In my last blog, “Buzz about the Challenger Sales Rep”, I promised that I would continue my discussion about the Challenger Sales Rep and what makes this rep the top performer. The study concluded that all Challenger Sales Reps share three main characteristics. The first of these is the ability to “teach for differentiation”.

Educating is an essential component of selling. An effective sales person needs to be able to explain what he is selling by copying what the great teachers do. They involve their students—they ask questions that make them think. That’s why telling features and benefits is not the best way to sell. Anytime someone is talking to you and relating a monologue of things such as features and benefits, it becomes very easy to tune out the conversation. This is what is known as passive listening. Only by asking well worded questions that engage the customer in thinking can change occur.  And when you are selling, you are asking your customer to change their way of doing things. This requires active listening and active participation.

The ability to teach for differentiation has multiple interpretations. One refers to the ability of the sales rep to be seen as different than all the other reps. This involves asking questions to learn more about the customer and tailoring the sales conversation to that individual person. It also means being able to differentiate what you are selling so that the customer understands its uniqueness.

At Delta Point, we often refer to selling effectiveness as three interrelated and interdependent selling capabilities known as KMR: Knowledge, Messaging, and Relationships. Of course knowledge about what you are selling, your products, is the cost of entry. But here knowledge refers to learning about the different facets of the market, the product, the competition, the customer, and themselves. It means continual learning—because all of these elements can and do change.

Messaging is more than the marketing message. It refers to how the sales rep communicates. All the knowledge in the world will not be worth anything if the sales person can’t effectively communicate that knowledge to the customer. Messaging involves asking questions to learn more about the needs of the customer. It means delivering the marketing message couched in words that will resonate with this customer—speaking their language. It involves communicating in the way the customer prefers.  Words do matter—and sales reps can be trained on how to choose words and ask insightful questions that engender thinking.

There is a well known saying in business “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This does have some basis in fact because people prefer to do business with people they like. You need to know how to develop relationships with all sorts of people—even those you don’t naturally connect with or don’t even like. But developing a business relationship is different than developing a friendship. The business relationship is built on the foundation of helping each other. The sales rep wants to be seen as someone who has her customer’s best interests at heart. After all, part of the definition of selling is “finding out what your customer wants and helping him get it.”

Yes, those challenger sales reps are seen as different than other reps. Teaching for differentiation is one important characteristic that sets the top performers apart. KMR can hold the key to determining what areas need to be developed further to become that top performer rep. My next blog will address the second distinguishing characteristic. But the takeaway remains the same—all of these characteristics are selling skills that can be developed. It is up to you to devote the time and effort to do so.