The Challenger Sale: the book that changed the approach in the sales world.



One of the books that sparked the most interest in the sales world, The Challenger Sale, was written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the CEB (Corporate Executive Board) and was published in 2011. Compared to many other books in the sector it can be said that it is still innovative today, as it questions a predominant approach in the world of sales and proposes a new one.

The authors, in fact, question the stance that the winning approach and the fundamental thing to do is to build a relationship with your buyer, and state that this is actually the least functional approach. Instead, they propose that salespeople should explain how their product solves the customer’s problem.

Quote: “As critical as a strong customer relationship may be, familiarity alone isn’t enough to win the business.”


Five categories of sellers and the teach, tailor and take control method

Based on a study conducted on approx. 90 companies, the book proposes a distinction of salespeople into 5 categories:

  • Relationship builders: those who build relationships to be able to convince a customer, those who get along with everyone;

  • Hard workers: hard workers who never give up, are highly motivated, love feedback and personal growth and for this reason they commit themselves with great effort;

  • Lone wolves: those who work independently, without following standards and any protocols;

  • Problem solvers: those who solve problems, are reliable and are more customer oriented;

  • Challengers: those who have a different vision of the world, love debate, try to understand the needs of customers and question them with them in order to get them out of their comfort zone, with new ideas.


This study showed that 40% of the sellers who managed to get better results are precisely those defined in the latter category, and that they are based on three main characteristics and actions: teach, customize and take control.

  • Teach by challenging the customer, delving into some issues to bring out new needs that they do not know they have and that can be solved thanks to the solution you propose

  • Personalize the communicative approach based on the person with whom you relate, having to relate to different people

  • Take control and go straight to the people who have greater decision-making power.

From these characteristics and from this book, a model and an approach based on these points was born.


Why are explaining and teaching essential?

As we have already mentioned in other articles, customers are overwhelmed by a large amount of information relating to the products they can buy and, thanks to communication and marketing, they are already able to find a lot about the products and services offered, so by the time they meet a salesperson they are already well informed and have quite clear ideas about the characteristics that the product or service, which they need, must have.

What a seller must do is therefore not to exclusively tell the benefits, but to be able to explain why they should buy, teaching them something that has to do with the strengths of our company, responding yes to the needs of the customer, but redefining them. We can also call this type of approach commercial teaching.

We can identify key steps of the challenging salesman approach:

  1. The salesperson engages the customer and together they try to customize the product as much as possible

  2. Teach and show solutions to the customer

  3. Lead the conversation step by step to lead the customer towards the proposed solution

  4. It is important to make the attractive solution for all the people involved in the sales process, from the first person you have contact with to the actual decision-maker


Quote: “The ability to deliver unique insight is arguably the most powerful weapon in the Challenger’s arsenal and the biggest driver of B2B customer loyalty.”

The Challenger approach can be considered more than just a technique and communicative approach, and is not always suitable in all contexts and all situations, but should be studied and put into practice where appropriate.

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