The Challenger Sales Model: Understanding The Methodology

The Challenger Sales Model: Understanding The Methodology
Vlad Kovalskiy
October 29, 2021
Last updated: October 29, 2021

According to most sales methodologies, businesses should build relationships with their clients. But what if you try to teach your prospects instead, dispute their conventional way of thinking and motivate them to contemplate a new perspective? From this article, you'll get to know the essence and benefits of the Challenger sales methodology that you might want to adopt. Also, you'll learn the two characteristics of businesses that benefit the most from this model.


What Is the Challenger Sales Model?

In 2011, the "The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer Conversation" book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson saw light. Its authors stated that reps who relied on the Challenger sales methodology could take control of any customer conversation (provided that they had enough training and tools for that).

According to this methodology, the sales process should be focused on the following three factors:

  1. Teaching

  2. Tailoring

  3. Taking control of a sales experience

Adamson, Dixon and their colleagues investigated behavior patterns and attitudes of thousands of sales reps. They singled out 5 distinct profiles of the representatives of this profession.

  1. The Hard Worker. Fights to the last, has excellent self-discipline and enjoys his or her progress.

  2. The Relationship Builder. Is ready to spend a lot of time with clients, providing them with useful information and emotional support.

  3. The Lone Wolf. Can achieve his or her goals without third-party help. Largely relies on gut feeling and is very confident of what he or she does.

  4. The Problem Solver. Pays great attention to detail. Can promptly fix any issue and is highly reliable.

  5. The Challenger. Understands the prospect's business well. Is very flexible and ready to consider alternative viewpoints. Loves to debate and pushes other people to get out of their comfort zone.

The book, as you might guess, analyzes the specifics of the last type. When using the Challenger sales model, the rep should start a casual debate with the prospect and try to build slight constructive tension. The client should get ready to consider new opportunities — and the rep should offer them a solution.

The rep should convince their interlocutor that there is a problem or opportunity in their business that they're not aware of. The rep knows how to handle the issue like no one else and is eager to share their expertise with the customer. The Challenger sales methodology disrupts people's traditional way of thinking and undermines their assumptions.


5 steps to creating the perfect sales strategy

Challenger sales methodology resembles riding on a rollercoaster to a certain extent. At the lowest point, the rep describes the prospect's fears and tells them what might happen if they fail to take measures. Then, they offer a particular good or service as the optimal solution and gradually raise their interlocutor's hopes. When the roller coaster reaches the highest point, the consumer buys the product.

Step 1: The Warm-Up

Your sales team should start with proving that they understand their customers' pains and needs. Of course, they need to investigate the demands and preferences of their target audience in advance. Unlike many other strategies, the Challenger sales model doesn't pay any attention to the product at this stage. Instead, reps should do the following.

●      Explain to customers why they're getting in touch with them

●      Prove their professionalism

●      Arouse consumers' curiosity

●      Get interactive by using visuals and interactive content

The ultimate goal of a rep at this stage is to make the interlocutor think and prepare them for the continuation of the dialogue.

Example: "Online bookstore owners often say that in their sphere, discounts fail to deliver groundbreaking results. They believe that consumers better respond to sales in fashion retail or online gaming".

Step 2: Reframing

The rep strives to find the root of the prospect's problems and reframe them as opportunities. By the end of this stage, the sales professional should offer a solution to the client's pain.

To make the most of reframing, the rep should remember these rules.

●      Stay on topic. If you want to discuss some other issues that are related to the first one, you'll be able to do it later.

●      Surprise the customer about their misconceptions. Gently tell them that they might misinterpret some facts or lack some meaningful data.

●      Address the issue with confidence.

Again, reps shouldn't try to sell anything yet. Instead, they should keep the client curious.

Example: "A recent study has shown that customers would have been more eager to use discount promo codes if they had had more time to do so. Normally, they have just one month from their previous purchase to use the code. 67% of them would prefer to have a valid discount for 2 months".

Step 3: Appeal to Your Prospects' Emotions

The easiest way to do so is to tell other customers' stories to your prospect. Since these consumers have the same pains as the prospects, the latter start to perceive themselves as the main protagonists of the story. They develop an emotional connection with the product. They see how other people have benefited from a new solution — and they think they might give it a try as well.

At this stage of the Challenger sales methodology, the prospect should realize that he or she can't go on living like before. To make other customers' stories stick in their minds, the rep should mention compelling numbers and statistics.

Example: "The customers of a certain bookstore used to spend XXX euros on non-fiction books every month. But after the store fine-tuned its bonus system, this figure grew by 5%. It's interesting that consumers also began to buy more books at their full price".

Step 4: The Value Proposition

Now, the essence of the Challenger sales methodology boils down to showing amazing perspectives to the prospect. A bright future is lying ahead of them and the rep is about to guide them along that path to success.

At the previous stage, the rep told the consumer a customer story with a bad ending. Now, it's time to offer an alternative ending to the same plot. The rep should show how the same unfortunate client could become happy and prosperous thanks to a new solution.

Here, it's important to focus only on solutions and nothing else. It might seem counterintuitive that the sales professional shouldn't mention the product yet. But the prospect should establish all the logical connections without third-party help. They should feel that they're making an independent decision. Only if they have questions or are unsure about anything, the rep should educate them.

Example: "The owner of the AAA store thought that it was too late to try a new bonus system. Yet together with some other measures, it managed to save his business! The store got rid of excessive stock and automated many processes. The new discount system helped them to boost their sales".

Step 5: Sell the Product

At the last stage of the Challenger sales methodology, the rep can finally talk about the product and try to sell it. If this product is software, they might offer their prospect a free demo version. Otherwise, they can show their portfolio or catalog to the prospect, offer them a discount coupon or use any other sales technique. Typically, the consumer doesn't ask too many questions because he or she already knows a lot of information about the product.

Example: "Our AI-powered ZZZ app can help you analyze your current discount policy and improve it to maximize your income. The app can generate insightful reports and come up with smart suggestions. It is available in the cloud format and you can purchase it through a monthly subscription".


How Can Businesses Benefit from Challenger Selling?

A study was conducted on over 6,000 sales reps — and here are some of its results.

  • 40% of top sales professionals rely on the Challenger sales method

  • Top performers were more than two times likely to use this sales model than any other one

  • When it comes to complex sales, over one-half of top sales performers fit the Challenger profile

  • The Relationship Building approach turned out to be the worst-performing one: only 7% of top professionals stuck to it


What Are the Pros and Cons of the Challenger Sales Methodology?

Pros

  • Requires excellent understanding of the target audience's value drivers

  • Prospects can look at a product from an unusual angle to better realize its value

  • Enables the reps and the prospects to discuss the budget comfortably

Cons

  • If your sales reps are already used to another methodology, it might take them a lot of time and effort to switch to the Challenger sales model

  • This strategy better suits complex sales than simple ones

  • op performers benefit from it more than anyone else


How to Apply the Challenger Sale Methodology

Here is a real-life example of the Challenger sales model in action.

  • Your rep is talking to an organizer of online conferences who has a clear pain: the number of attendees of his events is declining. He has noticed that people tend to leave conferences right during speeches that seem to be useful and informative.

  • The rep can say that they might know the issue. What if people leave because it's hard for them to focus on someone's lengthy speech while they're sitting at home on their sofa?

  • Then, the rep can offer a potential solution to this problem (but not the exact product yet!). Experts might want to add more dynamic elements to their speeches. For instance, the speaker should be able to display infographics right on the viewers' screens and edit them in real time.

  • To back up their viewpoint, the rep should cite some recent research, providing facts and numbers.

  • They might reframe the problem by saying that broadcasts with no or little dynamic elements have their niche too. This can be, for instance, religious services or concerts of academic music. But the prospect's business doesn't belong to this category — so their mindset starts to shift.

  • The rep shares compelling customer stories with the prospect. The latter realizes that they might make their events more dynamic. They try to put themselves in the shoes of those lucky customers who had already benefited from a new approach.

  • To make a stark contrast, the rep tells the client another story that lacks a happy end. Another customer did not change their mind and went on working the old way. Eventually, their business suffered huge losses and had to close down.

  • It would be great if the rep could share real facts and numbers to back up both types of stories (with a happy ending or without it).

  • The prospect should realize that they're ready to adopt a new solution that should help them grow and increase their income.

  • Now, the rep begins to talk about their product. This is software that enables its users to better grasp the viewer's attention and retain it until the last minute. They can create informative and visually appealing slides on the go, in a matter of seconds. They don't need to have any design skills.

Buying this software now seems the most obvious solution to the customer.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article came in handy and now you better understand the essence and merits of the Challenger sales methodology. You might want to try it if you deal with complex sales and there are many high-performing reps in your team. It might take you a certain time and effort to switch to this model — but studies have proved that it might be more efficient than building relationships with customers.

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