The Challenger Sales Model suggests that not all customers are created equal and that not all sales approaches are equally effective.
Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson first outlined the Challenger Sales model in their 2011 book, “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.” This sales model focuses on teaching, maintaining authority in sales conversations, and providing targeted solutions considering the customer’s most present pain points.
The Challenger sales model isn’t necessarily the best for everyone, but when the right companies adopt it, they see extraordinary results. In this article, we’ll explain what sets the Challenger Model apart, when you might want to consider selling using this model, and what types of sales professionals thrive within this model.
What Is The Challenger Model?
The Challenger Sales Model emphasizes that successful salespeople should challenge the customer’s way of thinking, offer insights, and guide them to make informed decisions. This approach is based on the idea that customers might not always know their own needs or the potential solutions available to them. Therefore, instead of just being responsive to customer inquiries or needs, the salesperson proactively challenges the customer’s assumptions and provides valuable insights that can lead to more effective solutions.
What Are The Benefits Of The Challenger Model?
If there were one motto a Challenger sales rep would never live by, it would be, “The customer is always right.” In the Challenger model, it’s highly beneficial for the salesperson to challenge how a customer thinks about their business, problems, and needs. Coupled with a Challenger salesperson’s ability to offer insights and guide a customer in making an informed decision—this seemingly counterintuitive approach is incredibly compelling.
While other sales models emphasize harmonious connections and relationship building, salespeople in the Challenger model take a more straightforward and assertive approach to sales. Challenger salespeople must be knowledgeable educators and advisors with their finger on the pulse of industry trends, market conditions, and up-to-date customer solutions. Expertise in the features and benefits of their product isn’t enough.
The 5 Key Elements of a Successful Challenger Sales Model
For the Challenger sales model to work, it requires five crucial elements: teaching, tailoring, taking control, constructive tension, and reframing.
1. Educate Your Customers
Through an educational approach, the salesperson positions themselves as a valuable source of information for their customer. Challenger sales reps not only need to understand the customer’s industry, current market trends, and the potential solutions available to them — they also need to have the skill of breaking down complex ideas and delivering them in a digestible and applicable manner.
2. Tailor Your Sale To Your Customers Needs
While teaching is often thought of as talking, active listening is also essential to the education process. This level of open engagement from the salesperson allows them to customize their approach and address the distinct needs and pain points that a customer is facing. With this deep understanding of the customer’s business and obstacles, the Challenger salesperson can bring an unrivaled level of customization to their teaching and pitch.
3. Position Yourself As The Expert
The Challenger model is an assertive and proactive approach to sales. Rather than passively following a customer’s lead, Challenger salespeople maintain authority and a position of expertise throughout the sales conversation. They lead with questions that get the customer thinking differently and insights that offer new possibilities and perspectives.
4. Disrupt The Status Quo
Challenger salespeople are disruptors — and disruption in the status quo and set ways of thinking creates tension. A skilled Challenger sales rep will ensure that the tension created in the sales process is constructive. That means the salesperson will strategically leverage a healthy amount of pressure for the customer to consider alternative viewpoints through a critical thinking lens.
5. Reframe The Problem
Skillful teaching, tailoring, taking control, and constructive tension bring the sales process to its natural culmination — the pitch. In the Challenger model, an angle is strategically formed by redefining the customer’s problem to align with the solution(s) the salesperson has to offer. By doing this, the Challenger salesperson highlights the value of their solution and positions it as a fantastic fit for the customer who now feels educated, informed, and confident in making a decision.
Which Sales Roles Benefit From The Challenger Model?
In the book mentioned above, “The Challenger Sale,” Dixon and Adamson outline five prominent sales personalities: the hard worker, the relationship builder, the lone wolf, the problem solver, and the Challenger. Before we dive into the benefits of the Challenger model and which roles excel in this type of sales environment, it’s worth mentioning that any salesperson with any sales personality can evolve into a Challenger.
Challengers need adaptability and a willingness to embrace this sales approach above all else. They must embrace the upside of having candid conversations with their prospects and prioritize honesty and their expert insights. Challengers need to develop a certain level of comfort with challenging prospects’ assumptions and perspectives. They also need discernment and acuity in identifying when and how to build on the key elements of the Challenger model with other tactics and philosophies.
Roles that tend to benefit the most from a Challenger model are as follows:
1. Enterprise Sales Representatives
Enterprise sales typically involve high-value solutions and large companies with complex challenges. Often, multiple stakeholders are affected as well. Enterprise Sales Representatives can provide insights and guide decision-making in these intricate sales scenarios using the Challenger model.
2. Solution Consultants
Also known as pre-sales or technical sales engineers, these consultants work closely with customers to understand their needs and present tailored solutions. Their ability to educate and challenge assumptions aligns well with the Challenger approach.
3. Business Development Managers
These professionals focus on identifying and nurturing new business opportunities. Using the Challenger approach, engaging prospects with education and valuable insights, Business Development Managers can differentiate their offering from their competitors.
4. Strategic Account Managers
In this role, key accounts that generate significant revenue require a long-term relationship built on trust. The Challenger model can deepen these relationships by consistently expanding their depth and breadth through valuable insights and education. The Challenger in this role may have traits of the farmer sales type that come through in the way they maintain connection and credibility with their customers.
5. Industry Specialists
Salespeople with deep industry expertise can leverage the Challenger approach to share their insights about industry trends, challenges, and best practices. This positions them as valuable advisors that prospects naturally trust in the decision-making process.
6. Consultative Sales Representatives
Roles that require a consultative approach align with the Challenger model. Customers appreciate how these representatives focus on understanding their pain points and delivering targeted solutions.
7. Technology Sales Professionals
In technology sales, where complex sales conditions and rapidly evolving products and solutions abound, the Challenger approach helps salespeople provide customers with insights into how their technology can address their specific needs.
8. Financial Services Sales
In the financial services industry, the Challenger approach is highly effective at educating customers so they can confidently decide how to move forward financially. Especially in the sale of complex products like investment solutions or risk management, applying the Challenger approach helps salespeople educate clients about evolving market conditions and the tailored solutions that will suit their situation best.
While the Challenger Sales Model can be effective in various sales scenarios, there are certain roles or situations where the model might not be as well-suited. Here are some examples of roles that might not align perfectly with the Challenger Sales Model:
- Transactional Sales Representatives
- Customer Support or Service Roles
- Door-to-Door Sales
- Highly Specialized Technical Sales
- Customer-Focused or Account Management Roles
How to Tell When a Challenger Sales Model is The Right Choice For Your Team
The Challenger sales model is often an excellent choice in competitive environments where B2B sales cycles are particularly complex and lengthy. In industries where customers are aware of their problems yet not experts in the solutions they need, they are more open to being ‘challenged’ and are interested in learning. This is an ideal scenario for the Challenger Model.
Customers benefit from having time to get educated, understand significant challenges they face, adapt to new perspectives, and make informed decisions. On the salesperson’s side, this type of sales cycle gives them space to teach their customers, guide them through reflection, offer insightful perspectives, and help them make a firm decision.
The Challenger model shines in industries where:
- Rapid changes in an industry are more than customers can keep up with.
- Customers don’t fully understand their problems or needs.
- Customer’s problems don’t have a clear or pre-packaged solution.
- Deals involve high-value contracts and strategic accounts.
- Customers are more open to seeing salespeople as partners in problem-solving.
- Customers are being introduced to a brand-new product or service.
- A product or solution requires customers to change their behavior or mindset.
- Education on complex topics is essential in order for customers to make a clear, educated decision in the sales process.
Could the Challenger model work for your company? Whether you’re still seeking the answer to that question or are already looking for the next Challenger to add to your sales team, we can help! Contact us today to get your search started with our expert team, who can tap into our worldwide talent pool to find the perfect model and sales team members for you.
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