Have you ever heard of ‘The Challenger Sales Model’? Well, according to those that created it, 39% of the most successful sales representatives are challengers. The challenger sales model originated from the book “The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer Conversation” by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon, which was published in 2011.
The research that informed this book was based on thousands of interviews with B2B salespeople across the globe. Since then, the challenger sale methodology has been widely adopted by salespeople and is known as the best performer of the five types of sales reps. But more on this later!
A growing trend in the customer buying journey – which has only amplified further with digital acceleration since Covid-19 – is customers researching, learning and arming themselves with all the information they need to purchase. Often, this includes reading other customers’ reviews, watching product videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube and reading articles online.
In light of this, customers no longer need to be educated on the features and benefits of a product as part of the sales conversation, as they’ve familiarised themselves with this in their own research.
But, decision fatigue can set in for customers with such a wide range of choices, and they may reach out to a customer sales representative at this point. In fact, Gartner research has shown that by the time a customer contacts a salesperson, 57% of those are already quite far into the purchase process.
So, what is the challenger sales model, what are the different profiles of sales representatives, and how can your entire organisation put this sales method into practice?
What is the challenger selling model?
The selling process is often based on identifying a want or need of a customer and exploring how your product, service or solution solves that issue. And the challenger sales method is no different. Instead of building relationships with customers – as popularised by phrases such as “people buy from people” – the challenger model is slightly more aggressive (yet successful) in its tactics.
The challenger sales book says:
“Challengers aren’t so much world-class investigators as they are world-class teachers. They win not by understanding their customers’ world as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world better than their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.”
What those who use the challenger model do extremely well is gain an in-depth understanding of the customer or client’s needs and challenges them to think differently. Sometimes this comes in the form of a casual debate, but the challenger model then offers a new way forward. For example, a B2B challenger in their sales pitch won’t settle for answers such as “this is the way we’ve always done it” if an HR manager is deadset on using spreadsheets. Instead, they may help the customer to understand the pain points and how things could be simpler and improve their working day by using a brand new integrated and online system.
In essence, the challenger sales strategy demonstrates the current problems faced by the customer, even if they don’t realise the problem themselves, to show that there is an easier/better/more efficient/cheaper way forward.
What is the T-T-T- sales process
T-T-T stands for Teach, Tailor and Take control. This is applicable to all salesperson profiles and works as follows:
- Teach: The salesperson teaches the prospective customer or client about a problem that they may not even be aware that they’re currently dealing with
- Tailor: Next, they tailor the sales pitch for the prospect. It might be that a product has over 20 features, but the salesperson will focus on the handful of features that will have the most impact on the customer
- Take control: Finally, the sales representative will take control of the sale by offering a tailored solution to the customer.
What are the five salespeople professional profiles?
In total, there are five profiles or personas of sales professionals. Below, we’ll review the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of each.
|Profile||Attributes||Likelihood of closing a sale in a complex sales environment|
|The Challenger||Offers a new perspective|
Doesn’t shy away from conversations about budget or cost
Tactfully pressures the client using the T-T-T model.
|The Lone Wolf||A high-performing salesperson who exceeds quotas|
Not necessarily adept at interpersonal skills within the sales team
May break rules or make promises they can’t keep.
|The Hard Worker||Will go above and beyond for a customer to make a sale|
Doesn’t always effectively focus on the customer’s individual values and drivers
|The Problem Solver||Identifies the customers’ current needs, wants and pain points|
Addresses these by matching pain points to features and benefits of the product or service
Uses a customer service-based approach to sales, eagerly solving problems.
|The Relationship Builder||Creates a bond or strong relationship with the ‘gatekeeper’|
Tries to create an internal advocate within a business to push the agenda of a new product or method
Good interpersonal skills internally and externally.
The breakdown of salespeople who fit into these categories is as follows:
- The Challenger: 27%
- The Hard Worker: 21%
- The Relationship Builder: 20%
- The Lone Wolf: 18%
- The Problem Solver: 14%.
Why should businesses use the challenger sales model?
There is a range of benefits for businesses that adopt the challenger model, such as:
An increased likelihood of selling
Salespeople who adopt this model are more likely to sell than the other salespeople personas. This applies particularly in complex sales situations, where challengers are 54% likely to make a sale, compared to the 11.5% average closing rate for the other four personas. Sales leaders using the challenger model make up 40% of top sales performers globally, whereas relationship builders only make up 7% of top performers.
Taking better control of the sale
As the challenger model does not leave the customer in charge, the sale and the often complex sales cycle are led by the sales rep. This means far more control over pricing, features and delivery timescales. This also allows plenty of room to drive the purchase conversation and less room for the customer’s preconceived ideas.
- Creating a customer relationship based on honesty on both sides: Instead of going above and beyond to build a relationship based on customer delight and satisfaction, the honest nature of the selling method means that the relationship with the client is built on honesty and pushing the prospective client outside of their comfort zone. This often leads to stronger customer relationships and loyal customers.
- Less negotiating on price: The ‘aggressive’ nature of this method of selling means that there is less room for negotiation from the client’s side, as the sales rep is in control. Problem-solvers and those who build relationships will leave room for negotiation to keep the customer happy, but the challenger sales methodology often shuts this down from the get-go.
- Relies on a better understanding of the customer’s business: The nature of challenger sales methodologies starts with a detailed and in-depth understanding of the customer’s business as well as the way they work. Personalised and hyper-personalised sales are becoming increasingly expected by customers, so this sales method addresses this well by offering a solution to their pain points rather than trying to make transactional sales.
Six steps to using the challenger sales model
As a sales rep, you may understand the goal of the challenger sales model but wonder how to put it into practice. Below are six simple steps to take to start using the model in your own sales and to share with your sales team.
1. The warmer
The first step is to get in touch with the right decision-maker(s) and quickly establish credibility and authority. Once you’re in the door, it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of their business and the struggles they might be facing. Sometimes, to get a meeting in the first place, the research stage should happen prior to getting in touch with the prospect for the first time. During the initial conversation, get the customer to share their pain points and current issues; this will enable you to refer back to these during the remainder of the sales process.
Understand the current solution (if they have one) to their problems and reframe this. As a seasoned sales professional, you should be able to quickly match up your customer’s issues with the benefits of your product, service or solution. Now is the time to discuss the problems in their current solution and share how another solution could be better. Rather than saying, “yes, our product does this”, lead with a benefit without mentioning the product. Perhaps say, “have you considered how much time an automated solution to this could save you?”.
3. Rational drowning
While this step sounds overboard(!), what you should be doing at this point is adding solid data and evidence to support your claim. Try to continue to keep away from pitching your entire product, but share customer stories or hard data to demonstrate how a different solution could be better.
4. Emotional impact
Emotions are still an important driver of sales decisions. Steer away from facts and understanding and focus on empathy. Others have already benefited from the solution, so why wouldn’t they? Yes, the solution is likely to save them revenue, but what about the time savings, reducing their workload or a better work/life balance?
5. Value proposition
The next logical step after discussing the emotional impact is diving deeper into what things would look like once their problem is solved.
6. The solution to the problem
At this point, their problem is identified, they are ready for a new solution to their problem, and they know you understand their struggle. So, as long as the other steps have gone well, a sale, quote or product demo of the alternative solution is the next logical step for your prospect to take.
How to implement the challenger buyer persona
If you already have a team with sales experience in place, elements of the challenger sales model can be added to current sales techniques to build successful challenger sellers.
- Teach those with the hard worker profile to adopt the ‘teaching’ aspect of challenger selling — to teach the prospect about current issues they may not even be aware they’re facing.
- Those with the relationship builder sales persona may need support with pushing and taking control of the sale. By nature, this sales profile is keen to please, but they can learn to improve on this to drive results.
- While lone wolves are generally successful salespeople already, they may need to work on their communication skills both within their company and with their prospects. Lone wolves will work things out on their own, so you can give them information about the challenger sales tactics and leave them to trial it and work out the benefits of it for themselves.
- Finally, demonstrate to problem solvers how to identify and offer new perspectives to prospects, encouraging them to create a unique solution for each customer.
What are the 10 sales models?
The top 10 sales methodologies are:
- Target Account Selling
- SPIN Selling
- SNAP Selling
- The Challenger Sale
- Value Selling Framework
- Solution Selling
- Conceptual Selling
- The Sandler Selling System
- Customer-Centric Selling.
Does the challenger sales model work?
Yes. In fact, in complex sales, those using the challenger sales methodology are 54% likely to close complex sales. This is as opposed to the other sales models, which are 11.5% likely to close in the same space.
Should a challenger sales rep do demos?
Absolutely. Part of the sales process is a successful demonstration of the product, service or solution. So, a demonstration is often critical to close the deal. It also allows the prospect to better understand how it will make their life easier.
To conclude, the challenger sales model suggests that relationship-building sales strategies are no longer relevant. Customers have the ability to research and make informed decisions on what they need for themselves and rarely need hand-holding. With that in mind, the challenger sales model is ideal for supporting the modern prospect.
References & further reading
- The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer Conversation
- 5 Profile Types That Sales Reps Fall Into
- Forbes: The Challenger Sale: Five Steps To Implementing Commercial Teaching In Your Sales Presentation
- What You Need To Know About The Target Account Selling Methodology
- Three Examples Of The Challenger Sales Model To Inspire You
- Solution Selling Vs Consultative Selling: What Is The Difference?
- Master These Proven Sales Closing Techniques to Boost Your Results
- What Are The Challenger Sales Types? How To Use Them?