Guest Post: When "Astro" Teller, Thought Leadership, and The Challenger Sale Collide...


I don't often feature guest blog posts, but lately, I've been meeting amazingly talented leaders that I've changed my mind. Here is an article that will get you thinking from Valerie Cobb, fractional Chief Revenue Officer and the host of The Revenue Maze Podcast. If you haven't subscribed to it yet, I do recommend you subscribe today. And thanks for the plug Valerie!


And Valerie Cobb says...

What happens when thought leadership, the former chairman and CEO of Google, Eric “Astro” Teller, and Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixson’s book-The Challenger Sale, collide? Well, it isn’t to teach us to go from meeting-to-meeting wearing roller blades to keep up. Actually, the three might even seem unrelated. However, they do spark many ideas of which I will discuss three today.

  • What does Thought Leadership really mean?
  • Do facts really drive change?
  • How do we approach revenue growth?

Revealing a Different Perspective on Thought Leadership

I can’t pretend to say that I am a thought leader because, by my definition, it breeds intellectual fodder that does not produce results. Now before you get insulted, I believe most actually want to be Influencers. To me, thought leadership has the tone of “leading out with a thought.” It doesn’t really solve anything but it does prime the pump.

An article by Henning Schwinum discusses how many ideas are authentic thought leadership versus how much of the content published today is regurgitated. I challenge the assumption of any originality. We repurpose, recalibrate, and build on ideas that have been done before. “Unique” rarely is… well, unique. Think about it. Simon Sinek is very popular for the theory of the Golden Circle, although he is not the first to use this analogy. He is synonymous with Golden Circle like tissue is to Kleenex.  Simon Sinek is now known as an Influencer in today’s vernacular. Knowledge and thought are just that until a practical application is applied. This brings me to The Challenger Sale and Thought Leadership versus Commercial Teaching.

Knowledge or Wisdom to Redefine Your Customers Needs and Drive Sales

Eric “Astro” Teller is quoted in the book, “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”, by Thomas L. Friedman. He says,

“That dot (see diagram),…illustrates an important fact: even though human beings and societies have steadily adapted to change, on average, the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes. Many of us cannot keep pace anymore…It’s also preventing us from fully benefiting from all of the new technology that is coming….but before the world figures out how to regulate ride-sharing, self-driving cars will have made those regulations obsolete….by the time we get used to the change, that won’t even be the prevailing change anymore—we’ll be onto some new challenge.”

A tech junkie myself, this is a concept that bent my reality for the future. I once wrote a Star Trek episode just for fun and a presentation entitled “So Long Palm.” I could easily envision exactly what Teller was talking about.

Thought leadership as intoned in “The Challenger Sale” is facts or statements that do not drive change. Just like the smoking, drinking, and habitual junk food eating physician that tells their patients to stop some vice, because statistically, it can lead to some sort of disease.

On the other hand, Commercial Teaching is Thought Leadership that drives action. Sort of the adage, you can have the knowledge, however, wisdom is the practical use of that knowledge. Commercial Teaching comes from the popular book The Challenger Sale by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson. They discovered that successful salespeople challenge their customers by not simply responding to their needs but actually redefining them. A good challenger provides insight, helps a customer avoid pitfalls, and offers products and services that the client doesn’t even know exist.

How Do We Approach Revenue Growth?

Why do people buy? For their reasons and their reasons only, and yet for companies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sift through the minutia of intellectual stew to discover what really will help the company. We coin the phrase, “mapping the customer journey” yet the customer is navigating a maze of information stifling action to the point of quicksand. Yet, revenue-generating teams cling to the antiquated notions of books of business, manually writing notes, and belittling technology usage akin to walking through tar pits in sales enablement.

We are in the age of digital deluge. Technology has surpassed our ability to adapt. So we leverage technology like wearables and implants, etc. We see the rise of stakeholder count for decision-making simply because we need assistance in making those decisions. Then we, in Revenue, constantly battle and hold fast to the lines drawn in the sand between the teams. Owners of businesses somehow think there is a superhuman salesperson that can run end-to-end sales. And somehow a new hire should pick up where the last person left off with zero ramp time.

The rise of the term Account Based Marketing (ABM) was quickly renamed Account Based Sales (ABS) because really it is co-owned by Sales & Marketing…or is it Marketing and Sales?

I downloaded a white paper written by Revenue.IO, Revops Squared, Demandbase, and Tenbound. “Revenue and pipeline goals are shared by Marketing and Sales in only 34% of companies. Another 30% has Sales being the primary owner of both goals.

A primary driver to increase Sales and Marketing alignment is the presence of common and shared goals, coupled with the presence of a single executive responsible for both functions. Yet as we’ve seen, only 12% of companies have a Chief Revenue Officer who is accountable for both Marketing and Sales. Until the CEO drives the organizational integration to develop a culture of an integrated Go-To-Market function, alignment and customer experiences cannot be optimized.”

It’s not good to hear that Revenue teams love their silos instead of a holistic approach. Most, if any, that read this blog post, will be wondering how to take action and what my golden gems fix. I can regurgitate thought leadership and give six steps to a proven repeatable sales process to wind everything into a nice, neat package. The reality is everything is a guideline. As revenue states, an AB test is warranted. I would suggest four things:

  1. Be open to technology and change because it is already yesterday’s news.
  2. Sales enablement is in the eye of the beholder. All in sales should empower themselves with technology (I know, mental eye roll from one of my reps). CRM and other sales enablement tools are designed to help sales increase their capacity and adapt. Their version of “wearables.”
  3. Adopt AI and know that an actual human being will cut through the tar of digital minutia and get yourself an outbound sales team if your company lifecycle stage is to that point. They develop relationships that tech /AI only enhance.
  4. For SMBs employ fractional leaders to increase their capacity to a Fortune 500 level team but without the Fortune 500 price tag for hiring full-time equivalent. Leverage the years of experience to catapult your company forward (yes, I had to give a plug to my fractional buddies).


About Valerie Cobb. Valerie is the co-founder of Revenue Northstar and is a fractional Chief Revenue/Sales Officer for multiple companies. For over 25 years she has been growing companies and increasing their revenue. She is a firm believer in breaking down revenue silos. She is the podcast host of The Revenue Maze where she highlights her guests for the amazing people they are and guides, C-Suite Executives, through the halls, dead ends, and U-turns toward an upward growth trajectory! Her strength and weakness are chocolate and empathy. Connect with Valerie Cobb on LinkedIn.

Scale Your Business Better: The GROWTH Stage
Scale Your Business Better: The TRANSFORM Stage