A client of ours recently told us he has a chessboard in his office because there were so many parallels to sales. I paused, but it didn’t take me long to realize he’s absolutely right. Anyone who watched The Queen’s Gambit last year knows that the opening move can affect the entire game. It might be a stretch to say that the opening move wins or loses the game, but that opening move certainly influences the outcome and limits your options later in the game. And as many sales cycles might be starting over with the new year or as you take on a new territory, it seems like an appropriate time to think about your opening move.  

If you search “Principles of Chess” there is a great list that comes up. One that caught my eye was “Have a plan. Every move should have a purpose.” It’s true for chess, and it’s true for sales. Your opening move in a sales cycle sets the tone and can even make or break your deal before you really even begin. Are you leading with insight or are you starting with a list of features and benefits? What’s the purpose of that cold outreach? Is it to set you up for success or will it set your customer up for success? While I’m not sure any chess player actively thinks about setting their opponent up for success, but there is certainly a reaction after that first move. Will your customer’s reaction be “Oh, wow, this person is good” or will it be “I could beat them in my sleep”? 

Really good chess players know the moves they are going to make and play out different moves that their opponent could play off their move. Another principle on the list is “Play for the initiative and controlling the board.” High performer sales reps are constantly thinking about their customer’s buying process and how they can guide the customer to the right decision. They remain in control of the sale.  

Chess is all about patterns. The good chess players recognize them. That’s why so many average chess players study the greats. They want to learn. Good sales reps begin to recognize the patterns of behavior their customers exhibit. This allows them to be prescriptive with their customer and helps them avoid mistakes others have made. This is where Challengers shine. They use their experience to bring insight to others. How are you teaching those that want to learn from you? Or in some cases teaching them they should want to learn from you? 

As you start the year, how are you thinking about your opening moves? Are you going to think back to what worked last year and replicate that, looking for those patterns that worked? Or, do you need to change your opening move to set yourself up for better chances later on?  

Challenger, Inc.

Challenger is the global leader in training, technology, and consulting to win today’s complex sale. Our sales transformation and training programs are supported by ongoing research and backed by our best-selling books, The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer, and The Effortless Experience.