The Challenger Sales Model: An Explanation

Published on September 7, 2022
Aruna Neervannan
CTO/Founder, Rafiki.ai

Are you one of those who always reach the end of a deal, only to see it fall through unexpectedly? In all probability, this could be because you were following the wrong sales model in your organization.

There was a time when relationship-building and problem-solving models were popular. However, as time progressed, the Challenger sales model became more effective in closing a deal.

In this post, we’ll discuss the Challenger Sales Model and the best way to adopt it in your organization. 

What is the Challenger Sales Model?

The Challenger Sales Model is a sales methodology that focuses on taking control of a sale by educating the customer and encouraging them to consider new opportunities. This enables the sales reps to offer an alternative way forward. 

The idea for the Challenger sales model was conceived by two executives from the Corporate Executive Board Inc. (CEB), Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. They first introduced this concept of sales strategy in their book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of Customer Conversation in 2011. 

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The fundamental idea behind this concept, as they claim, was that the customer does not know what they want; you have to dig deeper and make them understand their need. The book also identified five different profiles of B2B sales reps- 

  1. The hard worker - They put in the extra effort
  2. The relationship builder - They emphasize harmony
  3. The lone wolf -  They follow their own instincts and not rules
  4. The problem solver - They narrow down the details
  5. The challenger - The push for the status quo

Of these, the Challengers were found to be the clear winners. According to Gartner, around 40% of star performers in sales were usually Challengers. That number shot to 54% in a complex sales situation. 

This roaring success can be attributed to challengers having a deep understanding of the customer’s business and using the knowledge to create constructive pressure on their instincts. 

Working of Challenger Sales Model

In the Challenger Sales model, the sales rep begins the conversation by “These steps will solve your pain point <pain point>” instead of asking, “What do you think is causing the <pain point>?”.

This former has a greater impact on the customer, and they start engaging with the rep actively. At a certain point, the rep can pitch their product as the most effective solution to the pain point. This way, the customer is educated about what is not known to them and has a solution in their hands.

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Key concepts and Assumptions of the Model

Concepts

  • Giving valuable information to the prospects and dissolving any preconceived ideas they might have. 
  • Focus on the salesperson’s expertise instead of building a personal relationship with the prospects
  • The sales process in the Challenger model works via insight-led conversations and not through product-based interactions. 

Assumptions

  • The customer does not know everything he/she wants to know. 
  • Customers do not have time to answer questions or patiently listen to a product and its features.

Where can the Challenger Sales Model backfire?

Despite being a very successful sales model, the Challenger model can backfire in two particular instances. They are - 

#1 When the customer hasn’t realized that a problem exists

Customers will engage in the buying process only when they are confident that a problem exists in their business and it needs a solution. The Challenger model backfires when the reps go on and on about the solutions when the customer has not actually convinced themselves that their business is in trouble.

#2 During the vendor selection stage

In this situation, the customer has accepted that they have a problem and has already researched the solutions and the potential list of vendors offering it. Disrupting the customer's thinking with multiple new opinions and thoughts in a unidirectional conversation might actually backfire. The customer might even drop the idea of purchasing from you and move on with a competitor. 

Why is the Challenger model unique?

  • While most sales models focus on closing deals, the Challenger sales model focuses on giving an unforgettable sales experience to the customers. 
  • This is the only sales model where the customer is educated about the product, the market, and above all, about the existing problem in his own business. 
  • It tailors the entire sales conversation through information about the customer’s business and their economic capability.
  • It helps to take control of the sales process by offering money value and making them think of your product or service as the best solution to their problem.

Who is it most suited for?

This model is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s best suited for complex B2B environments where there is scope to probe into the customers' thinking spots, establish two-way communication and finally offer the best solution. If your sales team has the following characteristics, then the Challenger sales model could be a great option for you- 

  • Consistently captures information about the market
  • They have great communication skills
  • They care to gather in-depth knowledge about the customer’s line of business.
  • They are creative and have the capability to generate ideas to solve customers’ pain points.
  • They have complete control over the financial aspects of the sale
  • They have the ability to push the customer to decide

Should you follow it?

The Challenger model is undoubtedly one of the most successful sales models today. It is extremely adaptable and can survive even in difficult environments. It lets your sales reps be aggressive and fully control the sales process. However, like any other model, the model might not work under all circumstances and for all types of sales teams. It is best suited to reps who already have great business and market knowledge. In other words, it becomes imperative for your reps to have a substantial understanding of how your clients make money, their core operational strategies, and their expected sales results. Without this in-depth knowledge, the Challenger sales model is bound to fail. 

How to make the Challenger sales model work?

The best way to make the Challenger model work in your organization is by using a call intelligence tool like Rafiki. Using it, you’ll know where your sales reps are lagging in terms of business knowledge and need training. Rafiki monitors and measures how effectively your reps are performing in calls and helps you determine whether they’ve become challengers already or if there is a long way to go for them.

To know more about Rafiki and to get a peek into its wonderful AI engine in action, sign up for a free trial now.

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