Challenging Without Being Challenging

The idea of challenging your clients and prospective clients with an insight, something they need to think about and act upon, is a powerful idea made popular by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB (Now Gartner). The idea holds true because if you are going to be a trusted advisor, you are going to need the advice that makes up exactly half of that recipe. If you you are going to be consultative, you have to be able to offer good counsel, and it is impossible to do so if you know nothing—and if you don’t have a strong point of view worth considering.

The word “challenger” was embraced by senior executives in sales because they recognized the kind of salespeople who create value for them, because they believed the approach was sound, and because they intuitively understood that this is what the very best, most consultative salespeople on their teams were doing to create and win opportunities.

Lately, and maybe it’s just my experience, I have witnessed salespeople challenging their clients and prospective clients—while also being a quite challenging.

I watched a video of a salesperson bully their prospective client into taking the next step by being a challenging personality. Some have praised this behavior, suggesting that they personally buy things from salespeople they don’t know, like, or trust, putting forth the idea that you should push hard no matter  the relationship. Others have suggested that you don’t have to be nice to sell effectively, believing that being nice is detrimental to your results.

The thing about challenging your clients and prospects with an insight, is that a positive relationship makes that challenge easier. So, in fact, does an other-orientation. When someone knows that you have their best interest at heart, it is easier for them to accept your challenge. When you tell someone their baby is ugly, you would do well to have made the deposits in that relationship before doing so, or you better hope you have fast rapport skills.

In a day and age where your clients have many options and alternatives to buying from you, why on Earth would you want to deliberately do anything that would decrease or diminish a preference to do business with you?

Force is the choice of the weak. Influence is the choice of those who are strong. If you have to resort to being argumentative, being a challenging personality, or bullying someone to get them to take action, that is sign that you are a bad salesperson—even if you successfully make a sale.

The inability to challenge while being completely professional makes you something less than consultative, and it deprives you of ever being a trusted advisor. Challenge, but don’t be a challenging personality.

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