The Challenger Sale has been a huge trend in the sales training industry in recent years, and one that has garnered its share of conversation and controversy. Co-authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson proclaim their ideas to be “the biggest shock to sales wisdom in decades.” However, much of their work is far from new.

Their key insight is that in order to sell successfully, salespeople must teach their customers something new about their business, providing them with unique ideas that improve the bottom line. Unfortunately, this approach is not new. It originated with Xerox nearly 40 years ago, and was again explored in a recent Harvard Business Review article by the Chasm Group suggesting sales people should start buying cycles with leading edge information that can give them an industry advantage.

Putting aside the fact that the Challenger approach is not new, how sound is this concept of insight-led selling? One thing to consider is that only a small percentage of buyers are Early Adopters, as John Holland wrote in his October 2013 article on “Aligning with 80% of Your Market”. To take an aggressive position with the mainstream or laggard buyers, and/or tell them what the focus should be on in improving their business will alienate many of them quickly. These types of buyers want to be nurtured and led to a decision that minimizes the risk for themselves and their organization.

Even more potentially dangerous is their recommendation that salespeople should be “assertive, pushing back when necessary and taking control of the sale.” From our experience, this is very bad advice, as buyers become distrustful of anything that reeks of a “hard sale” (for more on this, see our previous post on giving customers the OK to say “N0”). We work with sales organizations to enable them to use the way that they sell as a key capability, and telling is not part of that persona.

How else are we different? We teach proven techniques to help salespeople establish trust and uncover key customer pain points. Rather than telling your prospects what they should be doing, we encourage our clients to use illustrative stories and/or directed questioning to help customers tell you where their pain lies and how you can help them.

In addition to teaching selling techniques, we work with companies to develop a buyer-centric, end-to-end sales process and management reinforcement plan to ensure lasting revenue generation.


We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Martin, former president of Miller Heiman and 20+ year veteran of the sales methodology and training industry. During our time together, we discussed many of the big ideas pervading the space today.

Below, please find an excerpt from our conversation on one of today’s biggest topics – social selling.

: There are a lot of trends affecting B2B salespeople, and one with a huge buzz is social selling.  Can you walk us through what “social selling” means to you?

Tom: You’re right John, social selling has a big buzz about it, and does not seem to be going away.  In most industries, sellers need to adapt to how social selling is impacting their sales process because of how it is affecting their prospect’s buying process.  Sales managers also need to adapt their sales training and reinforcement activities to coach their sellers in this new competency area.

John: Tom, tell us what social selling means to you. How can salespeople utilize social networks to improve their overall results?

Tom: When I think about what social selling means, I look at three different dimensions – three ways sellers can utilize “social” in their selling.

The first is listening. As Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

Adapting this to social selling, the advice to sellers is simple: use tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs to read what your prospects are reading and writing … and then after you understand what is important then, and only then, should you start “talking” in the social world.

Another key for listening is another quote from Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.

John: Interesting…that ties in nicely with Flannery Sales System’s methodology on how important it is to qualify prospects by listening and uncovering their pain before presenting solutions. You mentioned three dimensions. What are the other two?

Tom: The second is researching. While closely related to listening, I think the use of social tools for research is so critical for sellers it needs to be called out separately.  Typically this means using social to support their sales process, or opportunity and account management methodologies.

Researching also includes “searching & stalking” – and by that I mean searching out your friends (champions and coaches), and stalking your enemies (gathering competitive intel).

Finally, the third is telling. Only after you’ve understood your prospects by listening and researching should you start responding with your own social content.

John: This sounds very similar to how I would advise a seller to approach a sales call or meeting – seeking to listen and understand first and only then to solve the problems they have uncovered. Anything else we should know about social selling?

Tom: Some people start with social selling assuming it is the silver bullet they were looking for, and that all they need to do is post a few blogs and tweet once a week. These people inevitably end up disappointed.

I think about a concept I learned as an Advertising major – “impressions.”  It was said that it takes seven impressions for someone to fully ‘get’ who you are, what you do, and why they might need your services.

Adapting this to social selling means sellers need to consider integrating their social selling and traditional selling efforts to complement each other and achieve more impressions.  They can’t plan on a single tweet magically converting new prospects into opportunities.

One final Covey-ism for today, “Begin with the end in mind.”  To drive revenue and add qualified opportunities to the pipeline, your social sales message needs to be in sync with your overall sales message.

John: Any advice on integrating social selling into your sales process?

Tom: To create a lasting impact, you need to build social selling activities into your normal sales cadence – so set aside time each week to listen, research and tell across multiple platforms.  In business that typically means LinkedIn posts, blog entries, and Twitter, and possibly SlideShare and YouTube channels.

Stay tuned for more from my conversation with industry expert Tom Martin.



At Flannery Sales Systems, we help companies drive revenue through sales process definition, sales team training and management coaching and reinforcement.

We are proud to unveil a new logo which represents these three important parts of our business. Our customized three pronged approach is what makes us different from other sales training programs, and we believe you need all three in order to drive meaningful, repeatable revenue.

Check out our updated website to learn more about how our services can help your organization, or request a free, personalized consultation with our sales experts.

JohnFlannery3-12_152There are a lot of sales training courses out there – seminars, webinars, workshops, audio books, and more. So many, in fact, that it can become hard to tell one from another. And even harder to determine if any of them can really improve your sales performance in a meaningful way.

So, what makes Flannery Sales Systems different?

We’re not just another training program.

Training alone does not drive revenue. It’s the implementation of that training that yields results. Before we begin training your customer-facing team, we’ll work with your sales leaders to define or refine your sales process so there’s a clear understanding of how the team will reach its revenue goals. After training, we’ll help you implement a reinforcement plan that will solidify process adoption and equip management with critical coaching skills and tools for success.

We’re customized.

Everything we do is customized for your organization. We are not a one-size-fits-all methodology that you then need to adapt to your team and selling environment. Our training curriculum is developed specifically for your company. Your sales reps will leave our workshops with the process, tools and skills they need to drive meaningful revenue right away. In addition, we’ll work with your management team to define a reinforcement plan critical for ongoing process adoption and continued sales success.

We’re about results.

We care about results as much as you do. And because we do, we will help you measure your progress at each stage within your sales process. The end goal is to drive revenue, but what are the individual activities necessary to achieve that goal, and how do you track your improvement over time? We will ensure you have full visibility into your performance at each stage of the sales cycle and a clear understanding of how our services have positively impacted your bottom line.