Challenger and Sense Maker – Go Together Like Steak and Salt

Challenger and Sense Maker – Go Together Like Steak and Salt

Our Challenger team first provided thoughts on Gartner’s new Sense Maker concept in a blog we published a few months back. Gartner has since published more articles and spoken extensively about the idea. We feel it’s time to update our perspective as well.  In particular, we enjoyed and want to comment on a recent LinkedIn Live where Scott Collins and Heather Levy from Gartner spoke about Sense Maker and helped the audience better understand how it relates to Challenger.

Sense Maker and Challenger 

There is a lot to like about Sense Maker. According to Scott and Heather, “it complements and advances Challenger.” We agree. It builds on the foundation of Commercial Insight; which is still - along with the Challenger skills of Teach, Tailor and Take Control - the right answer for today’s sellers to engage customers and perform well.

In our opinion, the best way to consider the Challenger / Sense Maker relationship is to start with the question, “what will best serve the customer and build loyalty?” Both concepts promote the Sales Experience as THE critical factor in fostering loyalty. So where do we start? By Challenging or by Sense Making?

What does the customer need first when making decisions and weighing potential action? 

Quite simply, they need the truth – particularly truth they haven’t yet considered. Commercial Insight is this truth.  When sellers properly develop Commercial Insight and effectively deliver it to the right stakeholders (Mobilizers), they create and convert demand in their direction. This is a critical first step for selling to both new and existing customers. All successful learning and, ultimately, buying begins this way - with a new and true idea.

To Sense Maker’s credit, it points out that multiple Commercial Insights can be “true” at once.  One supplier may argue for one insight while another supplier may argue for another.  Both insights can be fundamentally correct, but both can’t be equally prioritized in the customer’s mind. 

This is where contradiction and confusion arise for the customer. The Sense Maker skills to Connect with the customer, Clarify the best information and Collaborate in the learning journey, can help the customer feel confident to move forward.

Can you make sense without a commercial insight?

Sellers and organizations should be cautious. Sense Maker can’t replace Challenger and the delivery of Commercial Insight because (by itself) it provides nothing for the customer to make sense of. The two work much better together than they do in isolation. The customer must understand the seller’s Commercial Insight (the Reframe, Impact and Reveal that connect to a differentiated solution) as a precondition to making sense of how it compares to other arguments. 

Leading with Commercial Insight is particularly important in environments where marketing and sales work together to create demand, not simply react to established demand. Evidence would suggest that this is an increasingly common scenario for many businesses in today's complex buying environment.

Sellers first deliver Commercial Insight to spark customer attention and convert it to initial interest and appetite. Marketing is an effective partner in this effort, but can't carry the full load. We often say, "today's customers can learn all they need to know about X from the Internet." But how many customers truly do? How many customers in complex B2B buying situations are converted to genuine interest and appetite just by engaging with marketing content? In almost all situations, the correct formula is for the seller to teach first (delivering relevant marketing content and an insight-led sales interaction) and then, as needed, to make sense of what has been taught.

Sense Maker is a helpful tool 

We are excited to consider Sense Maker as an extension of the Taking Control skill set, helping specifically to reinforce Commercial Insight already delivered.

As we see it, being a good Sense Maker requires a well-established relationship with access and trust. This access and trust is earned by delivering Commercial Insight. Essentially, Sense Maker acts as a seasoning on the Commercial Insight food today's customers are hungry for.

This is our invitation to sellers everywhere: Serve your customers a heavy helping of Commercial Insight (from both marketing and sales activity) and then be ready to pass the Sense Maker salt when you sense the customer needs it.