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  • Robert L. Benson

What drives your sales? Maybe not what you think.

Updated: May 6, 2019



"Customers prefer to buy from those prepared to challenge and stimulate new ideas and fresh perspectives."

Conventional wisdom. Noun. A generally accepted theory or belief.


For busy search professionals, conventional wisdom is part of the fabric of life. There’s just too little time to test the prevailing wisdom or common practices or shared beliefs that make up our professional lives.

But Matthew Dixon and Brent Anderson have offered a sobering assessment of the dangers of becoming too comfortable with accepted beliefs. Case in point: the long-held assumption that relationships drive sales, especially within high-value service offerings like executive search.

In their provocative book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Dixon and Anderson argue for a different driver of choice. Their extensive research concludes that customers prefer to buy from those prepared to challenge and stimulate new ideas and fresh perspectives. They choose providers willing to offer insight and innovation, often outside their own comfort zones, as long as those ideas teach them things they didn’t know and serve to improve the performance of their company or organization.


In short, customers want to work with people who will help them do better than they otherwise would. Relationships still matter and are indeed valued. But in this world, relationships follow from performance, rather than lead the sales process.

The search industry might take this argument to heart as its members ponder how to survive – no, thrive – in a growing but still intensely competitive marketplace. Success may depend on the ability to be exactly the kind of constructive challenger Dixon and Anderson describe. The exceptional performer will be willing to test assumptions and provide the real insight that leads to better results for the client.

Success depends upon an ability to offer more than just a successful search – a single transaction. It demands an ability to deliver of answers to the leadership challenges that CEOs and other senior business figures face every day. That ability rests on a commitment to understanding every aspect of the client – operations, organization, culture and values, and more. To challenge constructively, search professionals must look beyond a relationship. The ability to challenge constructively begins with a depth of client understanding far beyond the superficial or transactional.

Read more about the challenge to conventional wisdom posed by Dixon and Anderson, and make up your own mind about the validity of their argument. It certainly will stimulate some new thinking – and in the process, maybe lead to your own better performance.

© 2020 by Robert L. Benson & Associates. All rights reserved.

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