brain, it’s time to make this person feel as though he or she is a main character in the story you’re telling. Even though you’ll present a picture of the way companies like the buyer’s went down the same painful path, your goal is to get the prospect to relate to the pain you’re describing.
  • Step five: show a new way forward. Here’s where you unveil the solution to the challenge. But instead of focusing on your product or service, demonstrate how the buyer can overcome the challenge by acting differently.

Step six: present your solution. At this point, you show how your solution is the best one for enabling the buyer to act differently.

By embracing this six-step approach and leading to instead of with unique differentiators, challenger reps truly focus on teaching first instead of selling first.

Check back soon for the next post in this series, in which we will walk through questions to ask of prospective buyers. Meantime, sign up to our blog to stay in the know on this and other sales-related topics.