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Hannah Macaulay
October 13, 2017

The Challenge of Challenger

According to Harvard Business Review, the value of relationships in sales goes beyond the mere existence of a relationship. It is about the type of relationship, the type of interactions that compose that relationship, and how those interactions affect a customer’s decisions.


There are three main types of productive sales relationships: Transactional Sales, Relational Sales, and Challenger Sales. Challenger is widely regarded to be the most effective sales model, so why isn’t everyone a Challenger?


Because it’s harder than it looks.

Here’s a quick review of the Challenger model:


Over the past few years, customers have become overwhelmed by the amount of content they receive. To break through the noise, salespeople must go beyond being just a reliable source. The Challenger approach helps the customer see innovative solutions or approach their problems differently. Challengers know a lot about each customer use their knowledge to push the customer into constructive tension and re-frame their decision making.

In short, the Challenger does 4 things:

  • Teaches the Customer
  • Tailors Sales message to the Customer
  • Takes control of the sale
  • Builds constructive tension

So, why Challenge?

The widely read book, The Challenger Sale, concludes that high sales performers are 2x as likely to use the Challenger Sales method than other methods. In fact, a Relational Sales relationship, a commonly taught practice, was recorded to be the least effective. Yet the question still stands; if this method is the most effective, why isn’t everyone a Challenger?


The barriers to The Challenger Sale: Time & Confidence  


After the publication of The Challenger Sale, many articles have expressed the the difficulty with the challenger sale.There are two obvious barriers that prevent many from achieving a Challenger status.


Number one: It takes a lot of time to be a Challenger

Making an authoritative recommendation to a customer requires a depth of knowledge about that customers. That depth of knowledge requires copious amounts of research.

Not to mention, a customer needs to trust the salesperson. This trust is built on the foundation that each interaction needs to be unique based on that customer’s needs. There isn’t a template that one can follow to eliminate nuances between each relationship.


Number two: Getting it wrong has big consequences

Doing any of components of the challenger approach incorrectly could be abrasive and pedantic. Challenging a customer is a difficult thing to do.

On top of how difficult it is to initiate coaching interactions without being pedantic, genuinely innovating with a customer requires experience, combined with extensive research, in the customer’s field.


Knowing these fallbacks, how do we enable Challenger?


Asking salespeople to be coaches to their customers is all well and good - it’s an effective response to a changing sales landscape. However, one can’t suddenly become a Challenger. 

To be an effective Challenger, sales people need support.


Whether that support comes from software, group-training, or coaching, the only way to have teams of Challengers is to acknowledge how difficult Challenger selling is and support salespeople as they transition.

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