What is the Challenger Sales Model? Benefits, Application

Krithika Raj
min read
October 11, 2023

The B2B buying process has changed drastically over the past few years.

With a flood of information available on the internet, buyers spend 27% of their time researching your solutions. Only in the last leg of the buying journey do they reach out to sales - spending about 17% of their time talking to sellers per  Gartner

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson were quick to pick up on this trend. In their 2011 book The Challenger Sale, they argue that the relationship-building selling approach is not enough to convince prospects.

They present a new method of selling - sales reps need to teach their prospect instead of serving them.

This article discusses the challenger sales model and how your sales team can adopt it. 

What is the Challenger Sales Model?

The Challenger Sales Model is a new-age sales approach focused on educating prospects, tailoring sales pitches, and taking control of the buying journey. Dixon and Matthew suggest that salespeople should proactively guide prospects by providing fresh perspectives to their problems and helping them find the right solution. 

What are the five types of sellers in the Challenger Sale?

In their study, Dixon and Adamson conclude that there are five types of sales reps - the relationship builder, the reactive problem solver, the hard worker, the lone wolf, and the challenger.

The five types of sellers in the Challenger Sale

Let's see what each group looks like:

The Relationship Builder

This rep is a customer-centric seller. Putting the customer first is what they do. They go the extra mile to build rapport with prospects; they're patient and empathize with their prospects. They aim to find an advocate within a company, form a bond with them, and persuade them to advocate for their solution internally.

The Problem Solver

Problem solver is a rep that is extremely detail-oriented. They make sure every query posed by the prospect is taken care of. They can tackle complicated problems and find solutions while keeping everyone informed.

The Hard Worker

This rep works hard to meet their goals. They're committed and willing to put in the extra hours if it means they get to hit their targets. They have a strict sales process and stick to it rather relentlessly.

The Lone Wolf

These reps operate on their terms. They're confident and do not stop putting their spin on processes. They are difficult to deal with interpersonally and tend not to collaborate.

The Challenger

Challengers are risk-takers. They're high-performing sales reps who aren't afraid to challenge their prospects if it comes to that. They understand their prospect's pains and use unique strategies to tailor sales pitches that are hard to resist. They take charge of the conversation and tactfully pressure prospects to move them closer towards converting.

What Are The Benefits Of Using The Challenger Sales Model?

The Challenger Sales Model comes with a lot of benefits, but the three most important ones stand out:

1. Tackle Complex Sales

B2B buying cycles can be long, with multiple stakeholders involved. With the challenger sales model, you'll put yourself in their shoes. With insights tailored to each stakeholder's pain point, you can influence purchasing decisions positively.

2. In-depth Customer Knowledge

The Challenger Sales Model is all about looking at your prospect's pains from a unique perspective, one they might not even have considered. By enabling prospects to view their concerns differently, you'll gain their trust and give yourself an edge over your competitors.

3. Handle Inquisitive Customers

Buyers always think they know better. And within good reason, as they research before they buy. By enabling prospects to think outside the box and addressing pressing issues that may not have surfaced in their minds, you'll capture their attention and usher them toward closing the deal.

How To Adopt The Challenger Sales Methodology In 5 Steps

The foundation of Challenger Sales Methodology is teaching prospects how your solution is the cure to their problems - whether they believe it or not.

Challenger Sales Reps take control and tactfully nudge prospects to make purchasing decisions. They are proactive in their sales process, always on their toes about what prospects need and how to effectively tackle an objection. 

With this unique approach to sales, reps tap into the prospect's fear. Think of it this way: you show your prospects two worlds. A world with your product vs. a world without your product. You must show your prospects what happens if they don't have your product. Tap into that fear and give them hope by highlighting your product is their ideal solution. Their saving grace.

Let's dive into a simple 5-step process that will set you apart as a challenger rep.

5-Step technique to adopt challenger sales

Step 1: The Warm-Up

Trust plays an important role in any won deal. Your prospects purchase your product because they believe in you and your sales pitch.

So, the first step in becoming a challenger rep is establishing credibility with prospects through transparent and empathetic communication.

This is where the challenger model is different from the traditional sales approach. Instead of waxing lyrical about what your product does, you must focus on your prospect's pains and how it relieves them.

Shift from "My product can do X, Y, Z" to "Let me show you how to alleviate [pain 1], [pain 2], and [pain 3]." Refrain from mentioning your product at this stage. Your only focus should be to target their pain points and show your prospects that you empathize with them.

Sales reps should:

1. Be transparent: Tell your prospects exactly why you're contacting them. Put forth the issues that your prospect may be dealing with. Lead with empathy.

2. Pique curiosity: Conduct thorough research to uncover facts that may excite your prospect's mind. Your aim should be to stick out in their minds and be memorable.

3. Showcase expertise: Prospects will pay you no heed if you come across as an amateur. Cite examples from your experience. For example, explain how customers within the same industry solved their issues with your product.

The warm-up is about laying the foundation for solid selling further down the road.

Step 2: Reframe

At this point, you've started a thought-provoking conversation with your prospect. The next step focuses on getting to the root cause of your prospect's problems.

For example, your prospect may have mentioned they need an interactive demo tool, but the real pain behind their ask could be the pressure to hit their marketing targets. 

In industry terms, it's called finding the need behind the need. 

Leveraging this information, you'll hit the nail right on the head and resonate better with your prospect. This opens up the perfect opportunity for you to pitch in a fresh perspective - that your prospect might not have considered, which opens up a new opportunity for growth.

During this conversation, you should slowly shift your prospect's mindset away from what they used to believe was the answer. Your prospects need to walk out of the conversation with a new perspective on their problem that they hadn't considered before.

You can do so by:

1. Being confident during the conversation: No matter what curveballs your prospect may throw at you, you must either tackle it head-on or gracefully redirect the conversation back to your perspective. Confidence and fearlessness seep through the conversation, passing on to your prospects. This prompts your prospects also to believe and take your word as a strong consideration.

2. Challenging your prospects: Prospects can be set in their ways. It takes relentless persuasion to push them to look at a problem differently.

3. Zeroing in on their biggest pain: Addressing the problem prospects discussed during the warmup is a great way to keep the conversation going. Use this to emphasize your understanding, expertise in the area, and how you will help your prospect solve the issue.

Step 3: Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact

This step is usually divided into two subsections.

1. Rational Drowning

By this stage, your prospects should be open to new ideas, and you should be well aware of their pain points.

Now is when you bring in the big guns. As the name of the step suggests, you need to drown your prospect in rational data. Show your prospects the cost of not addressing the problem.

Dive deeper into research. Invaluable insights into industry stats and success stories can be a game-changer for your prospect's buying decision. 

No matter the obstacle - long sales cycles or prospect reluctance - you must make your prospect feel the consequences of not solving their problem.

2. Emotional Impact

The B2B sales environment may be data-driven, but emotions still influence the sales experience.

As a challenger sales rep, you must share relevant success stories that will truly resonate with your prospect's concerns. They need to start visualizing themselves in these stories and aspire to reach the levels of success, albeit hypothetically at this point.

This serves as a powerful motivation for your prospect and reveals other alternatives to their problem - positively impacting their purchase decision.

Step 4: The New Way

“The goal is to take customers on a roller-coaster ride, leading first to a rather dark place before showing them the light at the end of the tunnel.”

  • Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson

With the shift in your prospect's mindset, you must highlight the possibilities of a better future.

Talk about the newfound solution and how to implement it (without mentioning your product or service specifically).

This step aims to help the potential customer understand the perfect solution to their issue without talking about your product directly. It might seem strange, but when done right, the prospect will start seeing your solution as the answer to their problem independently, without you having to push it.

Step 5: Your Solution

Finally, you can talk about your product or service. At this point, you've gained customer loyalty.

This step should flow smoothly as your prospect already knows your product or service is best for them. 

Remember: tailor this stage (a product demo or company walkthrough) to what you've learned about your prospect.

When Can The Challenger Sales Model Fail?

 As riveting as the Challenger Sales Model is, it's not for all sales teams. You should have enough insight into your prospect's pains and concerns to tell them what they need.

Let's look at certain scenarios where the Challenger Sales Framework may not work.

1. You're a small business

The Challenger Sales Model may not work well for small businesses as it's too complex and confrontational, and small businesses usually depend on initiating customer conversations, gaining their trust, and strengthening their bond. With limited resources and investments, small businesses must be agile and adaptable in their sales strategies.

2. You're dependent on Product-led Growth

Product-led Growth companies rely on users to discover and adopt their products independently, with minimal intervention from sales. PLG focuses on the product's value, making the Challenger Model less suitable. 

3. You're new to the market

Challenger sales require a deep understanding of prospects and the market. The confrontational nature of the model may not be the best fit, as newcomers need to gain trust by educating customers on the value of your products. As competitors may already have the upper hand, new entrants must be more adaptable and customer-oriented to succeed.

Recommended: 12 Best Sales Enablement software

In a Nutshell (+FAQs)

B2B buying behavior is changing. Sellers must keep up with the trends by adapting their selling methodologies. 

The Challenger Sales Model has proved most effective when buying cycles become more complex and more stakeholders get involved. Especially in an economic downturn, it's important to stand out.

By implementing this revolutionary sales technique, your prospect walks out of the conversation with a different perspective. 

Q1. What is a challenger in sales personality?

A Challenger is a salesperson who excels at challenging a prospect’s status quo, providing a different angle to their problem, and provoking thought. They aren’t afraid to push back, ask tough questions, and guide prospects towards innovative solutions. They disrupt conventional thinking and drive successful sales outcomes.

Q2. What is challenger sale vs. gap selling?

Challenger selling emphasizes challenging the prospect’s thought process. A challenger sales rep provides unique angles to a prospect’s problem, provoking thought and guiding them toward a solution they may not have considered initially. Gap selling is a sales methodology that centers around spotting a “gap” or difference in where they are today and where they want to be.

Q3. What are the challenger skills?

The top three skills a challenger rep must possess are teaching, tailoring the pitch, and taking control. The rep must educate prospects by offering different perspectives, adapting their messages and solutions to each prospect’s unique needs, and taking control of the sales conversation - leading discussions and challenging the prospect’s assumptions and thought processes.

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."
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"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."


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