By Matt Dixon
In researching our new book THE CHALLENGER CUSTOMER: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results, we ran analysis of over 700 customer stakeholders across hundreds of customer organizations. Our goal was to find data-driven understanding of what kinds of customers are out there and how effective each kind of customer is at building consensus and driving change.
What we found is eye-opening.
When all the math was done, we discovered that customers fall into one of seven discrete stakeholder types across a typical B2B sale.
As was the case in our research for The Challenger Sale (in which we found five distinct sales rep profiles), we’d emphasize here that these seven types aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. In reality, most people tend to share at least some attributes across these boundaries.
That’s only natural.
But nonetheless, what the data clearly indicate is that virtually every customer has a “primary posture” when it comes to both working with suppliers and driving change across their organization.
Below we’ve outlined each of these different stakeholder types to better understand what makes each of them unique. The chances are that you’ll recognize each from your own experience in
working with your own customers.
As you read the descriptions of each, ask yourself which of these customer stakeholders would you seek out and which would you avoid?
This person is all about organizational improvement. He’s constantly looking for good ideas and champions them when he finds them— no matter where they come from.
What’s more, he delivers results. This person is the project manager, the pragmatist, the one who immediately starts translating new opportunities into work plans, key deliverables, implementation milestones, and success metrics. When sitting down with the Go-Getter, he will immediately focus on the how of what you’re proposing as opposed to the why of what
In contrast to the Go-Getter, the Skeptic is more focused on the why behind a change proposal and will hold a high bar in terms of burden of proof. The Skeptic pushes back on everything and will oft en start from the assumption that the change you’re talking about isn’t going to go as planned— the one whose first reaction to a new idea or opportunity is “Let me explain why that isn’t going to work here” or “You know, the last time we tried something like this, it took twice as long, cost twice as much, and delivered half the benefit we expected.”
Mind you, it’s not because he’s annoying, but because he’s wary of large, complicated projects and tends to take a “ glass- half- empty” perspective on the benefits of a given solution, as described by the salesperson. It’s typically not because the Skeptic finds the salesperson deceitful, but rather
because he doubts his organization can fully realize the benefits of the change. As a result, the Skeptic tends to need a lot of convincing and is especially careful to lay the groundwork and set expectations in order to ensure a successful, measured implementation.
Just as nice as they sound, the Friend is readily accessible to reps and willingly networks reps with
other stakeholders across the organization. These folks always make time to meet with outside salespeople— whether out of professional courtesy or a genuine interest in expanding their own networks, they are characterized by an openness and willingness to make time for meeting with salespeople.
Whereas the vast majority of customers never respond to e-mails or voice mails left by salespeople, the Friend would never deign to be so inconsiderate.
The Teacher is all about sharing insights and ideas. Colleagues seek him out for his advice and input. He’s good at convincing others to pursue a course of action. Because of their unique storytelling and communication abilities, these people are frequently tapped to help senior leadership craft their own messages. They are the “Blue Ocean Strategy” folks within the customer organization— they love to paint a bold, aggressive vision and see others get as enthused about it as they are. Passion and excitement are the currency of the Teacher.
The Guide willingly provides information typically unavailable outside the customer organization.
Their stock in trade is information, plain and simple. They use the information (especially confidential, privileged information) to enhance the perception others have of them (the thinking being that if others see them as “in the know,” they’ll perceive them as being more senior and important than perhaps the title on their business card suggests). Because of this, they’re best thought of as the “oversharers” of the customer organization— the ones who dish the dirt and catch you up on the latest comings and goings of various players inside the company (oft en sharing information about colleagues and internal politics that makes outsiders a bit uneasy).
The Climber is focused almost entirely on personal gain. These are the “skin in the game” stakeholders who actively back projects that raise their profile, increase their influence, or expand
their fiefdoms. When they back a project or initiative, they do so out of the belief that— if it goes well— they will be rewarded for their success. The Climber also likes to brag about past successes and accomplishments.
Finally, we have what might be considered the “antistakeholder.”
The “Blocker” is wired to avoid change and defend the status quo. They strongly prefer stability and continuity, actively avoiding
(and preventing) initiatives that would bring change and disruption.
As a result, they rarely help suppliers and almost never go out of their way to speak to outside vendors. Whether they block for personal reasons (e.g., being burned by suppliers in the past or being the person who invented
the legacy system or approach) or because they are “pro status quo,” it makes little difference. While it’s critical to identify and manage Blockers (something we’ll talk about later in the book), for the sake of this discussion, we need to throw them out of the mix. Because of how they’re wired, they will never be the stakeholder a salesperson will hitch their wagon to.
These are the seven customer profiles we find in nature. We’re guessing that if you were to think back across the last few deals your company has sold (or attempted to sell), you could probably put a customer name against each of the profiles you see here.
But while it’s a convenient shorthand for thinking about different types of stakeholders, here’s the real kicker: if sales reps go looking for a single person who embodies all of those shaded attributes, they’re going to be looking for a long time. Not because these attributes can’t be found, but because the data tell us that it’s extremely rare to find them all (or even more than a few, for that matter) in the same person. Now, one might argue that since these profiles are not necessarily mutually exclusive, technically it is possible to stumble across someone who embodies the whole list, but frankly, that’s not very realistic. In fact, we did the math, and we determined that the full combination of ideal stakeholder attributes coexists in the same person less than 1 percent of the time. That’s fewer than 7 out of 700 people in our survey. That might not be as rare as finding a unicorn, but it may as well be.
After all, how much time do you want your core reps spending running from account to account searching high and low for the small handful of people that represents all of the ideal stakeholder attributes we tell them are important? Thankfully, in the real world, that’s not what actually
So what does happen? Here’s where the story gets really fascinating.
Among the seven profiles to be found, it turns out that core reps and star reps target in nearly opposite directions.
To show you what we mean, let’s first do a quick thought exercise. Go back and look at those seven profiles again. If we were to tell you that star performers focus on building strong relationships with three of these profiles in particular, which three do you think those would be?
Next, if we were to tell you that core performers also gravitate to a certain three, which do you think those would be?
When we ran that analysis, what we found is: high-performing reps focus on building connections with Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics, while average performing salespeople target Guides, Friends, and Climbers.
So while it is true that people sell to people, it turns out that core and star performers don’t just sell differently to the same people, they actually sell differently to different people.
It’s not so much that this happens that makes this data so intriguing; rather, it’s the why.
It turns out that the Go-Getter, the Teacher, and the Skeptic are fantastic at driving consensus- based change. The Go-Getter because she’s looking to champion great ideas that can be turned into tangible business results, the Teacher because he can paint a vision that will build momentum for new ideas. The Skeptic— while more cautious— will carefully look something over and then push for change in bite- size increments.
Far and away, these are the key people making things happen inside any organization. They are the ones who mobilize the organization to act, the ones who forge consensus, the architects and champions for change.
Meanwhile, we have the three profiles that core performers target—the Guide, the Friend, and the Climber— each of whom has relatively little impact on organizational change. They are very interested in talking, but much less so in acting.
It’s not just that people sell to people. It’s that good people sell to the right people. And the difference here can be huge. In fact, when we went back to our sales rep performance analysis, we found that sales reps who engage Go-Getter, the Teacher, and the Skeptic are 31 percent more likely to be a high performer than those who don’t.
In our new book THE CHALLENGER CUSTOMER: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results, we draw on CEB’s extensive data and research to discern just why that is and spell out how to target these three highly influential profiles to produce your best results.
Adapted from The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright (c) CEB, 2015.