Challenging Sale vs. Challenger Sale

After speaking with a number of people across a variety of industries regarding their interest and curiosity in the Challenger Sale, I continue to find one common misperception about the disposition of a Challenger. Too often, their picture of what a Challenger approach looks like in marketing and selling gets depicted like the picture you see below. In other words, they picture a ‘lean forward’ posture, that uses an aggressive and controlling approach. In their minds, this is substantiated by the tagline, “‘The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.”

Challenger Sale Misapplied

With some effort and due diligence, one would quickly agree that this is NOT what CEB was intending nor depicting in the research.

I cringe at the thought of how that kind of posture in messaging, whether in sales or in marketing, would play out with potential customers. In fact,  I recently saw one company’s marketing attempt to ‘challenge’ the prospect’s status quo, which implied that using the competitor’s products may actually “hurt” the end users, not “help” them. Further exploration of this marketing piece revealed that the ‘hurting’ vs. ‘helping’ question asked in the subject line, was not only never answered, but not addressed at all in the body of the email.

Providing unique insights that truly teach prospects into thinking in ways they had never thought before is difficult, and requires much time and attention to do so responsibly. Failing to give the appropriate organizational time, focus and effort to develop a true commercial insight, before launching into what is perceived as a ‘Challenger ‘ message, is not only irresponsible, but likely offensive.

After personally grappling with CEB’s research for a year now, I remain compelled by the evidence of their findings. That said, I also quickly recognize that the ‘how to’ of changing an organization’s and rep’s behaviors is far more difficult than the ‘why to’ that CEB’s book spoke about. It is worth the pursuit, however, and CEB has been instrumental in helping walk through the process of the Challenger implementation.

I am curious, particularly from those familiar with the Challenger Sale behaviors…what picture would you describe of the Challenger to someone inquiring of what a Challenger Sales Rep or Challenger Marketing message looked like? Please leave your comments below.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.


2 thoughts on “Challenging Sale vs. Challenger Sale

  1. Anonymous says:


    Great question! Prior to reading the Challenger Sale I believed that relationships were the key to success in sales. What changed my mind was NOT being able to close very many deals. I could get clients to meet with me but they wouldn’t move forward–at all. I cant remember how I stumbled upon the book but I am thankful that I did. Reading the “The Burden of Customer Solutions” was like reading a movie script about Me and My customer experiences–literally. LOL! With that, I was able to identify critical mistakes made during client interactions. And at the same time, learn how to use the challenger sale methodology to correct them.

    So, when I describe the Challenger Sale Methodology to someone, I use the Tailor, Teach, Take Control technique to explain it. I use real examples about the sales process without focusing on the title of the book. I describe the 5 profiles and ask people to identify with one. Because I am a Learning and Performance Practitioner, I tend to make it a teachable moment, instead of selling the book or process outright. It works for me.

    Although there is something about the word Challenge that many sales people don’t like especially, when discussing client/prospect interactions. I find that Sales Leaders are the most difficult to deal with when explaining the challenger sale.

    • Great comments and insights. To your point, you are right in that the word ‘Challenge’ can connote different things to different people. I have found it helpful to explain Challenger by sharing that we RESPECT the prospect and CHALLENGE the status quo, not the other way around. When done in this manner, it is done WITH the prospect, not TO the prospect. Again, thanks for your comments and feel free to join me on LinkedIn so we can continue to build the community of Challengers.

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