What is the Challenger sales model

Use the Challenger Sale correctly in sales

Challenger Sale as an evidence-based sales technique

The book "The Challenger Sale" by Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson is one of the most important books in recent years in the field of sales and sales technology.

Based on in-depth research by the international company CEB (Corporate Executive Board), the two authors have presented a comprehensive analysis of over 6000 salespeople from all major industries and countries - with very interesting conclusions.

Skills, behaviors, level of knowledge and attitudes of top performers

The aim of the CEB study was to highlight the skills, behavior, level of knowledge and attitude that distinguishes average salespeople from top performers in this area.

The results of this investigation are mostly contrary to the established assumptions about successful sales work - which makes them worth reading for us.

Commercial teaching

CEB claims that the basic sales strategy is changing from simple presentations to so-called "commercial teaching".

Organically convince with the right content

To do this, sales teams need the right content that can help customers be naturally convinced of a product or service.

Challenger Sale - 5 categories, 1 winner

All of this is based on the knowledge that sales professionals can be sorted into 5 different categories:

  • The hard worker
  • The relationship manager
  • The lonely wolf
  • The responsive problem solver
  • The Challenger

The Challenger delivers significantly better performance than all other character types - 39 percent of all top performers are challengers.

The connection between sales and marketing

"Challenger Sale" is written from a sales position, but cleverly combines marketing knowledge with sales strategies and is therefore so successful. The connection to marketing becomes clear when you consider why that is Challenger is so successful.

Dominate the market with concrete added value

The two authors found that Challengers deliver better results because their customers provide new, valuable, and unique details that help them dominate the market.

Salespeople based on the challenger principle get their contacts and customers to question assumptions about their business model and corporate structure in a new and special way - they instruct their customers in a targeted, effective way and thus offer real added value.

Refine customer needs

That means, successful salespeople demand (english:tochallenge) their customers by not simply reacting to needs, but refining and developing the needs of their customers. A good challenger offers real insights into the problem area of ​​his customer, helps him to avoid mistakes and thus offers products and services, of which the customer had no idea in advance - but which help him efficiently.

Proper presentation is the crux of the matter

This is called commercial teaching and as we all know, teaching is primarily about one thing: the right presentation.

  • Unique and valuable insights into the target market
  • Help with navigation through different alternatives
  • Further advice and assistance
  • Make potential dangers avoidable
  • Education about new ideas and developments

These points are the exact definition of a challenger sales.

The 5 stages of a Challenger presentation

In order to successfully implement the said strategy, the right content must be built up for each stage of a real challenger presentation.

Level 1 - The entry

If you give your customers the feeling that they understand their position, you will be rewarded with attention - this is the first step to convince over the long term.

The following details should be implemented at this stage:

  • Create relevance: Address typical problems your customers might be struggling with at this point in time - this provides understanding.
  • Demonstrate experience: Show that you have the necessary experience to solve these problems - preferably with professional slides and graphics.
  • Create curiosity: Have an open conversation with the customer about the various points and keep the tension going.
  • Interactive content: Working with tablets and other digital helpers conveys a feeling of well-thought-out and helps to involve the customer more intensively in the conversation.

Level 2 - The framework

If the customer is involved and interest has arisen, it is important to show complete, sustainable solutions based on their current needs.

  • Stay relevant: Always stay in the area of ​​customer requirements.
  • Surprise: Show the customer the real source of their current problem.
  • Let your passion be recognized: The customer should notice that you really enjoy solving their problems - setting them up better.

Level 3 - Rationality

The point here is to back up your statements with relevant data and analyzes. The customer must understand that you can not only speak well, but also act in an economically relevant manner.

  • Make clear connections: Bring the data to a common denominator with your previous statements.
  • Check understanding: Ask actively whether your customer can understand everything.

Level 5 - Drawing new paths

This level should address clear ways of solving the problem.

  • Do not speak too clearly about your product just yet: Stick to information and solutions, the specific offer is not yet discussed.
  • It is still about the customer and his specific situation: The customer should feel that he is on an individually correct path
  • Show new graphics and underscore the new ways they are doing: You are here to teach the customer - stick with this attitude.

Level 6 - your specific solution

After the challenger's approach has been followed and the customer has been informed about his situation, the reasons for it and possible ways out of it, it is time to make him a concrete offer.

The real challenge: create individual presentations for each customer

If the previous steps were taken seriously and thus credibly, your product will now find a relieved buyer. Of course, it always depends on what type of product or service you offer - a software product should best be demonstrated live, financial products benefit most from dry data and profitable views based on it.

It just depends on the right presentation.

Challenger Sale Guide: Challenging and successfully convincing customers

Classification of the Challenger Sale approach

For a long time the general belief was that selling is about relationships and that relationships in complex sales activities are the basis of all sales success. However, in the last ten years there have been indications that changing customer behavior means that relationship-oriented sales alone may no longer be as effective as before. That's not to say relationships aren't important. Rather, our experience shows that relationships and purchase decisions are decoupled from one another. So the customer relationship becomes the result and not the cause of successful sales. It is a reward that the seller earns by adding customer value. If you help customers adopt other schools of thought, develop new ideas and perspectives, identify risks and harness opportunities, you earn the right to a relationship. That's exactly what the Challenger Sale does!

The buying behavior of customers has evolved:

  • "Solution fatigue" on the customer side means that the sales process entails a number of meetings with different contacts, customer visits and presentations, and these efforts come before the customer can see any value for himself.
  • “Consensus-based procurement” means that the need for broad customer consent has increased in order to generate deals. This has an impact on sales productivity because the seller now has to invest a lot of time in order to find all of these
  • Find people who are involved in assessing the solution in different ways and with different decision-making powers.
  • The higher demand for “customer-specific adaptation” means that the more complex the project, the more natural the customer's need to modify the offer in order to adapt it to their specific needs. Everyone wants the (his) "solution", but nobody wants to pay for it because customers see it as part of the promise of a "solution sale".
  • "Growing risk aversion" means that a growing number of customers are no longer willing to believe that your "solution" is actually conveying the kind of value you promise up front. They expect the solution provider to bear a greater share of the risk of the solution.
  • The increase in “outside consultants” means customers are looking for ways to reduce both the complexity and risk that vendor solution sales have placed upon them. This increases the complexity of motives in connection with supposedly objective categories of decision-making.

Our sales approach must evolve against this background!

The Challenger Sale is defined by its ability to do three things:

  1. Challenger Sale offer new insights and perspectives that make customers think differently about their business (situation, goals) and their needs.
  2. Challenger Sale tailors their sales messages to the context of each individual customer and decision maker.
  3. Challengers pursue their goals openly and directly, but not aggressively, in order to overcome the customer's increasing risk aversion. They are ready to challenge the customer to create constructive tension by taking controversial positions.

The self-image of the Challenger Sale - your mental checklist:

  • If the customer withdraws into the comfort zone when it comes to buying, the Challenger Sale takes him out of it by showing him his world from a different point of view (expanding perspectives and perspectives) (creating constructive tension).
  • Challenger tell the customer what they need. They are first class teachers. The focus is not on the needs that the customer articulates, but on the needs that the customer actually has without being able to formulate it precisely (commercial teaching).
  • The Challenger has in-depth industry knowledge.
  • The challenger is ready to dig deep into the customer's organization.
  • He knows the importance of relationships. They are less the basis for a collaboration than the reward for the knowledge that the customer receives from him.
  • The Challenger Sale does not lead the presentation with the product / solution, but rather with the product / solution.
  • You know the world of the customer in parts better than the customer himself (technical expertise of the Challenger Sale against the background of your own solution portfolio in exchange with the current and future requirements / challenges of the customer). He teaches them what he should know.
  • The Challenger Sale knows that customer loyalty does not come from what they sell, but from how they sell it.
  • He is aware that it is not the urgent need of the customer to buy something, but to experience something. His aim is to convey new ideas that help customers to reduce risks and take advantage of opportunities.
  • The Challenger Sale not only controls the sales process, but also supports the customer's buying process.
  • He makes the customer question his statements.
  • The Challenger is about changing the way the customer thinks and ultimately acts. If necessary, he is not afraid to question the customer's point of view. He is ready to take on leadership - in the process and in customer meetings.
  • He provides the customer with new knowledge and links them to his unique selling points and his solution portfolio.
  • The Challenger aims to turn the conversation with the customer into something that is worth paying for.
  • The challenger trusts that he will generate demand through his convincing competence approach, which is combined with a high presumption of competence on the part of the customer.
  • He does not determine the needs of the customer, but defines them.
  • The challenger works on the "tender" with the customer, not on the solution.

To 1 .: Mark the difference - differentiate yourself from the competition

A strategy of differentiation from the competition wants to avoid the "comparability trap". This project is demanding. A convincing alternative for the customer is only one that is able to improve on what is already good and available. This results in the main challenge for the pitch performance of the Challenger Sale - different and better than others.

Conclusion: A distinction that can be perceived by the customer is hardly possible through a feature, but rather through a sum of elements that are choreographed in the context of a pitch. It is precisely these elements and their direction that will be dealt with in the further course of the summary.

Control the customer's perception - generate relevance

The customer's perception can only be controlled if our contributions in the pitch are as relevant as possible for the customer. These are consistently conceived and communicated from the customer's perspective. In contrast, it is less about the content of a pitch that we believe is important because it is important to us. What is important to the customer to learn, that is the question?

Eight factors that inspire customers in a consulting context:

  1. "They offer me new points of view and perspectives on the markets and my personal situation."
  2. "You track down earnings opportunities for me that I can use and identify risks that I want to avoid."
  3. "I am informed about new questions, developments and results and have appropriate ideas for me."
  4. "They offer me alternatives and thus give me a broad basis for decision-making."
  5. "I am offered ongoing and forward-looking advice."
  6. "You make sure that my decisions are implemented quickly and easily for me."
  7. "You are able to have controversial discussions with me when it comes to the best possible solution."
  8. "The advisor enjoys sympathy and acceptance in my personal environment."

These excitement factors are hardly surprising, but are rarely made explicit. They serve us in two ways: First, as a guide for our striving for relevance and, second, for the centering of our discussion preparation in existing customer relationships. “Controlling the customer's perception” is based on the ability from the perspective of the

Thinking and communicating customers and at the same time relevantly broadening that perspective.

Elements of a convincing pitch performance

- the Value Selling Executive Dialog

Warm up (level 1)

Goal: the competent and convincing positioning of your company and the consultants.

Thrill: the requirement to generate positive tension, interest and attention right from the start.

Customer reaction: "Sounds good; could be pretty interesting! "

Elements: small talk, elevator pitch, time comparison, agenda, 3-sentence question pitch, "steep target question", challenges in the customer's industry.

Small Talk: if suitable and desired, very welcome!

Elevator pitch: the structure

  • "Who am I?"
  • "What am I doing?"
  • "What is my expertise?"
  • "How do I do it - what is my self-image of counseling?" (This part can also be done well and appropriately at the end of the conversation!)

Time alignment:“Mr. Wertbringer, when we made an appointment during our phone call, we agreed on an hour for our joint conversation. Is that still the time you have today? " (Requirement of courtesy and appreciation for the planned time of the customer. Provides orientation for the optimal use of the time available.)

Agenda:“So that we can use our time together as effectively as possible, Mr. Wertbringer, have I prepared an agenda for our conversation, if you agree?

First of all, you have the right to know who is sitting next to you today - a few short sentences about myself. Certainly also interesting for you to find out what distinguishes our bank, what distinguishes us from other institutes.

Then I would like to get to know you; what moves you, what plans are you pursuing with your company and how can we support you in achieving your goals.

And if we can say at the end of the conversation whether and how things will continue, then I think that we have used our time well. Is this in accordance with your wishes?

Which topics are important to you (about which you want to find out more)? "

Alternatives at the end of the agenda (steep target questions):

"What are your expectations of our conversation so that you can say that it was worth it?"


“What is your goal for today's conversation? What do you attach particular importance to? "

We can also define a goal according to this:

"Today I (we) would like to provide you with convincing arguments for a possible cooperation."

3-sentence question pitch:

Goal: Brief, concise presentation of the company. Our "DNA".

"What do you expect from a system supplier who deserves your trust?" "What do you personally value?"

Challenges in the customer's industry

"What are the challenges for your company?" What are you particularly concerned with at the moment? "

The aim of level 1 is essentially to build credibility. Explain what the key challenges facing the customer's industry are. What are comparable issues in other companies in the industry? Let your client know, “I understand your world,” and “I'm not here to waste your time asking you to educate me about your business.

Reframe (level 2)

Aim: Identify customer challenges

Teach: Broaden the customer's perspective

Customer reaction: "Interesting! I haven't seen it like that before. (I haven't thought of that yet). "

Elements: Positioning advice truths, strong strategic questions, alternative solutions / products

Advisory truths: With advisory truths that represent topic offers (for the customer), we succeed in a steep entry into the exploration of customer needs. At the same time, they are able to generate problem awareness in the customer very early on in the conversation and / or broaden their perspective and point of view. They also show how close we are to the questions and challenges of our customers and how we have appropriate answers and solutions for them.

Strong strategic questions to explore customer needs

Questions about goals and plans (examples):

  1. "Which digitization strategy is derived from your corporate strategy?"
  2. "In which areas do you want to make the greatest progress in the future?"
  3. “What will your supplier strategy look like in the next X years? What will you attach particular importance to? "

Questions about the status quo (example):

  1. "How do you rate your current initial situation?"
  2. “What were the decisive criteria for your current solution? What has changed? Where do you see a specific need for development? "
  3. "What are you particularly concerned with at the moment? What are you doing a lot? What is it that ties up your resources in particular? "

Questions about possibilities (example):

  1. "What effects / consequences would it have if ...?"
  2. "From today's perspective, how do you assess possibility XY?"
  3. "What would be the ideal solution for you?"

Questions about the competition (example):

  1. "Who else do you trust besides us?"
  2. "How have you perceived my company so far?"
  3. "According to which criteria do you choose your future partner in this context?"

Questions about the decision-making process (example):

  1. “Decision-making processes are often very different in companies. May I ask how the process is organized in your company? "
  2. "By when do you want to start the implementation at the latest?"
  3. "What is the key aspect to get the contract?"
  4. "How can we support you in your decision-making?"

Feedback questions:

  1. "What was the most important information for you today?"
  2. "After our conversation today, how do you rate the possibility of working together?"
  3. "What does the project's success mean for you personally?"
  4. "What brings us together now?"

Positioning alternative solutions and products (Reframe): The aim is to actively offer the customer products and solutions in this phase that are beyond his control, but which may well be suitable for him. It is important to broaden the customer's perspective by introducing ideas that can be discussed. The central moment of "Commercial Teaching"! Surprise the customer with an unexpected point of view. Make him curious and make him want to learn more. Make it clear to them that their challenges are linked to a bigger problem or opportunity. The customer's reaction should be: "I've never looked at it that way."

Value presentation (level 3 and 4)

Aim: The customer recognizes the advantage of the solution / product. acceptance

Taylor: Tailor the solution / product to the customer

Customer reaction: "That makes sense. That's how I should be positioned. "

Elements: Show benefit; Present figures, data and facts; Arguing and storytelling

Rational flooding: Now is the time for the numbers, data, facts, graphs, tables, and figures you need to help the customer understand the true, often hidden costs / risks of the problem or the extent of the opportunity they overlooked or misjudged . Rational inundation is the numerical reason why your customer should look at the subject with different eyes. If you are talking about products and services now, you are talking about the wrong things. Before you demonstrate how your solution can cope with a key customer challenge, the customer must first want to cope with the challenge. The customer's reaction should be: "Didn't know how much risk we had." Or: "We are falling short of our possibilities."

Storytelling: Storytelling is now about numbers, data and facts that are processed in the left half of the brain and have claimed the customer's cognitive abilities to relate to the right hemisphere of the brain. This part of the brain is all about figurative thinking, visualization, and most importantly, feelings. Stories are the ideal means of transport for this. They are capable of strong emotionalizations that cannot be sustained through facts and figures alone. Such a story begins like this: "I know, Mr. Wertbringer, that every company is different, but let me tell you briefly how this has affected a company in your sector ..."

Closing (phase 5 and 6)

Aim: The customer gets involved in the consultation process

Take Control: Appointment of follow-up meetings

Customer reaction: "That's how I want to be advised."

Elements: Presentation of advantage-benefit argumentation, advisory approach and advisory self-image, feedback competence

A new way / the solution (level 5)

When you have reached level 5, you have convinced the customer that they have a problem (or: more and different problems than they initially thought). Now it is time to convince the customer of the solution. Describe point by point the solution that he needs to seize the opportunities and avoid the risks that you have just convinced him to exist. It's about showing the customer how much better equipped they are when they act differently. Before the customer buys your solution, they must buy the solution. So don't rush anything. Present the right solution for the customer neutrally! That sounds something like this: "A solution, Mr. Wertbringer, that meets your current and future requirements and fits your company should offer you the following ..."

The customer's reaction: "We need that!"

Your solution (level 6)

Now show the customer that your solution equips them better than any other. In this last stage, what actually happens is what salespeople have learned to do from the start, namely to use arguments to advertise their own company and the solution offered. That’s what you’re doing now. Tell your customer why it is important and expedient to implement the solution with you. What can you objectively do to ensure measurable progress for the client company?

Challenger Sale - Our conclusion

In the case of "commercial teaching" within the framework of the challenger approach, the presentation is not about the provider at all. Rather, the approach revolves around the customer. As a result, it becomes clear that talking primarily about your own products, services, and solutions cannot win the customer's interest and loyalty. Forward-looking sales and consulting discussions first offer the customer a convincing story about the challenges of their business, open up something new for them and then lead them to their own entrepreneurial skills.

My consulting self-image as a challenger sale

Identify risks and opportunities
+ Objectivity: numbers, data, facts
+ regular conversations
= holistic advice

The consulting approach is based on three elements:

  1. The advice given to the customer can only be sufficiently objective if the customer is ready to bring all relevant information into the advice context.
  2. The counseling itself detects opportunities that can be used. At the same time, it identifies risks that need to be assessed and avoided.
  3. Since the customer's situation, his goals and plans can change over time, regular discussions with appropriate solutions should take these developments into account.

At its core, every holistic consultation is, according to your requirements, an anticipatory consultation.

Challenger Sale: Consulting self-image

Describe to the customer what you understand by advice and what the customer can expect from you in the consultation. Your self-image of yourself as a consultant can be based on elements of the eight enthusiasm factors outlined above or contain other personal convictions. The customer gets to know and assess you even better.

Keywords:Head washing for sales, story telling in sales, value selling, selling with mindfulness, conducting sales talks, sales training