Why Sir Francis Bacon Would Have Loved the Challenger Sale

By Hope Eyre on Jun 15, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching a class in Business Case Selling to a high-tech client. Virtual is a tough setting for this topic because the length of time you can hold a seller’s attention on a webinar is shorter than what’s needed to teach it well.

We solve this by extending the training experience well outside the webinar itself. Pre-work, practicum assignments, manager coaching and the like. Several smaller pieces connected to build one compelling lesson.

Our client’s main objective with this training is to win without discounting, every sales leader’s dream.

To do this, their sellers have to prove, in empirical detail, the financial value of each high-tech solution to the customer. These sales are complex, lengthy, competitive and customers are known to start bidding wars to drive down price.

Highly experienced sellers call this a Wednesday. But those newer to business case selling tend to get wound up in two daunting tasks.

First is the need to get high-quality customer data, which can involve an expensive proof of concept. Second are the intimidating mechanics of building the business case, or cost-benefit analysis, itself.

What they rarely worry about, until the very end, is how they’re going to communicate this value to the customer. Their assumption is that the ROI alone will do the selling. In reality, the customer is going to look at the competitor’s lower price and issue a challenge to convince them to buy from you.

Knowledge is Power

You may have heard the phrase, “knowledge is power.” It comes from 16thcentury English philosopher, Francis Bacon, who also reportedly said, “Hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper.” If we didn’t know better, we’d peg him as a Challenger seller.

Bacon was the first Western philosopher to refine the use of inductive reasoning to generate scientific insights (gather data, connect the dots, draw a conclusion).  Before Bacon, it was assumed that if “sufficiently clever men discussed a subject long enough, the truth would eventually be discovered.” (Tell me that doesn’t sound like your last account planning session.)

Business case selling, then, is nothing more than Bacon’s inductive reasoning method with spreadsheets. Gather customer data, connect the dots, make a financial argument. The more data you can gather through discovery or proof of concept, the stronger your argument.

But that isn’t why we find him interesting. 

The Power of a Value Story

Bacon believed that inductive reasoning alone wasn’t sufficient to convince an audience, no matter how splendid the data. To do that, one must be able to tell a creative story– a story compelling enough to challenge current assumptions, which in Bacon’s time were stubbornly perpetuated by alchemists and magicians.

Where business case sellers can falter is in being able to tell a value story that is so compelling, it can convince the customer to buy the more expensive solution. You can see how the oversight happens given the importance of data gathering and ROI calculations.

But challenging the customer’s assumptions using a great story is the true differentiator in this sales method. The best stories are logical, easy to follow, speak to the customer’s issues, and use data and insights to paint a compelling picture of customer pain “before” and customer value “after” implementing your solution.

One seller I know does this so well that last year he managed an eight-figure deal, without discounting, despite being pressured to do so by his own management.

To the seller who can master value story-telling Bacon might say, “such a discoverer would be the true extender of the kingdom of man over the universe,” or at least of your solution over your competitor’s, absent the services of a good magician.

This is the second blog in our “Pandemic Downtime” series on the intersection of sales & philosophy. You may also enjoy What Sales Leaders can Learn from Epicurean Philosophers.

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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