These days, almost every new hire in B2B sales is told to read Brent Adamson’s and Matthew Dixon’s The Challenger Sale.
It's one of sales' seminal works, based on one of the largest studies ever conducted in the field. That said, when you're learning how to sell on the job with a giant quota hovering over your head, you probably don't have any time to read.
So to help you out, I've put together a five-minute review of the Challenger Sales approach. It covers the key points explored in the book and shows how you can apply them to enhance your sales efforts.
What is the Challenger Sales model?
The Challenger Sales model is a sales methodology that encourages reps to emulate certain high-performing salespeople — or 'challengers' — when executing their sales processes. That means teaching prospects about their situations, tailoring their communication to suit specific prospects, and taking control of a sale.
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. As a Challenger, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of your prospect's business and push back at the right moment to drive the customer toward making a decision.
Adamson and Dixon don’t just talk about Challengers in the book — they also go over four other types of sales reps. Though they all have distinct qualities, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The authors clarify that you can exhibit qualities of all types.
The five types of sales reps are:
- 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 — and to tactfully pressure them. Remember the three T’s: You teach them something valuable, tailor the sales pitch, and take control over the conversation.
- The Hard Worker: The Hard Worker strives to get better in their role but doesn’t necessarily focus on the customer’s value drivers.
- The Lone Wolf: The Lone Wolf is a high performer but not necessarily a team player. Confident in their selling skills, they exceed quotas but are difficult to deal with interpersonally.
- The Relationship Builder: When you think of a salesperson, you’re thinking of the Relationship Builder. These sales reps get in contact with a gatekeeper at their target company and 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 drive results by eagerly solving problems and keeping all stakeholders in the loop.
Now that you know the five profiles, it's time to put it all together by going over a summary of the book.
Challenger Sales Model Summary
Let’s sum it all up.
The Challenger Sales research revealed that every B2B sales rep falls into five different profiles.
The five types 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” most correlated with increased close rates among high performers.
... hence the name of the book. In the study, Adamson and Dixon found that:
- 40% of high sales performers primarily used a Challenger style.
- High performers were more than 2x likely to use a Challenger approach than 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.
We should note that the Challenger approach only worked better among high performers. Among average performers, all profiles were roughly as successful as one another.
This is a disruptive finding, as most sales training and sales teams today are geared towards creating and encouraging the "Relationship Builder," the least effective of the five profiles.
The Challenger Sales model believes the other four sales profiles can learn to be a Challenger.
The Challenger Sales model posits that with the right 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. It's therefore possible to create a high-performing Challenger Sales team, but it takes 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.
- Challenging is about organizational capability, not just an individual rep’s skills.
- Building the Challenger sales force is a journey, not an overnight trip.
By embracing these principles as you implement the Challenger Sales model, you'll take your sales process on a transformative journey and turn traditional solution selling on its head.
If you have the interest and authority to implement the model within your organization, there are some tips and tricks you can use to do so smoothly and effectively. Read on to find out how you can start training your sales reps using this model.
Challenger Sales Training
To train your sales team using the Challenger Sales model, you first need to recognize that results will vary from rep to rep — mostly depending on the type of salesperson they are. And you should expect some reps to shy away from this sales model.
If you’re not sure how to get started with sales training, check out our handy sales training template to get started.
Below, we’ll walk you through some ways you can teach different sales reps to better adopt the Challenger Sales model.
If you’re coaching a Hard Worker, consider doing the following:
- Walk through them through the "teaching" aspect of Challenger selling. As a Hard Worker, they’re self-motivated, but they may skip over certain parts of the process in pursuit of the sale.
- Give them consistent feedback to help them successfully adopt the Challenger Sales model.
- Hand out praise where it’s due — Hard Workers want to please, and this is a great way to motivate them.
If you’re coaching a Lone Wolf, consider doing the following:
- Teach them how to have fruitful two-way conversations with both teammates and prospects. A Lone Wolf is a highly effective sales rep, but they often go it alone and have less effective communication skills as a result.
- Give them a handout or a cheat sheet to remind them of the Challenger Sales method (or you could give them a link to this post).
- Let them figure it out on their own as the last step. As Lone Wolves, these types of sales reps thrive when they’re left on their own.
If you’re coaching a Relationship Builder, consider doing the following:
- Focus on the "pressuring" and "taking control" aspect of the sales model. Relationship Builders don’t want to rush things or feel like they’re pressing — but a key element of Challenger Sales is pushing back and being firm.
- Get them even more comfortable with the topic of money so that they don’t feel they’re sacrificing the relationship by talking about payment.
- Get them more acquainted with data and teach them to use it in the pitching process. Relationship Builders focus on empathy and connection, but those two don’t have to live apart from hard numbers and facts.
If you’re coaching a Problem Solver, consider doing the following:
- Bring to their attention 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 when instead they should be offering a unique view to change the customer’s perspective.
- Focus on creating pitches so specific to the customer’s problem, they simply can’t say no. After changing the customer’s perspective, the Problem Solver will then have to work to craft a highly 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, helping 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 for comprehensiveness.