Sales Best Practices

The Challenger Sale vs. Account-Based Selling: B2B Sales Techniques Pros and Cons

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Audrey Weber

Associate Content Editor

Over the years, businesses have used many selling techniques to reframe their sales process and improve performance. Depending on the organization, its market, and other factors, some of these methodologies — including those with decades of history behind them — remain effective.

If you use the right sales technique that elevates customers and enables them to solve their problems, then the key to sales success is yours.

But which exactly is the right B2B sales technique or methodology for your company?

Sales techniques are not created equal. What works well for one company might seriously constrict another’s pipeline and profit. It’s for you to discover which one matches your business and has a good chance of bolstering your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Here’s a rundown of the more popular B2B sales techniques that might pack the energy your team needs.

Solution Selling

Tracing its roots from Xerox’s enterprise market in the 1980s, Solution Selling is a well-established sales methodology that focuses on the uniqueness of buyer situations and the need for building high-impact, tailored solutions that deliver relevant benefits.

To build a custom solution, practitioners of this technique rarely sell off-the-shelf products. Rather, they often engage customers in deep, probing conversations to discover, isolate, and understand their pain points, and to establish the standards for an acceptable solution. Solution sellers never recite a litany of product features, capabilities, and benefits before knowing what the prospect actually needs.

Solution Selling entails meeting prospects where they are and developing unique solutions that address their specific problems or goals. This method helped shape the best practices for B2B sales (i.e., isolate customer issues, personalize solutions, etc.).

Pros:

  • Relatively long history (more than two decades) means that it has a well-developed knowledge base and training ecosystem.
  • Still being used by many enterprise sales teams.

Cons:

  • Moderately steep learning curve.
  • Need domain mastery, soft skills, and comprehensive product knowledge
  • Takes time to build rapport and get prospects to open up about their pain points.

The Challenger Sale

This B2B sales strategy originated from the categorization of sales professionals into five types as detailed in the book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.

These seller types are:

  1. Relationship Builders
  2. Hard Workers
  3. Lone Wolves
  4. Reactive Problem Solvers
  5. Challengers.

According to the authors, challenger-type sellers represent the most successful group.

The Challenger Sale Method leverages disruptive challenges, thought-provoking insights, and impactful opportunities to compel a group of prospective shareholders towards a particular action or mindset. Using a three-step approach (Teach - Tailor - Take), Challenger Sale practitioners prefer to educate and “challenge” prospects about industry risks and market opportunities instead of just hearing out their problems. In fact, sellers using this method are the ones who establish what clients actually need.

A Challenger Sales practitioner teaches prospects about the industry in general as well as the specific cross-currents that affect their business. To generate consensus, the seller tailors her communication for each shareholder. She then takes control of the conversation to drive the desired business outcomes.

Pros:

  • Makes a good fit for complex B2B sales cycles, longer decision processes, and multiple shareholder engagements.
  • Backed by research and verifiable outcomes from adopters including GM, SAP, Siemens, and Kimberly-Clark.
  • Purposely developed to establish competitive differentiation.

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve and qualification than most methods
  • Requires substantial behavioral modifications for less aggressive sellers.
  • More focus on the communicative aspect of selling, less on strategic/tactical aspects.
  • Sellers need to always be at least two-steps ahead of informed buyers about the industry.

Account-Based Sales

Account-Based Sales (ABS) is a technique that focuses on premium clients, runs on buyer-centricity, and provides end-to-end, hyper-personalized customer experiences. Practitioners of ABS treat each customer account — and the shareholders who lead it — as a market of one and thus fully entitled to all relevant resources the seller company normally allocates for entire customer segments.

Aimed at nurturing high-value clients as independent revenue streams over long life cycles, ABS involves several teams simultaneously engaging a single prospective organization. This B2B sales strategy uses multiple touchpoints and precise engagement tactics that meet customers where they are and to push the right behavioral buttons in the right context at the right time. Also called Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Account-Based Everything (ABE).

Pros:

  • Rising popularity among B2B sales organizations, pretty well documented.
  • Conforms with the recent market shift towards customer-centricity and personalization.
  • Drives interdepartmental alignment of customer-facing units such as sales, marketing, and customer service.
  • Promotes customer loyalty, post-sales business, referrals, and brand evangelism.

Cons:

  • Requires a unified strategy and full alignment of disparate teams to be effective.
  • Not for everyone: only works in complex sales environments that involve high price points, multiple shareholder sign-offs, and clear opportunities for extending customer lifecycles for upsells/cross-sells/referrals.

What is Account-Based Sales?

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Value-Based Selling/ValueSelling Framework

Value-Based Selling and its trademarked variant ValueSelling Framework focus on establishing, reinforcing, and articulating the value you offer to qualified prospects. Your business value should be measurable (preferably as ROI), and may be presented in a number of ways: productivity or efficiency improvements, cost savings, or actual revenue add.

Value-Based Selling leverages the relative importance of a product or service to the prospective company — not its actual cost. As such, Value-Selling often serves as the favored method for explaining or justifying product price to qualified B2B sales leads. When done right, Value-Based Selling reduces the likelihood or level of push back on pricing. Key to its success are lead qualification, value differentiation and positioning, and deal closing.

Pros:

  • Effective B2B sales strategy for justifying buy-ins and for closing the last leg of the B2B sales cycle, especially for customers who demand a strong rationale for adoption.
  • Considered best-in-class, trademarked ValueSelling is a multi-awarded sales training provider.

Cons:

  • Requires sellers to develop consultative skills, learn accounting/financial skills for convincing ROI simulations, and master the art of value articulation.
  • Formal variant requires thorough documentation to fully match customer concerns and product capabilities.
  • Establishing value differentiation might be difficult in highly homogenous markets.

The Sandler Selling System

Developed in 1967 by David Sandler, the Sandler Selling System focuses on human psychology, purchasing behavior, and the buyer-seller dynamic. To accelerate the sales cycle, this sales methodology reframes the relationship between the customer and the sales professional into one similar to between an esteemed client and a trusted advisor. In an ideal scenario, both parties have mutual confidence in each other, are fully invested in the relationship, and jointly work towards shared success.

There are three basic stages in the Sandler Selling system, designed to accelerate the B2B sales cycle and safely sift ideal buyers that are ready to purchase from less mature prospects:

  1. Build the relationship
  2. Qualify the opportunity
  3. Close the deal

Pros:

  • In sync with the popularity of behavioral economics among today’s businesses.
  • Helps develop advanced people skills among practitioners/trainees.
  • Quickens pipeline flow.
  • Method is widely adopted and the main training provider has a global footprint.

Cons:

  • Making do with near acceptable solutions won’t work. Seller needs to let go of even promising leads if the solution doesn’t squarely address the pain point.
  • The ideal last-leg scenario for the Sandler System is when the buyer actively asks the seller to sell.

Consultative Selling

In contrast to transactional selling, in Consultative Selling the seller assumes the role of an expert consultant who guides the buyer — through active listening and asking questions — towards the right product that solves a particular problem.

The approach is investigatory and the primary aim is to make the buyer happy, not to merely make a sale (as is the case with transactional selling).

In consultative selling engagements, sellers provide all the necessary information to enable buyers to make the right decisions for themselves.

In a sense, Solution Selling may be considered an advanced form of Consultative Selling (which emerged earlier in the 1970s) given their identical emphasis on the trust-based relationship between buyer and seller.

Pros:

  • Makes buyers accountable for their purchase decisions.
  • Has deeper purpose (educate and guide customers) than merely selling a product.

Cons:

  • In addition to strong product knowledge, sellers should have a high level of curiosity to excel using this method.
  • Also requires the ability to ask thought-provoking questions for gleaning deeper insight about the prospect.

Learn more about B2B Sales

Read the guide