Original insights in international business and marketing

The Marketer as Challenger


Much has been made of the Challenger Sales Model.  First published just over a year ago, the book and Authors (Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson) defied conventional wisdom that the best sales profiles were typically the hard workers or the most customer focused ones.   In the book they contend that the more successful sales individuals are in fact the ones who fit what they call the Challenger profile.  Challengers, unlike the classic “Relationship Builder” who is driven to meet customer needs, tend to push the customer and challenge their way of seeing things.  The challenger sales person focuses on building constructive tension in the customer interaction and to push the customer of his or her control/comfort zone.  Characteristics of the Challenger profile include:

    • Always has a different view of the world
    • Thoroughly understands the customer’s business
    • Loves to debate
    • Solution vs. product focus
    • Teaches customer fresh insights they may not have known before
    • Tailors offering to solve larger problem(s)
    • Viewed more as a value-added consultant/partner

Armed with this profile, I started wondering if the role of Challenger could perhaps be applied or expanded to other areas or roles within the organization.  Is there any reason, for example, why the characteristic of a successful Challenger sales person could not also apply to a marketer? N ot as far as this blogger is concerned.

Inherent in the role of the Challenger are the ideas of discovering new transferable insights, of questioning conventions and of reframing the conversation from the transactional to the strategic.  It starts with identifying problems, opportunities or unmet needs and doggedly convincing people to look at an expanded solution (and the challenger himself!) in a different light.

Here are some suggestions on how and where the Challenger Marketer can disrupt conventional thinking inside the organization:

Challenge Trade Show Thinking.  It’s time marketers took a long hard look at the value they get out of attending trade shows and congresses.  With attendances dropping each year, participants by-passing booths, organizers charging ever more outlandish rates and digital technology providing credible alternatives, isn’t it time we re-examined why we still do these, how we measure their effectiveness and how we can replace them with more effective and less expensive alternatives?  Yes, many organizations have been loyally attending shows each year, but the challenger needs to be our conscience and ask the tough question:  Just because we’ve always done things a certain way does not mean they are still the right ones (or the right ways).

Challenge the Features & Benefits (F&B) culture.  Enough already with being so product focused and spouting off to the world about how great our products are.  The challenger model and solution selling are the antithesis of this old-school thinking approach.  Enough about us and shouting to the world how great our technology is.  Challenger marketers have to take up the banner of increased customer focus and differentiation through solution selling.  Let’s dial back the loud talking and chest beating about how great our products are, and concentrate on listening to customers and analyzing trends & patterns more.  The latest buttons, bells and whistles of our products will no longer enough to win in the market or to differentiate ourselves from global competitors.

Challenge the Failure to Measure.  Part of Marketing’s demise (see my earlier blog on The Decline of the Marketing Empire) is rooted in its inability to measure and effectively quantify its contribution to the bottom line.  Let’s start holding ourselves accountable and showing (meaningful) results just like everybody else in the business.  Challengers need to uphold the highest performance standards and not settle for fluffy metrics.

Challenge the Culture that Puts Bureaucracy Ahead of Results.  Very often, as businesses get larger they place more processes, procedures and restrictions in the way of marketers.  This is especially true in healthcare.  While some of these are unavoidable and absolutely necessary, the Challenger needs to stay vigilant, occasionally pushing back and questioning the rationale behind many of these.  Very often new processes get implemented with very little business sense and even less common sense.  The challenger does not allow results to get sacrificed at the altar of internal processes & bureaucracy.

Challenge Outdated Marketing Thinking.  Too many businesses are still mired in the classic outbound marketing model and mindset.  Today’s Challenger Marketer needs to help these organizations pivot their strategies to include a more dynamic, cost-effective and social approach to lead generation.  Digital marketing is here to stay and organizations that are slow to embrace it do so at their peril.

Challenge the Old Profiles.  Together with a less product-centric approach, marketing departments need to update and expand the profiles of the people they bring onboard.  I’m sorry, but technical, clinical or product experts don’t all naturally make effective marketers.  Nor is marketing the organization’s parking lot for people we don’t know what to do with.  Challengers need to raise and enforce the standards for the people who become the standard bearers for marketing excellence.

Challenge Image Over Substance.  Marketing should not be the playground for those who have an abundance of creativity or who enjoy changing logos and tag lines with the seasons.  Good marketing is so much more than just image making, touching up packaging or advertising.  From creating an identity rooted in a sense of purpose, the selection of strategic objectives, the setting of goals, the defining steps & actions to take, to finally defining the right metrics and KPIs, marketing has profound contribution to make to the organization’s success.  Challengers eschew the purely cosmetic, in favor of meatier and more tangible activities such as lead generation, relationship management and insight development.

Challenge Stagnation.  All organizations, even successful ones can, over time, fall into a rut.  Maybe they rely on tired tricks too often, maybe they get jaded or maybe they just run out of ideas.  Challenger marketers need to recognize this potential and regularly prod the organization out of its comfort zone and ingrained habits.  This is especially challenging within already successful organizations.  World-class marketing may be fresh, innovative and daring, but it always stays hungry.  It is open to the world, it regularly reinvents itself and it welcomes new DNA to stay current.

Challenge Organizational Structure.  (Caution: this could sound controversial!)  With business, markets and customers in continuous flux, marketing’s role and structure within the organization needs to evolve to keep up.  Challenger marketers must fight to keep marketing relevant and central in the management of customer relationships.  With more tools than ever to track and manage all the different customer interactions, who will be responsible for integrating/interpreting the data and managing the key touch points:  IT?  Sales?  Service?  Order entry?  I’m going out on a limb here, but I believe that Marketing should have the primary responsibility to ensure that all the organization’s customer facing activities & information repositories are centrally owned and managed. Think of all the digital communications: social media, integrated CRM, e-store, web, customer service, etc…  What they all have in common is the customer.  Therefore, as the recognized experts and champions of the customer, don’t marketers have a legitimate claim to oversee all these tools and activities?

I think I will leave it there for now and let the storm clouds gather.

Photo Credit:  JDHancock at Photo Pin

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Time Machine

December 2012

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Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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