Challenger Sales Model: Process, Benefits & Implementation

The Challenger sales model lets you take control of sales conversations by drawing the prospect’s attention to a problem that affects them and offering the solution. As the original proponents of Challenger Sales put it, “Lead to your solution, not with your solution.”

Think about it: decision-makers come to a conversation believing they know a lot. And believe me, sometimes they do. Instead of bugging them with pain points, solutions, and your product’s features, which they already know a lot about, call their attention to something they didn’t see as a problem and let them know it is. This is how Challenger sales reps take control of the sale.

The Benefits of Challenger Sales Model

Challenger sales model has several benefits, including:

  • Customer education and insight: The heart of the Challenger Sales approach lies in providing unique perspectives and educating customers on potential problems and opportunities they might not have considered. By countering everything they already know with a superior perspective, you become a trusted advisor and differentiate yourself from competitors.
  • Navigating complex sales: B2B sales often involve multiple stakeholders and lengthy decision-making processes. The Challenger approach equips you to engage various stakeholders with tailored insights and perspectives, influencing their collective decision-making positively.
  • Handling analytical buyers: It’s no longer news that buyers conduct extensive research before engaging with salespeople. The Challenger Sales approach is particularly valuable when dealing with analytical prospects. You can capture the prospect's attention and steer the discussion in the right direction by providing data-backed insights and thought-provoking perspectives.

When Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson wrote Challenger Sales, they researched the attitudes of thousands of salespeople and categorized them into five distinct profiles:

  • The hard worker
  • The lone wolf
  • The relationship builder
  • The problem solver
  • The challenger

While the “relationship builder” is the most prevalent, their findings show one profile exceeds the others in closing more sales: the challenger.

The Six Elements of the Challenger Sales Model

Let’s deconstruct this sales methodology into its six main blocks so you can bring it together.

  • Insight selling: Insight selling is the foundation of the Challenger Sales model. It involves providing customers with thought-provoking insights about their business, industry, or challenges they might not be aware of. The goal is to educate the customer and create a "teachable moment" that challenges their current thinking or assumptions.
  • Commercial teaching: Commercial teaching builds on insight selling by tailoring those insights to be commercially relevant to the customer's specific needs and business goals. As you challenge a customer’s perception, be sure to focus on connecting the insights to their bottom line and how your offering can drive tangible business outcomes.
  • Tailored messaging: Rather than delivering a generic pitch, the Challenger Sales model emphasizes the importance of tailoring the sales message to each individual customer. This means you need to understand the customer's problems, needs, and goals and then craft a personalized message that addresses those specific needs.
  • Differentiated approach: The Challenger Sales model lets you differentiate your brand in a competitive market where products and services can seem similar. Challenge the status quo and highlight your unique value proposition; customers will see the difference.
  • Demand creation: The Challenger Sales model encourages you to create demand for your solution proactively rather than reactively. Star performers address the customer’s unspoken needs and potential opportunities. You can generate demand when you let them see how your solution can solve problems they might not have realized they had.
  • Collaborative negotiation: Finally, the Challenger Sales model calls for a collaborative negotiation approach. Instead of viewing negotiations as a win-lose situation, focus on working together with the customer to find a mutually beneficial solution. If you can engage in open and transparent negotiations that lead to win-win outcomes, you’ll foster long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The Challenger Sales Process

Ready to start using this sales model? Let’s discuss how self-motivated reps can give their all with Challenger Selling throughout the entire sales process.

Research and Prepare

The Challenger Sales Process - Research and Prepare, and take some coffee like on this image

You're about to engage a well-informed potential customer and demonstrate a superior understanding of their industry and problems. You'd better be right about what you say.

This is why you must invest time and effort into gaining deep insights into the customer's business, industry, challenges, and goals. You also need a wealth of knowledge, or better yet, be a specialist in their niche.

Not all customer pain points are obvious or explicitly expressed. But through in-depth research and customer understanding, you can identify latent pain points—those that the customer might not even be aware of. And that’ll be your ticket to leading the discussion.

So, go in-depth in your market research, study trends, and learn everything there is to learn about your industry, your product, and your prospects. Take time to think about the whole context of these pain points, including their emotional impact.

They may have looked at a million different options, but there’ll always be something crucial they’re overlooking that directly leads back to your product. Only thorough research can help you figure that out.

After gaining a deep understanding of your customer's business and industry, it's crucial to further refine your approach by considering the BANT sales methodology. This involves assessing the Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe of your prospects to qualify them effectively. For a detailed guide on how to apply the BANT framework in your sales process, read our comprehensive article here.

Build Rapport and Establish Credibility

Being a challenger doesn't mean you want to make quick sales and walk away. This still requires some level of rapport building. It's the safest way to ensure your prospect doesn't feel pressured.

So, you'll need to engage in meaningful conversations with prospects. The key is to actively listen, paraphrase, and summarize the prospect's key points to demonstrate genuine interest and empathy. In other words, be admirable.

After empathizing with their concerns, you can begin to educate them.

Remember that the challenger sales method and relationship building aren’t mutually exclusive. These days, building trust is key to closing deals. Without a relationship, you can’t have customer loyalty, and any win is bound to be short-lived.

Teach and Tailor Solutions

After listening to a prospect and building rapport, it's time to find a way to align your solutions with their problems.

Since we're assuming this prospect has done their research and become dangerously analytical, it'd be effective if you could quantify the value of your solutions through data and case studies.

Crafting a unique value proposition works differently in the Challenger Sales approach. They’ve already researched alternatives and know a thousand that are supposedly better than yours.

How do you tell them they're missing something and convince them to use your product?

This is where your industry knowledge and understanding of customers’ unique problems come in handy.

For example, if their discussions (or objections) hang mainly on the fact that there are better alternatives, you'll want to explain why those alternatives may not benefit them in the long term.

This could also be as simple as pointing to a new government regulation affecting the alternatives, then letting them see how your company has foreseen this problem and put measures in place to ensure your customers aren't affected.

With that, you'd have taken control of the conversation, and you could begin articulating the return on investment (ROI) and long-term value your offering delivers to further solidify its alignment with their objectives.

Take Control and Lead the Sale

The next step is to strategically challenge customer assumptions and preferences, guide them through the decision-making process, and address objections to foster successful outcomes.

To challenge customer assumptions, provide contrasting insights, ask thought-provoking questions, and use real-life examples to encourage customers to rethink their beliefs. You can nudge them to consider alternative strategies or solutions by presenting fresh perspectives and data.

“Lead to your solution,” remember?

Guiding customers through the decision-making process boils down to understanding the dynamics of the decision-making team and identifying key stakeholders and their priorities. Know who the stakeholders are, and you’ll know how to address them.

And when customers raise concerns, listen actively to understand their issues fully. Rather than merely countering objections, reframe them as teachable moments, an opportunity to show how your solution addresses concerns.

You can provide data-backed solutions, concrete examples, case studies, and testimonials to alleviate customer apprehensions and build their confidence in the proposed offering.

By employing these tactics, you can foster meaningful discussions that challenge conventional thinking and lead customers to make informed decisions.

Negotiate and Close the Deal

If you have successfully educated your prospect and torn down all their defenses, you’ve laid the groundwork for negotiating and closing the deal.

To close deals effectively, leverage the value created during the selling process by reinforcing the quantifiable ROI and cost savings with data-backed evidence and success stories from other clients.

Involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process to ensure understanding and support. For instance, you may want to offer free trial periods or pilot programs to let customers experience the value firsthand and make the offer irresistible.

During negotiations, the collaborative approach remains pivotal. Aim for win-win solutions that benefit both parties. Stay flexible and adaptive, and respond to the customer's changing needs and concerns.

You’ll have successful negotiations and secure deals by maintaining a collaborative and value-driven approach.

How to Implement the Challenger Sales Approach

When sales organizations use the Challenger model, reps will go the extra mile to prove their solution works. But how can a sales leader build a healthy sales environment for Challenger reps? Here are five tips:

Build a Challenger Sales Team

How to Implement the Challenger Sales Approach - Build a Challenger Sales Team (Example of this image is Close team)

There can be no Challenger Sales without a challenger sales team. So, you either hire one, build one, or do both.

To hire a team with Challenger Sales experience, here are the steps to follow:

  • Define the ideal profile: Clearly outline the attributes, skills, and experience you seek in a challenger sales rep. Look for individuals who are naturally curious, have strong analytical skills, and are willing to challenge the status quo.
  • Target industry experience: Consider recruiting candidates with experience in your target industry or a strong understanding of the market dynamics. This can help them grasp the customer's challenges and business landscape more effectively.
  • Assess problem-solving skills: During recruitment, evaluate candidates' problem-solving abilities and capacity to provide insights and innovative solutions to customer issues.

To train your entire team on the Challenger Sales model:

  • Provide Challenger Sales methodology training: Offer comprehensive training on the principles and strategies of the Challenger Sales approach. Ensure the team understands the importance of customer insights, value creation, and challenging the customer's thinking.
  • Conduct role-playing exercises: Conducting role-playing exercises to simulate real-world sales scenarios should be part of your sales training. This practice helps the team practice challenging assumptions, handling objections, and delivering insights effectively.
  • Provide mentorship and coaching: Assign experienced mentors or coaches to guide new hires. Ongoing coaching sessions can reinforce the challenger mindset and offer personalized feedback to help sales reps improve their approach.
  • Ensure continuous learning: Encourage continuous learning and skill development through workshops, webinars, and industry events. Staying updated on market trends and industry insights enhances the team's ability to deliver valuable information to customers.

Implement Challenger Sales Strategies

This is how to implement challenger sales strategies:

  • Customer research: Empower your sales team with tools and resources to conduct in-depth customer research. We’ve emphasized this earlier on in this article, and that’s because it’s that important.
  • Insightful sales messaging: Ensure the team crafts compelling sales messages that challenge customer assumptions and present unique value. Your prospects might trust in God, but they need data to trust you.
  • Collaborative sales process: Encourage a collaborative sales process where the sales rep actively listens to customer needs and involves key stakeholders throughout the decision-making journey. This approach fosters strong customer relationships.
  • Value demonstration: Train your team to effectively quantify and articulate the value of your solution in addressing customer challenges. Showcase how the offering aligns with the customer's objectives and leads to tangible benefits.

Align Sales and Marketing Efforts

For your challenger sales approach to succeed, the marketing and sales teams must work together to deliver maximum value.

You can make this possible by conducting joint training sessions for both the marketing and sales teams to introduce them to the core principles of the Challenger Sales approach.

When the marketing team understands Challenger Sales as much as the sales team does, both will be on the same page, and collaboration will be smoother. This will also help the marketing team tailor content to this strategy.

Another area where the marketing and sales teams must work together is content creation. To make that possible, form cross-functional teams that include representatives from both marketing and sales. These teams can collaborate on content creation, bringing together sales insights and marketing expertise.

Finally, provide access to shared resources, such as articles, videos, sales pitches, and case studies that illustrate the Challenger Sales approach. Encourage teams to discuss and analyze these materials together to reinforce the concepts.

That’s how you build cohesion into your system and achieve remarkable outcomes.

Create Content and Tools to Support the Challenger Sales Approach

You also need to match your content to the Challenger Sales approach. This means you need to review your sales enablement needs.

To do that, take the following steps:

  • Assess the customer journey: Adopting the Challenger Sales model will change your sales process. Map out the customer journey in connection to the new approach to get an idea of your content needs.
  • Understand buyer personas: Sales enablement content should be personalized. Map out your buyer personas to identify how to talk to them and what their concerns are.
  • Segment content by sales stage: As prospects move through each stage of your sales funnel, target them with content and tools based on the different stages of the sales process. Tailor the materials to match the customer's journey, from early research to negotiation and closing.

Lastly, use sales enablement tools to support the Challenger Sales approach.

Adapt Your Sales Processes

How to Implement the Challenger Sales Approach - Adapt Your Sales Process, and Consider Using CRM

To adapt your current sales process to the new challenger sales model, take the following steps:

  • Assess the current sales process: Do this to determine how to merge the two processes. While each sales process is distinct and has its own characteristics, there will be similarities. From value-based selling to consultative selling to solution selling, each one has its advantages. Don’t forget that not all high performers need to be challengers. So, make the transition gradual.
  • Map the sales process to the customer journey: Map out the various touch points where customers will engage with the salespeople by laying out the buyer's journey from the initial awareness stage to the ultimate decision-making stage.
  • Incorporate Challenger Sales techniques into the process: To fully incorporate them into your sales process, provide your sales team with adequate training and education, craft your message accordingly, and give them all the tools they need, such as a knowledge repository.

Should You Adopt the Challenger Sales Approach?

Despite all the helpful tips provided in this article, we thought the best way to wrap it up was to answer this important question: Should you adopt the challenger sales approach?

The simple answer is: it depends.

The truth is, the Challenger Sales model is very demanding and requires top performers and high-level training. If you feel you have all that and the resources to pull it off, then it might be the best for you.

Another important thing to consider is whether your current sales approach is helping your sales performance. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Just go through all the steps highlighted in this article and see if this is the best sales strategy for you.

Of course, for your sales process to reach its full potential, you need a high-performing CRM that enables self-motivated reps to close more deals. Check out our on-demand demo of Close to see how it can help you supercharge your sales process.

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