Solution selling vs Challenger selling: Which is best for your team?

Solution selling vs Challenger selling—who wins the battle in today’s world of sales?

The idea of solution selling was created back in the 1980s, but does that make it old? Challenger selling has a much newer birthdate, made popular in the 2010s. But does that make it a more ‘modern’ way of selling?

With so many selling models to choose from, how do you know which one is best for your process, your leads, and your company?

Let’s dive into a comparison of these two popular sales methodologies. You’re about to learn:

  • What is solution selling?
  • What is Challenger selling?
  • Solution selling vs Challenger selling: how are they different at a glance?
  • Closing the sale: when to use solution and when to use challenger

What is solution selling?

Solution selling is based on the goal of understanding key prospect needs and building a solution that fits into their world. The rep must be accommodating, taking time to gain a deep understanding of each individual prospect’s needs and circumstances before offering a tailored solution.

The solution selling model is all about building relationships and being truly helpful. It focuses on the why rather than the what—selling based on the problems being solved rather than the product that’s for sale.

This selling model works best for businesses selling a complex product or a plan structure that needs to be adapted to each prospective customer.

The downside to solution selling: It doesn’t take into account the fact that now, most buyers are more than halfway through their journey to purchase by the time they start talking to a rep.

What is Challenger selling?

The challenger model is all about giving valuable information to prospects, challenging the norm with thoughts and ideas that the prospect doesn’t (but should) know about the world they operate in. Challenger sellers don’t live inside the box of their prospects’ world—they challenge prospects to live outside the box.

In a world where buyers have access to more information than ever during the buying process, reps using the challenger model gain respect and trust by giving the prospect information they didn’t know, presenting their solution as an out-of-the-box way to solve their problems.

Challengers have a deep understanding of their customer’s business and industry and encourage prospects to step outside their comfort zone. They challenge long-held beliefs with new ways of solving old problems. They are more than sales reps—they’re guides and coaches.

The downside of solution selling: It can be easy to slip into the trap of ‘telling is selling,’ trying to force prospects to choose your solution with a bold, aggressive pitch that scares them off rather than convincing them.

Solution selling vs Challenger selling: how are they different at a glance?

In simple terms, what are the main differences between solution selling and Challenger selling?

Solution Sales Challenger Sales Developed in the 1980s Developed in 2011 Builds adapted solutions to customer needs Coaches customers to try new solutions to their problems Best for prospects who are unaware of the solutions that are available Best for prospects who have some knowledge and are willing to be taught new ideas. Requires sellers to ask lots of qualifying questions to discover the needs of their prospects Requires sellers to have intimate knowledge of current trends and new ideas in the industry of their prospects

Closing the sale: When to use solution and when to use challenger

Choosing the right sales model for your business and your team is entirely dependent on the type of solution you’re selling, and who you’re selling it to.


No one can tell you that solution selling or Challenger selling is a better model in general. Anyone that does is probably trying to sell you something.

Each method has its pros and cons, but there is one important key for both: whether you’re using the solution selling or Challenger selling model, you need to adapt those methods to your customers, your team, and the times we’re living in.

Here’s how each of these sales models can work in different parts of the sales process.


With both of these sales methodologies, it’s essential to understand the needs of the prospect. Once you’ve established that this prospect would be a good fit for your product with basic discovery questions, the two models start to deviate:

With solution: Solution selling is all about digging deeper into the challenges of your prospect and finding the right solution. With this model, reps act as consultants, helping prospects better understand their own needs and the solutions that will fit them best.

With challenger: Challengers also need to understand the problems their prospects are facing, but at this stage, it’s vital that the rep establishes their expertise in the field. They prove they’re an expert in solving the problems the prospect is facing by reiterating the problem. Then, they push the prospect to shift their mindset to a solution they may not have considered, evoking curiosity.


Once the rep decides this is a qualified prospect, it’s time to pitch their solution. Whether this is done in a sales meeting, a product demo, or a video call with stakeholders, the methods here are quite different:

With solution: A solution selling pitch is almost 100% personalized to the individual prospect. At this point, the rep has a deep understanding of prospect needs and can tailor their pitch to explain the specific value the prospect will see when they purchase the product.

With challenger: Using real industry data and experiences, the rep uses questions to help the prospect challenge misconceptions about their problems. The rep talks from a position of authority and expertise, acting as a peer in the industry who is willing to arm their prospect with insider knowledge. They use this approach to reframe the problem and possible solutions, leading to the obvious choice—the product they’re selling.

Negotiation and close

Negotiating terms and closing the sale are the final aspects of the process. Here’s how these two models handle this dealbreaker stage:

With solution: At this stage, the rep uses questions to help the prospect imagine a world with their product. They build a narrative around the solution and negotiate openly to find the solution that’s right for the prospect.

With challenger: A challenger negotiates confidently, with a take-it-or-leave-it approach. They’re willing to simply get up and walk away from the deal, which puts them in a place of power. They build narratives around real customer stories that pull at underlying emotions. Fear of missing out and fear of failure are the typical baselines of these stories. By the time a challenger gets to the close, they have positioned their product as the obvious solution to the problem their prospect is facing.

Choosing the right sales model for your team and your market

If you want someone to tell you which sales model you should be using, you’re in the wrong place.

You can’t be dogmatic about which sales model is ‘the best’. Each sales methodology—including solution selling and Challenger selling—has its own pros and cons. There are valuable aspects to each model, and ultimately, it will depend on the people you’re selling to.

The best thing you can do is learn about the different selling models, and be prepared to react according to the needs of the prospect.

Are you chatting with a prospect who is willing to be challenged? Do they enjoy debating best practices for the industry? Are they open to hearing and experimenting with new ideas? Then the challenger model could work very well.

But the opposite is also true—if your prospect is set in their ways and unwilling to hear another opinion, the challenger model could very well backfire.

The point is this: Know your market. Know your customers. And know yourself.

Then, you’ll be able to choose the model that’s right for you and for the people you’re selling to.

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