How Top-Performing Sales Reps Open Up Deals

December 10, 2015


Welcome to the second 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 keep the upper hand when closing deals. In this post, we cover the key steps to qualifying opportunities and jump-starting a deal.

The "opening" of a deal is what happens before the sales pitch and the closing of the deal. And it’s just as important as the closing. Specifically, it’s about asking questions to uncover as many aspects of the buying decision as possible in order to qualify the opportunity and identify a way to effectively engage the prospect. Many salespeople focus on building a relationship at the expense of this step. In fact, Dixon and Adamson found that reps that focused on building relationships and generously offering their time to prospects were least likely to be star performers.

Warm ‘em up

The first stages of opening the deal per The Challenger Sale are to warm up the prospect and reframe that person’s thinking. Remember that in today’s buyer-empowered era, many prospects come to the table feeling they have figured out the solution to their problem. It’s the sales rep’s job to determine whether or not the prospect has drawn the right conclusions. This is part of opening the deal.

Sales reps warm up prospective customers by demonstrating an understanding of their challenges. The next step is to connect those challenges to a bigger problem or opportunity the prospect hadn’t previously considered. These two stages help build credibility and serve as the introduction for the sales pitch.

Get ‘em thinking

This approach ties in with the six significant traits The Challenger Sale authors say distinguish challenger reps from other sales professional types:

  1. Offers a unique perspective to the customer
  2. Has strong two-way communication skills
  3. Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
  4. Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business
  5. Is comfortable discussing money
  6. Can pressure the customer

These six characteristics prove valuable at all stages of the deal, including the opening. After all, when teaching prospects how to think about their challenges, today’s reps are most effective when challenging their assumptions. In other words, as part of reframing the problem, reps should ideally get prospects to consider their problems in a new light, one that highlights the urgency of addressing the issue because the status quo is exposing them to risks or costs they are not fully aware of. As the book authors say, the best challenger reps ask questions to identify a point of disagreement or contention because they know the ultimate goal is to teach the prospect something they hadn’t considered.

Check back soon for the next post in this series, in which we will share best practices for sales pitches. Meantime, sign up to our blog to stay in the know on this and other sales-related topics.