Decoding The Challenger Sales Methodology – Is It Effective or Just Hype?

Decoding The Challenger Sale Book

The Challenger Sale book first published in 2011, sparked debates in the sales industry at the height of its popularity as it positioned itself as ‘Anti Solution Selling’ – a widely adopted sales methodology at the time.

Authors Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson argue that relationship-building is no longer the best sales method. That instead after extensive research found that the best sales representatives love to debate and aren’t afraid to push the customer.

In this article we go in depth into the Challenger sale methdology, how to implement it and when not to. Read on to discover:

What is the Challenger sales methodology?

The Challenger sales model is a process that aims to teach, tailor, and take control of the customer’s sales experience. The method involved sharing insights about an unknown problem or opportunity in the customer’s business that the sales rep’s business is uniquely equipped to solve.

It dispels a prospect’s assumptions or beliefs by pointing out their flaws and enables the sales rep to offer a better solution.Studies show that challenging customer assumptions, disrupting their thinking, and teaching them something new effectively maximize sales results.

What are the pros and cons of the Challenger sales method?

Like any sales method, the Challenger sale, too, has both positive and negative aspects. Luckily, there are several positives as there are downsides.

One notable positive aspect is that the approach aims to grasp and prioritize the customer’s value and economic drivers. This effort provides customers with a unique perspective on the product, a challenge that many other sales methodologies often find difficult to address.

However, the approach is suitable only for long, complex sales cycles, which means you’ll likely require your highest-performing sales reps on the case.

Sales reps with less skill and a background in traditional relationship selling experience may feel like they’re working backwards and, thus, be far less successful with attempting the challenger sales methodology.

Discover the pros and cons of challenger sales illustrated below:

What are the pros and cons of the Challenger sales methodology? Pros & Cons of Challenger Sales

The Challenger Sale book summary

The Challenger Sale teaches that the best salespeople don’t just build relationships with customers – they challenge them. Dixon, Adamson and their colleagues founded the “Challenger Sale methodology” based on their study of 6,000 salespeople – they found that there are five distinct types of salespeople;

  • The Hard Worker
  • The Challenger
  • The Relationship Builder
  • The Lone Wolf
  • The Reactive Problem Solver

Overall, the Challenger Sales book argues that with the right training, application skills and tools for success, sales reps can take control of any customer conversation.

While the Challenger Sale should be on every salesperson’s reading list, we understand time can often be scarce. Here are several key summaries from the book to help you get started on improving your own sales techniques. 

How can businesses benefit from Challenger selling?

According to Gartner*, most B2B buyers – a whopping 77% in fact, have said that their latest purchase was “very complex or difficult”. Not a surprise considering modern products and services have become more complex than ever.

That is coupled with the fact that customers now hold more power than ever when it comes to research and comparison. It’s now taking more time for prospects to approach salespeople.

Meaning that by the time they reach your sales reps – they already have a good idea of what they want, need and can afford.

As a result, salespeople have to adapt their sales approach to match, and studies have found that the Challenger sale approach is the best solution to these types of complex sales conditions. 

How can businesses benefit from Challenger selling? Percentage of high-performing sales professionals, the challenger sale

A deeper look: 5 types of Sales Reps from the Challenger sale

Let’s take a deeper look at the profiles of the sales reps from the challenger sales book:

1. The Hard Worker

The Challenger Sale defines the Hard Worker (21% of the sample) as:  

  • Always willing to go one step further. 
  • Super self-motivated.
  • Determined to complete tasks. 
  • Appreciates feedback for personal development. 
  • Don’t give up easily!

2. The Lone Wolf

The Challenger Sale defines the Lone Wolf (18% of the sample) as:

  • They follow their instincts. 
  • Have an abundance of self-assurance.
  • Can be challenging to manage although they can deliver adequate results. 

3. The Relationship Builder

The Challenger Sale defines the Relationship Builder (21% of the sample) as:

  • Generous with their time.
  • Maintains excellent connections with everyone.
  • A classic consultative selling representative who asks lots of questions.
  • They aim to build relationships with customers.

4. The Problem Solver

The Challenger Sale defines the Problem Solver (14% of the sample) as:

  • Detail-oriented.
  • Laser-focused on solving problems. 
  • They are known for being reliable.
  • Their primary focus is on customer service, not closing sales.

5. The Challenger

Finally, the Challenger Sales personality (27% of the sample) is defined as:

  • Loves to debate and isn’t afraid to push the limits of the customer. 
  • They know the customer’s business well, providing valuable insights the customer might not have thought of on their own.
  • Possess the ability to have a changing view of the world. 

Challengers Sales Reps win deals by teaching prospects to change their perceptions, tailoring their sales approach to the lead’s personal values and economic needs, and finally taking control of the sales process. 

5 types of Sales Reps from the Challenger sale, The Hard Worker, The Challenger, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf , The Reactive Problem Solver

How to identify the traits of a Challenger Sales Rep?

The Challenger sales rep excels at adopting unique perspectives when it comes to creating solutions for existing problems. They lead the way in challenging the norm and have the skill to get potential customers enthusiastic about these new opportunities.

Simultaneously, the Challenger sales rep can promote his or her products as the ideal innovative solutions to these problems. Salespeople who fall into the Challenger sales rep archetype also tend to do their homework when it comes to getting to know their customers.

Challengers make it their goal to learn as much as they can about what drives a lead’s decision-making process when it comes to economics and values—enabling them to tailor their sales presentation to address these factors.

Finally, the Challenger sales rep is relentless when it comes to taking charge of conversations, and fearlessly pushes leads towards closed deals by taking control at every opportunity. 

The differences between The Challenger Sales Rep and The Relationship Builder

The Challenger Sales Rep is someone who challenges the customer’s assumptions and offers insights that can help them solve their problems. They are not afraid to push back and create constructive tension in the sales conversation. They are confident, assertive, and knowledgeable about their product and the customer’s industry.

The Relationship Builder is someone who focuses on building rapport and trust with the customer. They are friendly, empathetic, and attentive to the customer’s needs and emotions. They avoid confrontation and try to accommodate the customer’s time and preferences. They are loyal, supportive, and respectful of the customer’s opinions.

Knowing the difference between these two types of salespeople can help you identify your own strengths and weaknesses as a salesperson, and adapt your style to suit different situations and customers. The Challenger Sales Rep tends to outperform The Relationship Builder in complex sales environments, where customers value expertise and innovation more than personal connection. However, this does not mean that The Relationship Builder is ineffective or irrelevant. In some cases, building a strong relationship with the customer can be the key to closing a deal or retaining a loyal client.

The differences between the challenger sales rep vs the relationship builder sales rep

3 Challenger Sales techniques every salesperson should know

Spot your sales reps using these techniques? They may be a challenger salesperson:

  1. Identify a unique opportunity to help a lead’s business solve a problem. Since at this stage, you are attempting to teach the prospect something new about their own business, the insight must be something that not even the prospect has thought of themselves. After all, Challenger Sales Reps are experts of changing perceptions. 
  1. Present a solution to take advantage of the insight you offered in the first step. Make sure that you showcase how your solution can directly improve the lead’s business.
  1. Apply firm but gentle pressure to your contact person when it comes to closing the deal. Refuse to negotiate on price while always emphasizing the added benefit that your solution will provide to their company. 
3 Challenger Techniques Infographic

How to adopt the Challenger Sales methodology in 5 steps

Before any sales reps can begin to adopt the Challenger sale methodology into their approach, they must be able to take control of the sale and be artful influencers who help customers make purchasing decisions.

Much like a rollercoaster, the Challenger sale quickly taps into the prospect’s ultimate fears, then raises their hopes by positioning the product as the solution and ends on an adrenaline-fueled high with the prospect eager and ready to buy.

Here are 5 challenger sales model examples to adopt into your process below:

1. Warm-up prospects

In the first step of adopting the Challenger sale into your approach, you must prove to the prospect that you grasp the challenges they’re facing. To achieve this, you must research your ideal target customers for data on their pain points, challenges, and needs.

Armed with this information, you should only aim to provoke your prospects to consider other perspectives and solutions to their challenges. The more foundation you cover now, the easier it will be to sell later on in the process.

2. Reframe the conversation

In the previous step, your prospect should have already shared their biggest problem, like they can’t increase conversions or are struggling to integrate new technology. But now, it’s your job to reframe their pain as an opportunity for growth.

The thing is, your prospect is likely to have big opinions on the matter but severely lacks any plans to solve the issue. That’s where you can start to ask solution-focused questions that seek to weed out any misconceptions they might have about your service and begin to steer them towards the mindset that your solution is suitable.

Now, the Challenger sale methodology comes to life as you begin to challenge your prospects to shift their focus to your solution. It’s critical to note that you’re not selling your product here but rather evoking curiosity in the prospect while also putting pressure on the fact they have a problem that requires an answer they can’t solve.

3. Evoke emotion

Customers don’t buy benefits, features, or advantages – they buy emotions. That’s why to sell your product or service effectively; you need to show the benefits versus telling them the features of your product. Even in B2B sales, emotions play a vital role in the sale of your solution.

A great way to use emotions to shift prospects’ perspectives is to use storytelling as a sales tool. For instance, you could either tell your prospect how great your solution is, or you could share a true story of how it improved someone’s life or business.

4. Highlight your value proposition

In this step, the ultimate aim is to educate your prospect about what the ideal solution to their problem looks like – without ever mentioning the product. Don’t worry; there is a method to the madness! By introducing the answer to the prospect first, you’ve already sold them on the idea when you finally present the product. Guide your prospect on the possibilities for solving their problem by using techniques that reframe their perspective, such as:

  • Take your time to explain anything the prospect is unsure about. Connect the necessary dots for them and point them out to speed up the process.
  • Tell a story to open up your prospect’s mind to what the future will look like if they decide to take action – or not. What will get worse for them?

5. Introduce the product

If you’ve followed the other steps exactly, this last one should be easy. So far, you’ve identified or discovered the prospect’s problem, reframed it, gained their trust and offered up a solution to solve it. All you have to do now is unveil the solution that’s going to help them.

Want to simplify and shorten the buying process? Become a Product Expert.

Does the Challenger Selling model work?

If you’re still wondering “does the challenger sales model work?” Here’s the hard data that the study produced.

  • 40% of sales performers primarily used a Challenger style – In comparison to any one of the other four sales styles the book identified. (The Hard Worker, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf and The Problem Solver.)
  • Just a mere 7% of top performers took The Relationship Builder approach – which coincidentally was the worst performing profile.
  • Over 50% of expert performers fit the challenger persona in complex sales.

Here at SOCO, we offer Advanced Selling training that incorporates some of the advanced skills reps need to be confident and competent enough to take big deals over the line.

SOCO’s Opinion on the Challenger sale

Above all, incorporating sales techniques from The Challenger Sale takes experience and effort. While it can be useful when done right, when attempted by inexperienced and not naturally tactful aggressive salespeople, it can backfire and lead to lost sales instead of increased sales. So, It’s essential to understand the book’s concepts whilst building your expertise, to ensure you’re using the appropriate technique that the deal requires. 

Take Control of the Sale with Advanced Selling Training

Here at SOCO Sales Training, we offer our own take on the challengers approach in our Advanced Selling program that incorporates techniques that complement Challenger Sale tactics while balancing the skills of the sales team, to avoid overly aggressive reps. We focus on taking your sales representatives from being order takers, to being a respected partner of your customer’s business who knows exactly how to advance the sale.

Advanced Selling Training is for seasoned sales professionals who need to learn how to assert themselves and push for the sale when necessary. This is an essential skill for reps dealing with high-level clients, to be able to command the respect they need to close high-ticket sales.

Fans of the challenger methodology come to us to equip their teams with the skills needed to: represent themselves as experts, build relationships with key decision-makers, tailor presentations, and take control of the sale.

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