Sales & Marketing

Published

Three steps to becoming a market challenger

7 Mins

The challenger doesn’t aim to persuade and flatter, but instead encourages prospective customers to reflect on their specific requirements, and what they need to truly fulfil them. The idea is that the customer will think deeply about what they are and are not satisfied with, and how they can bring about meaningful change (ideally via the salesperson’s product). The approach has value outside the world of sales: every business, from time to time, can benefit from a little provocation and self-examination. 

We can attest to this from experience: striving to do more with our product, and take it to new markets, Bullhorn adopted this approach towards the end of 2015. It has proven a worthwhile strategy for us – but it was by no means an easy one to implement. It was, broadly speaking, a three-step process, and fittingly, a rather challenging one. 

(1) The challenger statement 

The first step also happens to be the most difficult. Devising challenger statements can be a protracted and frustrating process, principally because your idea of what makes your product worthwhile can be somewhat different from reality. Maybe you’ve devised an all-in-one solution, but your target customers only respond really well to one of its many constituent parts. Maybe your target customers aren’t actually customers who can make effective use of your product. The challenger statement highlights your USPs, and sometimes they aren’t what you expected. 

Our initial vision for Bullhorn was “true cloud CRM”. It wasn’t quite as resonant with our customers as we thought it’d be, so we changed our challenger statement to focus on “radical transparency”. This worked much better, because if customers are considering buying from us, they’re usually struggling with opaque, unintuitive systems.
It’s important to adjust this statement for certain regions and markets, as consumer trends and maturity cycles will inevitably vary – but you should never underestimate the value of knowing what your customers care about. A good challenger statement can be an anchor for your messaging and product development, and a weathervane that points to your company’s future direction. 

(2) Challenger sales and marketing 

The challenger approach marks a shift away from many time-honoured sales and marketing tactics: it’s built around the understanding that traditional tactics like cold calling and prospecting aren’t really going to do it. The pragmatic consumers of 2016 have built an immunity to the “wine, dine, and hope they sign” method. 

A challenger business needs challenger sales and marketing teams. These individuals should be provocative without being rude, interesting without being distracting, and eloquent without being loquacious. They must be able to convey the benefits of the product in the form of problem-based challenger statements. If the customer decides to buy, it should because your salespeople have helped them understand their current problems and how your product can solve them. 

Read more about branding a business:

(3) Innovation, differentiation, iteration

There’s nothing as valuable as a second of absolute clarity: those sobering moments in which the virtues and flaws of your business and its products are rendered in the highest possible resolution. 

No, I’m not advocating transcendental meditation, but it’s essential to reflect on your product once it has made it to market. An ego-driven approach to business can be dangerous, as it makes no distinction between the successful and unsuccessful: a company as dominant as Microsoft will think it can get away with removing the Start menu; a corporation as ubiquitous as Coke will think it can ditch its classic formula with no consequences. 

No product meets every customer’s needs at launch. No product ever meets every customer’s needs: all you can do is adapt it over time and inch closer and closer to your target. If you’re successful in one market and a dismal failure in another – not to pick on Microsoft again, but compare Xbox sales in the US and Japan for an illustrative example – it’s worth thinking about why, and addressing it. 

At Bullhorn, we harboured ambitions to expand outside of the recruitment space, but we had to commit to discovering what would and would not translate to new markets. It was a long and complicated process, but we got there because we understood what did and did not work about our product – and how to set about changing it. 

The companies that have prospered throughout history are the companies that were willing to adapt. Nintendo began as a playing card company. Netflix began as a mail-order DVD service. Both organisations are thriving because they’ve challenged themselves repeatedly and re-examined the way they do business – even when they haven’t liked the findings, they haven’t ignored them. When you confront what you do head on and make the necessary adjustments, you’ll never get caught in a holding pattern.

Mike Restivo is senior vice president of sales at Bullhorn.

With 5.2m SMEs in the UK making up 99 per cent of British business, there is a wealth of brands looking to challenge the market leaders and make their way to the top of their respective sectors. But what makes a successful challenger brand and how can your brand stand out from the crowd?

Image: Shutterstock

Share this story

Harnessing intelligent machines to create more diverse teams
Charlie Mullins: Mark Carney shows now is the time for stable thinking
Send this to a friend