The challenger sales approach is the most talked-about model in sales. Today we are going to review this popular book on Sales Enablement i.e Challenger Sales.

2009 was one of the worst economic recessions the world had ever seen. The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the US housing bubble led to the Stock market crash across the globe. There were mass layoffs, commerce had come to a halt and the world economy had taken a big hit. This led to a groundbreaking revelation in sales.

Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon, the authors of the book ‘Challenger Sales’, observed something unique. They noticed that a few select groups of sales reps overachieved their sales targets while their peers struggled to keep their jobs. This observation was the reason both authors decided to conduct in-depth research. This led to the birth of the Challenger sales approach.

Close to 6000 sales reps across 90 different companies were interviewed. They wanted to find out what drove these reps to be such high performers while others struggled to close even the smallest deals.

They found out that each of the sales reps they studied, fell into one of the five categories; 1. Hard Worker, 2. Challenger, 3. The relationship builder 4. The lone wolf  and, 5. The reactive problem solver.

The 5 profiles in the Challenger Sales:

The Hard Worker in  the challenger sales:

The Hard worker

This category of sales reps is exactly how the word defines them. They believe efforts are directly proportional to results. These sales reps are always willing to go the extra mile for any task.

These reps will stay late, arrange more meetings, respond to more emails and queries. They have the never ever give up attitude.

They want to be a top performer in their role but are not focused on customer value creation.

The Lone Wolf:

The lone wolf in challenger sales.

This sales rep is a high performer but not a team player. One great quality of lone-wolf is that they’re extremely self-confident. This confidence often makes them follow the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. And even though their managers have a tough time dealing with these reps, they rarely get fired. This is because they’re always exceeding the targets and crushing the numbers.

The Relationship Builder in the challenger sales:

The relationship builder in challenger sales

As the name suggests, they’re smooth talkers and can build rapport and trust with anybody. They get work done by creating internal advocates at the customers’ end.

They are generous with their time and work very hard to keep their customers happy.

Their primary USP with customers is accessibility and service.

Their immediate response to any of their customer need is “You say it and I will make it happen”

The reactive problem solver:

The reactive problem solver in challenger sales.

This group of sales reps is good at finding solutions for any issues that their customer has.

They get pulled into issue resolution. This category will ensure all the service issues around execution are addressed promptly.

The reactive problem solvers focus on making customers happy, even at the expense of generating more business.

The Challenger:

The challenger in challenger sales.

A Challenger is someone with a deep understanding of the customer and their business. They’re more inclined towards adding value. The challenger will give the customer a broader perspective. They are not shy about sharing their opinion with the customer, even if they are unconventional.

When we say they are challengers, it doesn’t mean in a hard way. The tendency to challenge is subtle, in a way that pushes the customer to think beyond what they already know.

They believe in bringing fresh insights to customer conversations. And they can do three things: Teach, Tailor, and Take control.

Even though all the five categories are good enough, there is one of them who is a Rockstar, both in performances and achievements.

And that is The Challenger.

So what makes The Challenger stand out:

Three skills define a challenger- teach, tailor, and take control.

A challenger’s goal is not to sell their solution to the customer. Instead, it is to teach them something new that could help them make a better decision.

They follow a 6 step process to teach their customers:

The challenger sales tactics.

1. The Warmer-

In this step, the challenger validates his past learnings with the prospect. They check if the clients face the same challenges. In this way, they build credibility. They make their customer believe they understand them. Like this, the customer believes that the challenger can actually help them.

For example. When they meet a customer instead of asking them open-ended questions like ‘what’s keeping you up at night?’ Their questions are more like this:
‘Mr. Customer based on our work with similar customers we believe these are challenges that are preventing you from achieving your business objective. Are we correct in our understanding?’

2. The Reframe :

This is the most important step in challengers sales teaching pitch. In this step, the challenger connects his learning in the earlier step to present a new perspective to the customer which he may not have otherwise thought of and makes him curious to continue the discussion.

Normally a customer’s reaction after this step is “That’s a good perspective. I have never thought about it like that.”

Let me explain this to you with a story.

A furniture company got a huge working space for their headquarters in a new building. The real estate head of this building had awarded the contract to furnish the building to one of their competitors.

A newly joined sales rep thought she should still pursue the opportunity before the company took delivery from their competitor

She researched and found one of the key priorities for real estate companies was to create collaborative spaces where employees could more effectively interact with one another. She used this to her advantage

After a lot of follow-ups, she managed to get an appointment with the real estate head of the company

She met up with him and shared with him an insight that the space they had rented for collaborative projects was too huge.

Collaborations worked best in groups of 2 or 3 people. When assigned to 7 or more people, the productivity goes down.

The Real estate head of the new building told her “That’s a good perspective. I have never thought about it like that.”

But the conference rooms were already designed. So he asked her what they could do about it.

She then suggested their solution that he could put a divide between these rooms. That way more groups could use the space at the same time.

She did her research. Started with an insight, teaching the customer about a problem they didn’t know they had i.e the reframe step. She developed an interest and changed the whole direction of the sales opportunity.

3. Rational Drowning :

This is the step where the Challenger compels the customer to take action. They do it by explaining the consequence of not acting right now.

This is the step where they use all their graphs, research, ROI calculator to add impact to hurry call to action.

They might have to use the FUD factor ( Fear, uncertainty, doubt ) to do that.

The whole emphasis of this step is that customers should act and they should act now.

4. Emotional Impact-


Many times it happens that after you made a pitch, your customer says, “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, and I’m sure it makes a lot of sense. But I don’t see how it applies to us?”

One of the reasons this happens is that the customer cannot relate to the pitch. The pitch was good but lacked an emotional connection.

This step is the answer to all of it. It is about converting past wins and narrating in a story format.

The challenger makes full use of his storytelling skills here. His story makes the customer feel as if it was their story.

If the challenger has succeeded here, the customer is now convinced. They see this problem and opportunity as their own. Now they are looking for the solution.

5. A New Way-


If the challenger is at this step, they’ve already convinced their customer of the problem. Now the only convincing the customer needs is for the solution.

The challenger tries to make their customer realize how much easier their life would be if they solved this challenge.

This step is still about THE solution and not THEIR solution.

So the challenger is patient here.

6. Your Solution-


In steps 2 & 3, the challenger works towards convincing the customer about the challenge. But In steps 4 & 5, he convinces them of the solution. Now is the final step where he will illustrate WHY his solution is better than what competition is offering.

This is where he is straightforward and specific about his solution and how he will be delivering it.

This is where he takes control of the sales and moves it to closure.

They tailor their teaching pitch in a way that delivers the right message to the right person in the customer organization.

Challenger sales share a unique perspective of classifying salespeople. This classification is based on their style of working. It also gives a 6 step formula on what makes challengers stand out over all the other sales profiles. These insights are practical and can help you to achieve your sales objectives. This is the message I gathered from this book.

I would highly recommend you read this book. If you like this content give it a thumbs up. Subscribe, so that you don’t miss any new content. And don’t forget to interact with us in the comment box.


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