Almost every new B2b salesperson is told to read Brent Adamson's and Matthew Dixon's The Challenger Sale.
It's a seminal sales work based on one of the most extensive studies ever conducted in the field. The book has 4,974 ratings alone on Amazon. The book looks tempting, but when you have a giant quota hovering over your head, you probably won't have time to read it in full.
To help you, we've compiled a five-minute review of the Challenger Sales approach. It covers the book's key points and how to apply them to enhance your sales efforts.
What exactly does this mean?
It means approaching sales differently than you might've in the past.
- Rather than being apologetic about trying to sell to the customer, you'll own the conversation.
- Rather than following a similar sales pitch, you'll approach each prospect differently.
As a Challenger, you'll have an in-depth understanding of your prospect's business and their struggles. You can then push back at the right moment to drive them toward making a decision.
While the hero is Challenger, Adamson and Dixon don't just talk about them in the book. They also cover four other types of sales reps.
The Five Types of Sales Reps
Though all sales rep profiles have distinct qualities, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The authors clarify that you can exhibit qualities of all types or have them in any combination.
The five types of sales reps follow.
The Challenger (You)
As a Challenger, you offer a new perspective to your prospect and don’t shy away from conversations about money.
You understand what brings them value and leverage that information to deliver an irresistible pitch. Your approach is customized to each prospect’s unique problems. You also find ways to tactfully pressure them.
Remember the three T’s: You teach something valuable, tailor the sales pitch, and take control of the conversation.
The Hard Worker
The Hard Worker strives to improve their role but doesn’t necessarily focus on the customer’s value drivers. They’re strict towards work processes and meeting their sales goals.
The Lone Wolf
The Lone Wolf is a high performer but not a team player. Confident in their selling skills, they exceed quotas but are difficult to deal with interpersonally. They don’t like collaborating, but that makes them more creative and resourceful.
The Relationship Builder
When you think of a typical salesperson, you think of the Relationship Builder. They’re patient, emotionally intelligent, and willing to go the extra mile to connect. These sales reps form bonds with gatekeepers at their target company. They then slowly try to create an internal advocate.
The Problem Solver
The Problem Solver is adept at finding solutions for issues in both the team and the prospect’s business. They can look into complex problems and identify solutions while keeping all stakeholders in the loop.
Now that you know the five profiles, it's time to put it all together by reviewing the book's summary.
Challenger Sales Model Summary
The Challenger Sales research revealed that every B2B sales rep has one of these five different profiles.
The five types of sales reps are the Challenger, the Hard Worker, the Lone Wolf, the Relationship Builder, and the Problem Solver. These profiles determine how a salesperson interacts with prospects and closes deals.
The "Challenger Approach" correlates with increased close rates among high performers — hence, the book's name.
In the study, Adamson and Dixon found that:
- 40% of high sales performers used the Challenger style.
- High performers were over 2x more likely to use a Challenger approach over any other approach.
- More than 50% of all-star performers fit the challenger profile in complex sales.
- Only 7% of top performers took a relationship-building approach — the worst-performing profile.
The Challenger approach only worked better among high performers. Among average performers, each profile was as successful as the others.
Most sales teams today are geared toward the "Relationship Builder" approach. Counterintuitively, this approach is the least effective of the five profiles.
So, a smart decision would be to start teaching their sales teams "the Challenger Sales model."
The Challenger Sales model believes the other four sales profiles can learn to be a Challenger.
The Challenger Sales model posits that with the proper training, coaching, and sales tools, all reps — even those falling into one of the other four categories — can take control of the customer conversation like a Challenger. Creating a high-performing Challenger team is possible but requires considerable effort and training.
There are four fundamental principles for implementing the Challenger Sales model.
- Challengers are made, not just born.
- It's the combination of skills that matters.
- Building the Challenger sales force is a journey, not an overnight trip.
- Challenging is about organizational capability, not just an individual rep's skills.
By embracing these principles, you'll take your sales process on a transformative journey. This turns traditional solution selling on its head.
Below you'll find out how to train your sales reps using this model.
Challenger Sales Training
To train your sales team, you first need to recognize that results will vary from rep to rep. This depends on the type of salesperson they are. Also, expect some reps to shy away from this sales model.
With that said, let's explore some ways you can teach your sales reps to adopt the Challenger Sales model. Each approach is tailored to a different sales archetype.
Coaching a Hard Worker
Hard Workers push prospects out of their comfort zones to achieve results. Here’s how you can help them pitch their solutions and not appear pushy:
- Walk them through the "teaching" aspect of Challenger selling. As Hard Workers, they’re self-motivated but may skip over certain parts of the process to get the sale.
- Give them consistent feedback to help them successfully adopt the Challenger Sales model.
- Hand out praise where it’s due — Hard Workers like to be appreciated, which is a great way to motivate them.
Coaching a Lone Wolf
The biggest issue with Lone Wolves is their lack of collaborative skills. Consider doing the following:
- Teach them how to have fruitful two-way conversations with teammates and prospects. A Lone Wolf is a highly effective sales rep, but they often do it alone and, therefore, have less effective communication skills.
- Give them a handout or a cheat sheet to remind them of the Challenger Sales method (or you could link them to this post).
- And lastly, let them figure it out on their own. As Lone Wolves, these types of sales reps thrive when they’re left alone.
Coaching a Relationship Builder
Relationship builders often lose track of time and turn into “people pleasers” in pursuit of building lasting relationships; here’s how you can train them:
- Focus on the "pressuring" and "taking control" aspects of the Challenger Sales model. Relationship Builders don’t want to rush things or feel like they’re pressing — but an essential element of Challenger Sales is pushing back and being firm.
- Teach them to become comfortable talking about money so they don’t feel they’re sacrificing the relationship when discussing prices.
- Help them become familiar with data and motivate them to use it in pitching. Relationship Builders focus on empathy and connection, but those two don’t have to live apart from complex numbers and facts.
Coaching a Problem Solver
Problem solvers get caught up in providing immediate fixes. They tend to leave behind strategic, long-term solutions. The following things will help them adopt the Challenger model:
- Bring their attention to the "offering a new perspective" aspect of Challenger Selling. In their quest to solve problems, a Problem Solver might rely on a tried and true method. Instead, they should offer a unique view to change the customer's perspective.
- Focus on creating pitches specific to each customer's problem; they simply can't say no. Then, after changing the customer's perspective, the Problem Solver will craft a specific solution that meets that prospect's needs.
- Leverage the Problem Solver's strong stakeholder communication skills to get buy-in from higher-ups at prospects' organizations.
Use the Challenger Sales Model with Other Sales Methods
While every salesperson has a unique selling style, the Challenger Sales model can help you refine specific steps of your sales process. This approach can help you close more deals and improve the bottom line at your company.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated in April 2023 for comprehensiveness.