​Being a 'challenger' isn't about size; it's about mindset and methodology

​Being a ‘challenger’ isn’t about size; it’s about mindset and methodology

In a world of big business and small start-ups, the companies successfully challenging the status quo are no longer defined by size.

Rather, it is their mindset and methodology – how they think and what they do – that pushes them to disrupt new markets and industries. 

These challenger businesses stay hungry, recruit carefully, and dare to be different – from board level all the way down. Getting this right is no easy task: in fact, it’s quite a challenge.

Challenge your mission statement

Before entering into a new market, you need to develop a strong challenger statement that defines how and why your company is different. To do this, take a good hard look at your products or services, and understand exactly what it is that makes them stand out and, very importantly, why your customers should care.

Your challenger statement will, and should, vary according to the market you are targeting. Different markets need different things, and are very likely to be at different stages in the ‘maturity cycle’ when it comes to your product or service: some will not be ready for it, others will already have it. Either way, to successfully challenge new markets, never assume that what works in one will work in another.

At Bullhorn, for example, our initial challenger statement focused on true cloud CRM. This worked in the UK, but we soon realised that this supposed ‘macro-trend’ hadn’t reached other markets we were looking at. Now, we lean towards radical transparency as our differentiating idea, but some target areas, such as Germany, are proving less responsive to it. Getting the right message to the right customers is important because it tells them why they need your product as a whole, and not your competitor’s.  

Differentiation per market can be a risk to your company’s identity. To avoid this, develop innovative products and services that can be adapted to new markets without isolating your core customer base.

Challenge your sales and marketing teams

A challenger business is driven by challengers. These are the salespeople who don’t sell, but rather get the customer to buy. They do this by understanding not only your company’s offering inside out, but also by demonstrating how it meets the specific needs of your customers, such as the need to cut costs. Dixon and Adamson’s The Challenger Sale argues that the consistently highest performing salespeople fit this ‘challenger’ profile; they don’t just promote facts and features – they challenge the customer to think. Average salespeople won’t do this.

Similarly, your marketing team must be able to take the technicalities of your product or service and translate them into clear, challenging statements that offer solutions to your customers’ everyday problems. However, this challenger philosophy isn’t exclusive to sales and marketing teams. It can, and should, be applied throughout the business as a whole if adopted firstly by the C-suite and then filtered down to staff at all levels.

Challenge your company culture

Innovation and differentiation need to be built into the bedrock of your company culture. Use your challenger statement to train all employees on the business vision from the top-down and reward those who successfully translate ideas into actions that realise this vision.

Make sure that the vision for the business is clear and collective, especially at board-level. Conflicts are more likely to occur when senior executives think differently. Take Apple during its early days, for example: while Steve Wozniak focused on building computers for computer geeks, Steve Jobs aspired to take computers to the mass market.

Rise to the challenge

To go from being an established leader in one market to a newcomer in another takes grit and humility. Prepare for some sobering moments. Unfamiliar markets will challenge you just as much as you seek to challenge them. You’ll need to review your ideas about what makes your offering different and necessary. Becoming a true challenger means taking risks, failing, succeeding and, above all, continually building on your challenger statement to win over new markets. If you can do it once, you can do it again.

Mike Restivo is a senior vice president at Bullhorn. 

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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