CEB Sales and Marketing Summit

Last week, on the heels of Dreamforce, I traveled to Las Vegas to attend CEB’s annual Sales and Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. CEB is a $900M, member-based advisory company offering 50 different memberships aligned to functional and leadership roles like Finance, Human Resources, and Information Technology.

In the Sales and marketing world, CEB is perhaps best known as the place where Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, co-authors of the Challenger Sale™, have hung their hats for a collective 26 years (if I did the LinkedIn math correctly).

The fundamental premise of The Challenger Sale, published in 2011, is that most customer loyalty is a function of how you sell, not what you sell.  The authors challenge the notion that solution selling works in today’s B2B world. That’s not, however, where the word “challenger” comes into play.

The Challenger is one of five personality styles that surfaced from a survey of 6,000 salespeople; the other personality styles are: hard workers, relationship builders, lone wolves, and problem solvers.

It’s the Challengers, it turns out, that consistently make the most sales; that’s because Challengers possess three key traits. They teach prospects something new and valuable (new alone, is not enough). They tailor the lessons for each prospect (what’s perceived as valuable depends on who you’re talking to). And finally, Challengers take control of the sale. They aren’t afraid to challenge the prospect.

Just in case you’re thinking that the Challenger selling approach sounds an awful lot like Solution Selling, the authors make a clear argument that it is not. The Solution Selling approach is more about questioning. Questioning is an information gathering approach and it’s typically used by solution sellers as a means to look for hooks, or ways to conveniently map a prospects need to the sellers solutions.

In contrast, Challengers do their research ahead of time and come to the table equipped to educate the prospect rather than the other way around.

CEB has built an entire advisory practice around the Challenger™. In fact they’ve since introduced the Challenger Marketer™. Challenge Marketers operate differently than typical B2B Marketers.  One refreshing differentiator is their commitment to collaborate with Sales so that content, marketing messages, and lead nurturing systems all coalesce to unteach prospects. That’s right. While teaching is key for Challenger Sellers, unteaching is the key for Challenger Marketers. The unteaching process involves providing insights on the cost of not changing—the hidden costs of current behavior, systems, or processes.

Current content marketing in support of Solution Selling tends to focus on the flip-side which is the benefit of alternate actions.

Challenger Marketers tee-up sales not by convincing prospects there are better alternatives but by challenging them with information on the costs of sticking with the status-quo.

ceb-summit-sessionThe four day Sales and Marketing Summit was open to all members of CEB (at a registration price of $1,795). What differentiated this conference from many other sales related conferences and made it well worth the money (apart from the great content) was the type of people in attendance.

They were real sales and marketing leaders, from real companies, with real challenges, and a real interest in solving them. What I mean by real is that they weren’t solution providers. Don’t get me wrong, it is important for solution providers to be there but even they would say that the highest value comes from networking with those in the trenches and leading the troops on a daily basis.

The other differentiator in my mind was the number of women in attendance.  How refreshing to mingle and network and party with a fairly equal number of men and women. Women were well represented as speakers too with one of the most interesting presentations being that of Keynote speaker Tali Sharot, Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, and author of The Optimism Bias.  The optimism bias is a tendency for people to over-estimate the probability of experiencing good events and under-estimate the probability of experiencing bad events.

Tali Sharot at CEBMs. Sharot is an engaging and thought-provoking speaker. You can see for yourself by watching her TED talk on YouTube. I also highly recommend reading the book. Either one promises to get you thinking about the implications on messaging for both marketers and sellers and how you can help prospects more enthusiastically not just consider, but welcome change.

In a way, that’s what the CEB Sales & Marketing Summit was all about—how to affect change in the organization to better satisfy the needs of clients (both internal and external). We need to challenge ourselves and our prospects. We need to consider new ways of thinking (and consider how neuroscience affects our thinking and consequent actions). Lastly, sticking with the status quo comes at a high price, not only for our prospects, but for us as Marketers and sellers.