I interact and participate in a variety of Sales & Marketing forums and events, and inevitably, when the topic of the Challenger Sale comes up, I hear one of five [often misinformed] points of view on the Challenger Sale.
While I am a huge fan of the research and principles of the Challenger Sale, I never take issue with those that disagree with the research and behaviors when they are based upon facts, not misinformation, and understanding, not ignorance. In short, disagreement is fine provided you truly understand what you disagree with and why.
Five Common Misconceptions of Challenger Sale:
Following are the five most common beliefs I hear from those who support and those who reject the Challenger Sale’s research, behaviors, and/or principles.
- Challengers don’t build relationships. The premise of this belief is that CEB’s research showed this to be the least effective selling profile, therefore Challengers don’t do it. To dispel this belief, I will simply quote Neil Rackham’s comment from the Foreword of the book, as he has got it right—”Personally, I believe that a customer relationship is the result and not the cause of successful selling. It is a reward that the salesperson earns by creating customer value.”
- Challenger is too aggressive/too pushy. This one is really common, and when discussing in-depth with anyone holding this belief, inevitably I find that they merely skimmed through the book, or heard someone else’s opinion which became their own. CEB admittedly calls out that they have “heard every manner of pushback here you can imagine.” The belief is that the Challenger engages in confrontations while proverbially getting in their face. The truth is that Challengers are quite elegantly challenging their beliefs of remaining in their current circumstances, but aren’t challenging people. They aim at the behavior, not the person.
- Challenger is just another sales system. The belief is that this is a different selling system, leading people to believe that whatever their current system is, they must abandon if they want to become a Challenger organization. The truth is best explained by sharing Brent Adamson’s comments on the topic. “The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a ‘selling system,’ as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.” He goes on to talk about how it is much more of a commercial strategy. Bottom line is that CEB’s research did not reveal Challengers all using the same sales training and system. They concentrated on the behaviors, not the system.
- Challenger claims to be new, and it’s not. I am still perplexed by this one as I hear it so often in Sales circles and on LinkedIn forums. I must have missed the sentence in the book that said these were all new behaviors. The reality is that the behaviors existed, but had not been organized and reported in the manner that CEB had done through its research. What was new with the unveiling of their research, was their findings and nomenclature (e.g., “The Challenger).
- Challenger is for Sales. Finally, this last one is misunderstood by both, dissenters and supporters of the Challenger Sale. It’s understandable given the title of the book and Rackham’s endorsement on the cover. Any conversation with authors, Matt and Brent, will quickly dispel the belief that this is meant for Sales alone. For those that read the book, and closely follow CEB’s conversations on the topic, you will already know this as they talk at length about building organizational competencies and alignment to these behaviors with messaging, marketing, etc.
Jeff 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.