The Challenger Sales Model is an approach to sales is based on the behavior of Challenger sales reps. The basic premise is that a sales rep proactively participates in the Challenger training and coaching and then utilizes the relevant sales tools and enablement to learn how to take control of the sales/customer conversation. The Challenger Sale model has four fundamental underlying principles.
The Challenger Sales Model – Exporting the Model to the Core: Principle #1
The first principle of the Challenger Sales Model is that sales reps are made, not born – i.e. the nature versus nurture debate. The CEB study revealed that while all sales reps studied had some traits found in a true Challenger sales rep, those traits were not part of the reps’ core competence. However, with the right tools, training, coaching, reward and recognition system, a Challenger sales rep can be made. While not every sales rep can successfully transition to a Challenger sales rep persona, many will — and the return on investment will be huge.
The second principle to focus on is the combination of skills that matter. Specifically, combining the ability to teach, tailor, and take control while comfortably remaining in tension with a customer is what sets Challengers apart.
Teach for Differentiation
Challenger sales reps must be astute industry, competitive and customer observers to deliver insights that make customers re-think their business and their needs. What separates a Challenger sales rep is their ability to bring an “ah ha” moment to the customer – where he or she can readily see value from a new or innovative approach. Next, the Challenger rep must engage the customer in such a way that the customer becomes an evangelist of the idea/approach and champions it within their organization. Initially, the focus is not on one’s products and solutions but on how the customer can be more efficient and effective in their markets. Bridging the technology to the solution is the second step.
Teaching for differentiation needs to be institutionalized so that the same end goal is the target for all sales reps. Also, creating the knowledge and insights for an industry, competitor and customer should be a managed and repeatable process jointly developed by sales and marketing. This allows the organization to optimize and segment resources to deliver customer value in an efficient and effective manner. It also helps promote the brand by delivering clear and consistent communications inside and outside the organization as opposed to each sales rep trying to roll their own. What ISN’T promoted is that each Challenger sales rep becomes a robot who presses the “play button” to deliver a pitch. What IS promoted in the Challenger Sales Model is that content be standardized.
Tailor for Resonance
Challenger sales reps always communicate sales messages in the context of the customer. Throughout the sales cycle different constituents come into contact with the sales rep — approvers, decision-makers, recommenders, influencers and snipers. Some of these individuals will be strategic, some tactical, some technical and others business oriented. The Challenger sales rep needs to read the defense like a quarterback and call a play (maybe audibly) so that a teaching message can be delivered that resonates with the audience at hand. Again, this is a task that shouldn’t be dumped into the sales reps’ lap — it should be mutually developed and refined via a proactive working relationship between sales and marketing.
The objective of tailoring for resonance is to make the message stick with the customer. Ideally, the message needs to be in sync with an organization’s or individual’s goals, motivations, needs, concerns, opportunities, etc. so that it becomes personal. Because people drive businesses, the intersection of personal motivations and business objectives is a powerful place to drill into — and is a “must find” for the Challenger Sales rep.
Challenger sales reps openly pursue goals in a direct but nonaggressive way to overcome increased customer risk aversion. A key in taking control of the customer conversation is to be engaged with individuals who have the power to either make decisions or to significantly influence decisions. Control is not meant to be an aggressive, bullying or one-sided conversation, but is used to convey that:
- There should be a plan for the customer conversation with an end goal and how to get there
- There should be a two-way exchange of information, concessions and value
- A sales rep should not acquiesce to every customer request or demand
- A transaction should be mutually beneficial to each party
- There is a point where a sales rep has to walk away
In a nutshell, taking control of the sale is about the sales reps’ ability to stand their ground when a customer pushes back and not immediately accommodate or resort to a concession. The Challenger Sales rep is artful at bringing the conversation back to a value discussion, challenging the customer’s thinking and applying pressure to the decision-making process.
Challenger reps try to leverage constructive tension to their advantage across the dimensions of the sale. Constructive tension is not isolated within the last hours of the deal and centered only around price concessions. Constructive tension may exist throughout the entire sales process and be anchored to milestones in the selling process — gaining access to a decision maker or subject matter expert, payment for a proof of value, etc. Staying in the heat of the moment or constructive tension allows both parties to move beyond surface issues and to understand, address and satisfy the real needs of both parties. The best negotiators have a plan before they begun discussions around key points. They know how to increase tension and also how to reduce it to their advantage.
The Challenger Sales Model – Exporting the Model to the Core: Principle #3
The third principle in the Challenger Sales Model is about organizational capability, not just sales rep skills.
Adopting the Challenger Selling Model is not a single dimensional process where the skills of the sales reps are improved. Successful implementation of the Challenger Selling Methodology requires the entire organization to change behavior and to holistically embrace the model in a comprehensive and sustained manner.
The integration and collaboration of sales and marketing is critical for the Challenger Sales Model to be effective. Specifically, if marketing is not embedded into the sales process, the probability diminishes for this methodology to be successful. In short, the sales process needs to be carved up so that a portion or portions of it are delegated to marketing under the guiding hand of sales. This delegation needs to be mutually agreed to by sales and marketing heads. In addition, job descriptions and compensation plans must be constructed and enforced to reinforce the intended goals. To be clear, every function and individual that engages in a sales cycle needs to be trained and ingrained with the Challenger Sales methodology, because it is not something that just the sales reps do.
With The Challenger Sales Model, an organization needs to do a much better job of targeting prospective opportunities up-front, resulting in a tighter funnel and close ratio. In other words, time and money will be saved by not chasing bad opportunities or those with a high propensity to result in closed/lost. This requires a tight definition of the market opportunity and great market, competitive and account research so that the set of target accounts has a high propensity to purchase. Because this is not an easy task, it is one handled best by a market intelligence function.
The Challenger Sales Model – Exporting the Model to the Core: Principle #4
The fourth principle is about building the Challenger Sales force. This is not a discrete task but an ongoing, living process. Moving to the Challenger Sales Methodology is a transformation requiring organizational changes in capabilities, behavior and skill changes in sales reps. The first part of the transformation is adopting the content underpinning the Challenger Sales methodology. The second part of the transformation focuses on the absorption of the Challenger Sales methodology. Sales reps learn differently (read, see, hear, do) so the most effective transfer of knowledge occurs with a combination of techniques, repetition, coaching, evaluation and feedback. Therefore, it is critical for an organization not to hold a two-day offsite, show a bunch of PowerPoint slides, distribute binders and call it a day.
The frontline sales managers will determine whether the Challenger Sales Methodology is successful or not. However, if this group does not embrace and reinforce this methodology, the chances of a successful transformation move to slim or none.
The Challenger Sales rep profile is the combination and integration of the four T’s: Teaching, Tailoring, Taking Control and Tension. The best Challenger reps are skillful at reframing how a customer views their market, competition and their own business. They know that this road is a little bumpy and that they may get banged up along the way, but they are comfortable staying in constructive tension because that’s what is best for both parties. The lynchpin of the model is the Challenger sales rep’s ability to open up the customer’s eyes so they view the business in a way they were incapable of viewing before. This is a true balancing act requiring a great deal of control, diplomacy and empathy.