Book Review: "The Challenger Sale"

The Challenger Sale Bookby Matthew Dixon And Brent Adamson of CEB

"The Challenger Sale" is a must read for anyone charged with increasing revenue derived from solution sales, especially if you are finding that:

  • Your buyers are making purchase decisions on price not value;
  • Your reps are haggling with Procurement over price;
  • Your buyers are unwilling or unable to make purchase decisions;
  • Your reps are being used as fodder during RFP processes;
  • Your reps are struggling to instantiate unique value and differentiation.

… all common realities in the consensus-oriented and risk-adverse environment in which we find ourselves selling. Leaders are having trouble inspiring action, and buyers are weary of the time and effort consumed by the solution sales discovery process. Discovery has no value for customers. Teaching has value.

The Challenger Sales Model recognizes that customers want to talk about their business and needs more than they want to talk with a vendor about their solutions. Dixon and Adamson together with the CEB have conducted exhaustive research involving 5,000 customers who essentially said, "Stop wasting my time. Challenge me. Teach me something new."

According to Dixon and Adamson, Challengers "teach for differentiation" within a commercial teaching pitch that is disciplined and informed by real insight; they "tailor for resonance", engaging the right buyers and stakeholders with the right message; they assert and "take control" over the sale. "Challengers move customers out of their comfort zone by showing them their world in a different light. The key is to do this with control, diplomacy, and empathy".

The Challenger Sales Model is a framework for solution selling enabled by organizational capabilities. This includes the capability to assess the unique strengths of the solution, segment customers by need or behavior, and equip reps with aligned and well-scripted insights. Sales management fundamentals that inspire effective behavior, especially coaching, round out the organizational capabilities to innovate at the deal level; this ensures a specific flow or "choreography" that leads to the unique strengths of a solution. As a result, buying decisions are driven by long-term value not short-term price considerations.

"Teaching is all about offering customers unique perspectives on their business and communicating those perspectives with passion and precision in a way that draws the customer into the conversation. …You're asking customers to change their behavior – to stop acting in one way or start acting in another. To make that happen, however, you have to get the customer to think differently about how they operate."

The art and science, and steps that comprise the Challenger Sales Model are described and also presented in the form of instructive case studies. Useful tools and exercises help reps progress from core performers to star performers by helping them to teach, tailor, and take control.

Companies with solution selling models have ample reason to find, hire, coach, and retain these star performers. The research conducted by Dixon and Adamson together with the CEB found that 39% of high performers are "Challengers". Other profiles such as the Lone Wolf also register high on the relative performance scale. But, Challengers, above all others, possess the attributes necessary to teach, tailor, and take control within solution selling models. According to the research conducted, star performers "outperform [average performers] by almost 200%."

Not surprisingly, the research conducted by Dixon and Adamson found the "talent gap" between average and star performers within transactional selling environments to be far less significant. Simply put, transactional sales professionals are wired very differently than solution sales professionals. This tells us that new diagnostics and tools (such as Treeline's DADOMATCH) are required to find and hire the right people. It is not enough to hire a demonstrably "great" sales person in terms of the numbers – quota performance, goal attainment, etc. While assessment of these elements will remain important, behavioral deterministic characteristics also need to be assessed. The solution sale, and sales process, is inherently more complex, strategic, longer, often more conceptual, and conducted among a broader group of stakeholders and at a higher level in the organization. Further, the characteristic of assertiveness is also critical when challenging traditional thinking, positioning and reframing new approaches based on well thought out business and economic drivers, and when discussing money within a "purposeful choreography" which leads the customer to the unique strengths of your solution and a decision based on value.

This short summary in no way reflects the depth and insight provided in this book. Beware, after reading this book and taking an honest assessment of your individual and organizational selling capabilities, you might lose some sleep.

This book joins my Hall of Fame of sales and leadership books which includes works such as Neil Rackham's "SPIN Selling", Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman's "Strategic Selling" (now The New New Strategic Selling), Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends & Influence People", Brian Tracy's "The Psychology of Achievement", and Derek Gatehouse's "The Perfect SalesForce".

Treeline ( is a sales-focused executive search firm that has worked with thousands of sales candidates and hiring managers over the past twelve years. Named for the outdoor adventurers who "climb above the tree line" -the altitude beyond which trees can survive- for the rush, excitement, and challenge, Treeline also helps companies improve top line revenue with sales-focused professional services. Treeline can help instantiate or define your sales structure and model, staff the model, and sustain the model — including help with promoting and sustaining a sales culture of performance. Treeline is also the developer of DADOMATCH.

DADOMATCH is a technology and service that helps sales hiring managers define, find and hire the perfect fit faster and with less cost. DADOMATCH provides an effective lens that highlights characteristics and the degree to which the role and candidate are naturally aligned. DADOMATCH organizes and presents this information along with the candidate's work history and accomplishments. Please click here to view a sample.

Published On: April 9th, 2013Categories: Blog News, Sales Optimization, Sales Recruiting

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