The Challenger Customer – Book Interview

The Challenger Customer coverHeidi Cohen interviews Pat Spenner

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?

Stop personalizing content to individual personas. Start personalizing content to drive consensus across a diverse buying group.

Why? The average B2B purchase has 5.4 different stakeholders involved. Each of those stakeholders has a very different worldview—objectives, goals, metrics, means, etc.

That buying group, left to its own devices, has a very difficult time getting their worldviews to converge around the nature of the business problems they face, the nature of solutions to those problems and ultimately the supplier. In fact, we know that group faces its greatest difficulty in achieving consensus at 37% of the way through the purchase journey.

At the same time, we know that customers don’t meaningfully engage supplier sales reps until 57% of the way through the purchase. That means laying the groundwork for consensus happens on Marketing’s watch! Bringing those 5.4 worldviews together around a common point has to be accomplished through content.

The way most marketing teams practice personalization today is actually making this consensus problem worse. By personalizing content to each persona’s individual objectives, pain points and concerns, marketers are cementing those individual world views into place, making it harder for the buying group to achieve that fragile, precious consensus early in the purchase process.

Q: What was the inspiration for The Challenger Customer?

Reams of research on B2B buying behaviors, not to mention thousands of data points on the behaviors of salespeople and marketer. Combining this all together and seeing how buying is changing, and how common it is for traditional marketing and sales approaches to fall short, or even do damage, against those new buying behaviors.

Q: What is the key concept behind your book?

As hard as it is to sell and market B2B solutions today, it’s even harder to buy them. Buying groups and the need for consensus, coupled with an explosion of information, means sales and marketing need to operate very differently together. The approach they need to take centers on identifying the Challenger™ customer, who we call Mobilizers, and equipping those Mobilizers to drive the change and consensus in their organization that lead to a supplier’s solutions.

Despite conventional wisdom, the friendly and eager customer advocate is the last person suppliers need on their side. Instead, we’ve found that suppliers need to win over the skeptical, ambitious customers that have the credibility to help create consensus and secure buy-in among their colleagues. Mobilizers inspire their organizations to act, forge consensus and are the architects and champions of change.


Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

Until suppliers can figure out how to create buyer consensus, customers will default to the easiest, lowest cost option – or worse yet, nothing at all.

Reaching consensus requires a new approach – one where Sales and Marketing work together to identify Challenger Customers and equip them to win over the rest of the buying group.

Sales and Marketing must use commercial insight to get these customers to disrupt their colleagues’ way of thinking and create the time, place and reason for them to take action.

Q: How do you describe yourself professionally?

Above all, I’m intellectually curious. I like to tinker. I love collaborating with small teams who bring diverse perspectives to solve problems and build great things. I’m a firm believer in test-and-learn and parsimonious experiments in the Lean Start-Up mold—I like to start small and iterate rapidly to make something great.

My personal self and professional self are flip sides of the same coin. I find great meaning in the prose poem “Desiderata”. That’s what I’m about.

Q: What are 1-3 books that inspired your work?

  • The Lean Start Up, by Eric Ries (see my answer above)
  • The Economist magazine, generally
  • My wife, who is my muse; my kids, who inspire me

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your life or career?

The challenges in my life are meager compared to those faced by most in this world. I just count myself lucky to have had the good fortune of circumstance on the life journey to date.

Q: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?

I once survived a rear ending in a Ford Pinto. I like to fly drones. I play disc golf.

Q: Is there a piece of content, a social media campaign or a marketing campaign that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

  1. The Challenger Customer.
  2. A study my team did a few years back called “The Looming Irrelevance of Big Brands.” It’s been fascinating to see much of the forward looking analysis we did in that study come to pass. Classic big brands, indeed, are having a rough go of it these days.

Pat SpennerContact information

Thanks, Pat.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
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