It’s all a Game of Thrones: Dominating the World of Complex Solution Selling



To find a real Challenger Sales Rep, 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, as mentioned from our previous blog post. I thought that’s what it meant for someone to be able to do Challenger Sales. Boy was I wrong.

When I read “the Challenger Sales” book again, I realized that being a sales rep can mean both having a job extremely hard to get right, as well as being rather easy when you have a few steps to follow.

What does a salesperson do? And is it any different in a Complex Solution Selling environment?

Many sales reps will pick up the phone and try to make as many calls as possible and simply try to book meetings with potential customers, travel here and there, conduct meetings, send proposals and negotiate deals with the occasional follow-up after delivery to primarily get even more sales.

Then two questions trigger me just like the Challenger Sales authors: Why will some Sales reps do really well and what set them apart in a competitive environment?

When working in a B2B Company and/or with a complex product; sales reps need to develop a rather deep level of knowledge of the company he/she is working at and a continuous self-education of the solution they are selling or services they are providing and the whole market around it. It is important for a sales rep to know a lot about the type of people who would be interested in his/ her product, innovating and measuring what works and what doesn’t. This means, being just good at the phone or creating relationships with customers won’t be enough.

Can we know that this is then true?

As mentioned in the book “the Challenger Sale”, research results showed that 40% of high sales performers primarily used a Challenger style – as opposed to one of the other four sales styles the book identified. Out of the other four, the Relationship  Builder seems weaker than ever as a sales trait and the least effective when it comes to the sales processes which may be counter-intuitive to what those recruiting sales people normally think, and value most. To take time to nurture and grow strong with prospects or even try to mirror and match based on the concept that people like others who are similar to themselves provides only poor sales results. Actually, it is a disruptive finding because most companies believe that a relationship builder will entertain prospects the best, and strangely enough, much of sales training and sales teams are geared towards this trait and reinforce the use of it as well.

So what about the other side of the coin? I mean why are Challenger Sales the perfect match?  Prospects are at once risk-averse and want to cut costs, increase revenue and mitigate risk. This is not strange because you want to reach this yourself!  Prospects don’t want to spend time helping a rep finding out what they are struggling with. That is why, when sales complexity increases, so does the success rate of the challenger approach. Having a challenger ensures having unique perspectives on the market, providing valuable consultation and educating prospects when facing new issues or outcomes to avoid pitfalls.

As we have seen from our previous post a challenger rep has a different view of the world, loves debating, pushes customers out of their comfort zones and has a strong understanding of the customers’ business even without too many open-ended questions. That is exactly what the book recommends “instead of bludgeoning customers with endless facts and features about their company and products”. What it does recommend is for salespeople to only “tailor their sales message to the customer’s specific needs and objectives.”

What to do differently in complex solution selling?

Authors of “The Challenger Sale” discovered that Challenger sales reps do completely different things to become top performers. They simply teach, tailor and take control. These three Ts do wonder; they may sound easy but that is not the case. To be able to nail these skills, you need time to reach a high level of performance, willingness to learn continuously and have an inner drive to lead to innovative and effective ways and solutions to move complex sales forward. We shouldn’t forget that time and attention in the B2B sales is a luxury! And here is where the challenger’s tailoring part does magic. The key certainly is to do it with control, diplomacy and compassion.

Here below is how a challenger could hold a meeting: He would present to his prospects a compelling story where he will give them a scenario that resembles their own situation through the 3 Ts as explained below

Challenger Traits Explanation
Teach (two way communication process)
  • Proactively teach prospects something new about their business
  • Increase expertise and knowledge about their business and market.
  • Teach them new perspectives in a compelling and assertive manner to drive actions
  • Buyers are highly dependent on reps insights to make the right choice
  • Provide services that prospects wouldn’t know about (commercial teaching)
  • Be relevant, it is no need to talk about yourself but only to address their problems
  • …their pitch to resonate with customers’ concerns.
  • Assert your understanding by visuals and materials
  • Increase their curiosity by building suspense and make them feel they need to learn more
  • Think of data, information that would reframe the way they think and how they would compete.
  • Interactively configure your product so your prospects realize they can’t get it anywhere else
  • Prepare a good ROI where you focus on solving what you taught them rather than the ROI on buying your solution
  • Visualize data
  • Hold off: Don’t promote your service at this stage even if you feel that prospects are released


Take control
  • …of the sales process while focusing on customer value.
  • Increase curiosity by building suspense
  • push the customer out of their comfort zone
  • Gain buyers commitment
  • Collaborate towards same goals
  • Develop best solution and drive the momentum into a deal
  • Hear the expression: “that’s how we should be doing”


While you are performing the three Ts, relate always to the prospects pain and squeeze it even more because the emotional impact comes from your story and the link you make to their pain and how you can relieve it. Once you’ve changed the way they look at matters and they have agreed to take your own path, then they are ready to embrace your offer no matter what

In 2014 Rain Group’s Mike Schultz and John Doerr, argued that relationships are everything but dead.  In “the Challenger Sales”, the authors mentioned themselves that the Challenger rep isn’t born this way, he/she is made by learning these skills. So, Sales reps’ ability to build personal connection while also building inspiration and trust is the nitty-gritty details to win sales and constant awareness of the customers’ needs.

What do you think? Does this make sense? What about prospects that expect a transactional relationship? What would work best, one type of sales rep or have you seen a mix of traits from all the five types in action, and if so, when was what trait used? Share with us your thoughts and reflection!


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