How to do Challenger Sales: Stop the brown-nosing! And the big role of Marketing



The first time I heard about Challenger Sales, I intuitively felt it explained some of the successful sales cases I had experienced myself, but I thought it described even more a personality and the way in which I saw some successful sales representative being able to consistently outsell the rest of us. When hiring new sales guys, I thought I needed to look for a typical kind of personality, a certain level of strangeness and awkwardness, for someone who would never agree, but still be able to sell somehow. I thought that’s what it meant for someone to be able to do Challenger Sales. Boy, was I wrong.

The name Challenger Sales itself comes from the book with the same name written by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon.

How to do Challenger Sales: Is it just about personality type?

I early on read a brief synopsis in which I learnt how the five (5) personality types described seemed to make perfect sense to me, and I thought I had seen them all in different sales representatives with different levels of success around me. The personality types described in the book are:

  • Relationship Builders. They focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They’re generous with their time and tend to acquiesce to what the customer wants, always looking to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
  • Hard Workers. As their name implies, they show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
  • Lone Wolves. These reps are the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all. They don’t put notes in the CRM system, don’t follow your sales process, build their own collateral, etc.
  • Problem Solver: This person is almost a customer service rep in sales rep’s clothing. They tend to focus more on getting the last deal implemented than getting the next deal signed.
  • Challengers: They’re the debaters on the team. They’re defined by their tendency to push the customer’s thinking. They aren’t afraid to share controversial views and are assertive, not just in terms of their ideas, but also when it comes to the commercial details of the sale.

Ok, so if how to do challenger sales is not about an inherited personality type, then what is it?

I actually had to read the whole book to start to realize that it was not just about this inherited personality type, but it was rather a method that all of us could learn to use. And I was even more happy to discover what a big role Marketing will play in making it work, because this means it can be made to work for so many more, and ultimately to go beyond personal sales also into the world of online interaction.

The whole idea about Challenger Sales is not so much in a particular way a person is, but rather the way they handle the whole process with a prospective client. In the book, Brent and Matthew talk about the three Ts (3 Ts):

  • Teach The Challenger will be making sure their customers reach an epiphany, or an aha-moment, in which they actually get the feeling they spent their time wisely listening to the Challenger.
  • Tailor The Challenger make sure the client will realize it will be made exactly to fit the customer.
  • Take control of the sale. The Challenger will absolutely propose the exact process in which the closure is included.

In addition, Brent and Matthew says the Challenger will do one more thing:

  • Build constructive tension. I interpret it in the way I’ve seen the best reps both ask for more money with poker face on. Levels of which I, myself, may not have dared go to. And they have definitely not been the ones breaking silence after having pushed over a suggested contract for the client to sign.

I believe we all can learn a great deal from the best here, but I find it interesting many parts can be not only learnt, but even prepared in advance.

So, what’s Marketing’s role when it comes to do Challenger Sales?

When you think about it, I’m sure you’ll have a couple of areas within your expertise within which your potential clients will always start to ponderously nod their heads in agreeance. Things they haven’t thought of before. These are obviously areas that should for sure be used within Sales to make sure you’ll provide the “Teaching” part above.

Then, even if what you provide is a black box that only comes in that one color, the way it can be pitched to a client is certainly that everything around it may be pitched to be totally customizeable to fit the need of this particular client in front of you, be that how quickly they can have it, its environmental packaging, or it’s phenomenal after-sales service. If it even for the simplest of products can be added more around it to become the “total product” for the user. For sure, you will be able to customize any products or service more for your client when you think about their whole usage experience in which your product or service will likely just be a small part anyway, right?

Now, finally, the taking control might feel like something rather pushy, but remember that all you ever want to do is to be of service, and you do best service by finding out the truth about whether there will be a good fit between you and the client or not, which both of you will benefit from, so it will ultimately be the better buying experience for the client, too.

For marketing, there is obviously a possibility to collect all ways in which you can teach, and in which you can tailor your product, so everyone will be able to use it.


Will Challenger Sales be applicable also on-line?

We’ve given this a  lot of thought and even if something like the “teaching” part is rather obvious, we believe also the “tailoring” part is possible: One of the things we’ve been doing e.g. in our own on-line 2-min-test (you can try it here: is e.g. to make sure that an as adapted solution to the exact need of a client can be made, and something similar might possibly be useful for you, too.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on who also “taking control” and “building constructive tension” could be done in an on-line world?


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