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The Challenger Sale Book & Heroes

If someone asked where you were the morning of January 28th, 1986, you’d probably respond, “I have no idea.” For some of us, memories may not even date back that far.

But if you ask that question another way to people of a certain age, “Where were you when the Challenger Shuttle crashed?” the answers come easily. Because at 10:39 am central time that day, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into its 10th mission, imprinting the event on individuals’ psyches for life, much like the morning of December 7, 1941 (Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor); the afternoon of November 22, 1963 (the assassination of John F. Kennedy); or the horrific morning of September 11, 2001 (al-Qaeda’s four coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States).

Lost that day in the Challenger tragedy were the brave astronauts: Francis "Dick" Scobee (Commander), Michael Smith (Pilot), Judith Resnik (Mission Specialist), Ellison Onizuka (Mission Specialist), Ronald McNair (Mission Specialist), Gregory Jarvis (Payload Specialist) and Sharon Christa McAuliffe (Payload Specialist), who was to have been the first teacher in space.

This is what they looked like, and you can find the launch and their final moments with a quick YouTube search.

I share this as a prelude to a couple thoughts I have about a recent business book I've read.

The "Challenger" concept put out there by a pair of Washington D.C. business consultants, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation encourages a certain abandonment of the old-fashioned “customer is always right” model.

Instead, it suggests that business loyalty today is given to those who adopt more of a “team of rivals” approach, challenging their customers and pulling them from their comfort zones with pointed questions creating thoughtful reflection and, often, a journey down a different path than expected.

A full-out application of this concept might be implemented by a Fortune 500 company’s sales force as part of some grand, consultant-generated restructuring. But in a nod to the Challenger name; its most well-known victim, Christa McAuliffe; and her noble profession, I find the greatest lesson of the Challenger Sale to be its requirement that we providers of goods and services be both student and teacher in our relationships with customers and potential customers.

At Forest Packaging, it’s only by learning our customers’ business drivers, product needs and specifications that we are given the privilege of teaching them about our innovative designers and state-of-the-art equipment.

That’s when we can deliver our best work…packaging tailored for not only the customer, but for his or her unique product.

I hope Christa would approve.

What are you reading? I'd love to know!


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