Leadership Strategies

Supercharge Your Challenger Sale With Data: Use the Right Insight to Level up Commercial Teaching

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Success in tech sales is “challenging”

Since its publication over ten years ago, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson has remained a best-seller in the business sphere. Sales teams around the world, particularly those in the tech sector, have successfully implemented the book’s teachings, which are also highly regarded among non-sales professionals.

Despite its widespread popularity, the book has often been misinterpreted as encouraging inappropriate sales behaviors. The concept of “challenging” a customer may seem counterproductive or even negative, given the long-held belief that the customer is always right. Some may mistakenly view this approach as empowering already self-assured individuals to exert more control, while, nobody wants to be perceived as a bother, especially salespeople. In truth, the book focuses less on what you say and more on the actions you can take to ensure that your words have meaning and value.

Dixon and Adamson’s extensive study reveals that top sales performers help prospects consider their business needs. By offering unique insights or confirming known facts, they connect with clients as experts, demonstrating a deep understanding of their business and earnestly aligning solutions with their needs. This approach, known as “Commercial Teaching,” is part of the “Challenger Sale” method, which the book champions as the most effective in B2B contexts, including tech sales.

Data is your great equalizer

New B2B tech salespeople may experience dissonance while learning and applying the Challenger Sale. Imposter syndrome can be common among direct and indirect sales channels, due to less experience in tech sales or lacking technical expertise. Grasping the complexity of some software and aligning its value to an organization’s unique aspects can be challenging. However, understanding prospective companies and their markets brings you closer to the Challenger Sale method, regardless of your natural selling style.

During the sales process, especially the pitch stage, knowing your potential customer and their needs helps tailor your approach. Dixon and Anderson claim that customer loyalty is often driven more by sales experience than product. Therefore, using various data types can assist sales teams in preparing for and conducting a sale:

  1. Market data represents a sector of the broader economy and provides macro-level trends. The data tells you where, in what categories and industries, and across which segments given technologies are sold, as well as total size, share sizes, and growth rates of markets.
  2. Contract data contains detailed records and data pertaining to various types of contracts. This can serve as a central repository for storing and managing contract-related information for easy access and reference.
  3. Firmographic data explains the operating context for an organization. The data tells you where, in what categories and industries, and across which segments businesses compete and how they perform.
  4. Technographic data describes a company’s relationship to technology and technology providers. The data tells you what systems they use, who they partner with in supply and value chain ecosystems, and how much they spend now and plan to spend in the future across their tech investments.
  5. Demographic data details the population of a given organization. The data tells you who people are functionally (e.g., name, job title, position level), where and how they are organized (e.g., address, structure, department), and other factual descriptors like contact information, age, sex, education, etc.
  6. Psychographic data illustrates the personalities of people and groups. The data tells you who people are emotionally and spiritually (e.g., values, beliefs, attitudes), how they behave (interests, lifestyles, motivators), and generally why they do they things they do.

While various data sources provide valuable business insights, some are more relevant to the Challenger Sale approach. To genuinely connect with clients on a commercial level, market, contract, firmographic, and technographic data are most crucial. Demographics aid in understanding and communicating with an organization, while psychographics can assist in messaging and persuasion. However, these insights are less likely to convince a customer to commit to your offering.

Focus on the insights that matter most

Obtaining quality data for market, contract, firmographic, and technographic insights can be challenging, as it is often unstructured, fragmented, disparate, or latent. Rarely is the data readily available in a structured format on an ongoing basis, and inconsistencies or lack of standardization can make analysis difficult.

IDC’s Data & Analytics offer you and your team instant access to comprehensive, accurate, and current data covering the gamut of commercial tech needs. This data, organized in a consistent taxonomy, has become a standard in the enterprise tech industry. With analyst-validated, continuously updated data, these user-friendly tools are designed to enable quick insight discovery and trend analysis.

Craft sales pitches that resonate with influencers and decision makers

As a sales leader or salesperson, your success in closing deals depends on your ability to influence outcomes by guiding potential buyers from their current mindset to one where they believe your solution addresses their problem. Having extensive data about the company you are prospecting, their customers, partners, competitors, and broader market context enhances your knowledge and ability to connect with your audience.

Dixon and Anderson’s book also introduces a six-step process for creating winning sales pitches based on a solid understanding of the prospect’s business. Derived from the same sales study that underpins the book, this process has become a common practice among B2B tech sales teams over the past decade. Its longevity can be attributed to its ability to help you structure your thoughts before reaching out, enabling you to present a compelling and concise case.

The six steps outlined by Dixon and Anderson can be significantly enriched with insights from IDC’s Data & Analytics line of intelligence solutions. Here, we examine the steps involved in a Commercial Teaching sales pitch and explore how leveraging IDC data can boost performance:

  1. The Warmer introduces your pitch and quickly builds credibility by showing you understand the prospects’ challenges. Firmographic and technographic insights available in IDC Wallet help you quickly understand your prospective customer’s current state, benchmark your competitors, and draw inferences from spending budgets and forecasts. Contract data available in IDC Services Contracts Database provides insight into deal history and renewal dates, giving you the insights you need to perfect the timing of your sales activities.
  2. The Reframe is the point in the pitch where you connect a prospect’s challenges to a bigger trend that either changes the way they think or deeply resonates with their own understanding. Using market intelligence, including deep market, share, and growth analysis, you can find your own insights or validate trends you learn of elsewhere. Go a step further with company intelligence to see how these trends play out the organizational decision-making level.
  3. Rational Drowning is where you make your case with facts and figures. Market intelligence products, like IDC Black Book and IDC Spending Guide, provide robust spending forecast data that enable deep market, share, and growth analysis in practically any market scenario. At the same time, IDC Tracker® solutions help validate findings through tracked revenues. IDC’s other intelligence solutions detail individual and ecosystem profiles for tech buyers, partners, and vendors, giving you budget, contract, sales receipt, and other data for your business cases.

The final three steps—Emotional Impact, A New Way, and Your Solution—involve connecting the larger challenges and opportunities discussed to the prospects’ individual experiences, demonstrating how your products are the ideal solution. At this stage of the pitch, your ability to quickly adapt and communicate persuasively is crucial. Investing time and effort in preparation will yield greater success downstream.

To learn more about IDC Data & Analytics and how you can leverage intelligence products in your sales planning and processes, check out our Data & Analytics site.

For more specific information on IDC’s sales-enabling intelligence products, please visit the IDC Wallet and IDC Services Contracts Database.

Still have questions? IDC experts are standing by. To request a demo for your sales needs, please complete the form on this page. For general inquiries, you can click here.

International Data Corporation (IDC) is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets. With more than 1,200 analysts worldwide, IDC offers global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries. IDC's analysis and insight helps IT professionals, business executives, and the investment community to make fact-based technology decisions and to achieve their key business objectives.