Sales Book Review : The Challenger Sale – Taking Control of the Customer Conversation


What are the characteristics of the high performance sales representative in the complex B2B environment?  To answer that, think of the sales representative that you seek advice from or would drop your next appointment to meet with.  If you need more than one hand to count these professionals, consider yourself lucky.  Then consider how you can help your organization develop these types of representatives to sell your product. 

The Research behind the book

untitledIn 2010, The Corporate Executive Board Companywhere Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of The Challenger Sale, consult — commissioned a study of 2,400 B2B decision-makers to understand what contributed to customer loyalty.  Surprisingly, 53% of the drivers were attributed to the sales experience, a category dependent on an individual sales representative’s performance.  In a nut shell, customers buy B2B products and services from representatives whomake them smarter.”  That means they provide uniquely valuable perspectives on the market, educate on new issues and outcomes, navigate the risk/reward trade-offs, and gain widespread support from all stakeholders.  These findings led to further research in order to understand what types of representatives performed best in B2B scenarios. 

Analyzing research on over 6,000 sales professionals, Dixon and Adamson developed three key findings:

1.       There are five types of sales representatives:

  • The Relationship Builder: Gets along with everyone, builds strong coalitions
  • The Hard Worker: Self- motivated, does not give up easily, goes the extra mile
  • The Problem Solver: Responsive, detailed, seeks answers
  • The Lone Wolf: Mercenary, difficult to control, generally gets results
  • The Challenger: Understands customer’s business, debates, pushes customers

 2.       There is one clear winning profile. The Challenger scored the highest in performance ratings versus all other groups.  The top characteristics of a Challenger representative are:

  • Offers the customers unique perspectives
  • Has strong two-way communication skills
  • Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
  • Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business
  • Is comfortable discussing finances
  • Earns the right to pressure the customer

3.       Challengers are the next evolution of the solutions representative. The more complex the sale, the more likely that Challenger representatives will be among the high performers. The challenger model has three phases which are designed to build constructive tension:

  • Teach: Reframe the way customers view their business by providing unknown value-added insights
  • Tailor: Link data-backed projected outcomes to stakeholder’s individual goals
  • Take control: Pursue the sales agenda in a direct way at every phase, without being aggressive

Research into action

The good news is that Challenger representatives are made, not born.  The Challenger model is a set of skills.   Most representatives have the basics to build from.  Training, coaching and development will nurture these skills into behaviors. 

A caution: building a Challenger sales organization is a long journey.  The reason why the challenger representative can create constructive tension is that they intimately know the customer’s business and their products at a mastery level.  To achieve this end demands a comprehensive curriculum.  This is a not an easy or rapid transformation, it is one that requires both individual and corporate capability, resources and patience. 

Still, think back on the representative you envisioned at the beginning of this review.  If you want that type of representative selling your product or service, you can build it and The Challenger Sale offers you a great model.  In addition, The Corporate Executive Board, through their Sales Executive Council, offers many resources to help you along the way. 

Good selling!

Published in PM360

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