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The Challenger Sale Vs. The Effortless Experience

BookMany CEB members will know that we’re getting set to release our second book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty. And while this is a book about customer service, members rightly want to know how the research in this new book should affect how they think about Challenger Selling.

First, let’s quickly recap the two books.

The Challenger Sale is a study of sales effectiveness. Through extensive quantitative research, we found that (contrary to conventional wisdom) the best salespeople don’t just build relationships with customers, they challenge them. They bring new insights to the customer—ideas for saving money or making money or avoiding risk—that customers themselves hadn’t even realized. They aren’t aggressive or obnoxious, but they are assertive and use “constructive tension” as a means to advance the sales conversation. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but that’s the process in a nutshell.

The Effortless Experience is probably less familiar to you—which makes sense since it’s a study of customer service, not sales. Through a separate quantitative study, we learned that the conventional wisdom around customer service—and the role it plays in driving loyalty—is wrong. While companies believe they can create more loyal customers by going “above and beyond” in the service interaction, it turns out that those customers whose expectations are exceeded are really no more loyal than those whose expectations are simply met. What’s more, customer service tends to drive disloyalty not loyalty—in fact, any customer service interaction is four times more likely to generate disloyalty on the part of the customer. To mitigate the natural disloyalty-creating effect of customer service, companies must focus on reducing customer effort by doing things like resolving customer issues the first time around, not passing customers from one department or rep to another. Creating a good customer experience includes simplifying web sites to make the experience stickier for those customers who want to self-serve. In a nutshell, the argument is that making service easy, as opposed to delightful, is the surest path to mitigating disloyalty and supporting company growth and loyalty-building objectives.

Careful observers of Challenger rightly ask the question whether this is in conflict with our work on sales. Doesn’t a Challenger, by bringing new insights to the customer, delight them? Put simply, yes. A Challenger, you may recall, delivers a sales experience “worth paying for.” An insight-based sales conversation is surprising, even delightful…and, relative to what we tend to expect from salespeople, the experience delivered by a Challenger surely exceeds the customer’s expectations. Does The Effortless Experience imply that this is now a bad thing to do? Should salespeople try to make the interaction easy rather than trying to delight customers with new insights?

Some blog posts I’ve seen have suggested that the two seemingly contradictory findings are due to the fact that Challenger was a B2B study while Effortless was a B2C study. Unfortunately, while that would surely be the most convenient explanation, it isn’t the case. While Challenger was a B2B study, we looked at both B2B and B2C in Effortless and we found (with only minor differences that we’ll talk about in a minute) the same thing—service in B2B also should be easy rather than delightful. So, the question still remains: are the two books in conflict with one another?

Let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can square the circle here.

As you may recall, we found in Challenger that 53% of business customer loyalty was a function of the sales experience—much smaller was the customer service experience delivered by the company. While they were two very different studies (with different populations and surveys), this isn’t that dissimilar from what we found in Effortless: customer service doesn’t play a big role in driving loyalty (disloyalty, yes, but not loyalty). In a nutshell, we would say that sales is about offense (building loyalty) and service about defense (mitigating disloyalty). But with a couple of important caveats.

When we looked specifically at B2B service interactions, we found pretty much the same thing we found in B2C interactions. Customer service tends to drive disloyalty and that the key to mitigating that disloyalty is reducing customer effort. That being said, there is, statistically speaking, one opportunity to drive positive loyalty in B2B service interactions—by teaching the customer something new. For those familiar with Challenger Selling, this should come as no surprise—this is really the essence of the Challenger Sale story and we find that B2B customers look for their suppliers to teach them in service interactions as well. Interestingly, this is something we found only in the B2B cut of the data.

If you think about a B2B purchase, there’s a lot more going on than in a B2C purchase. In B2B, the decision maker who makes a purchase decision is rarely the same person who uses a solution day-in and day-out. The day-to-day technical users of suppliers’ solutions, however, have a ton of sway in terms of affecting the decision maker’s purchase likelihood—something we discussed in The Challenger Sale. In fact, the single most important criterion for a decision maker is whether or not a given supplier has widespread support across the organization. So, when you put this all together, what we can say is this: B2B suppliers need to make sure that they are delivering an effortless service experience to the end users of the products and solutions they sell. And, importantly, they should be equipping their support staff to teach those end users new ways to use their products and solutions to save end users time, money, etc. In other words, other than just making it easy, B2B support staff need to also teach end users new ways to use their solutions to make end users more personally effective. Why? Because the decision maker will want to know whether end users value given suppliers. If suppliers make customer support difficult and if they don’t try to teach end users anything of value, there’s a good chance those end users won’t give a favorable review to the decision maker when he or she asks.

Should salespeople still delight and not worry about simplifying the sales experience? Making things easy is the job of customer support, right? Well, not quite. Recall that 53% of B2B customer loyalty is a function of the sales experience—which is mainly about delivering new insights to customers. But, that’s not all that’s driving this 53% effect. One of the variables we don’t spend as much talking about—but one that helps make up this 53%–is that the supplier is easy to do business with. While much of easy to do business with is a function of go-to-market and delivery models, there is an important component that’s about whether the actual purchase experience is perceived as easy or difficult [As an aside, from our research, we know that one of the best ways we’ve seen for salespeople to make buying easy for customers is to coach those customers through the purchase process. Customers are often quite confused about how to buy a complex solution from a supplier—after all, it’s not something they do every day. But salespeople who help guide customers through the purchase process are not only more effective, but are making the buying experience significantly easier than reps who ask customers to coach them through how to sell].

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