Challenger Sale Reframe: Two Missing Frames

Challenger Sale ReframeNew to Challenger? Are you struggling with the Reframe? If so, this article is for you.

For Challenger Sale practitioners, the Reframe is that pivotal moment in the conversation when you have disrupted a person’s belief system and have them thinking differently about their situation.

But for the person newer to Challenger, it isn’t that easy yet. You are likely to find yourself in a position of trying to remember what to say and when to say it to get them to think differently. If you are like many people, you come away feeling that Reframing was much easier in training as the scripts went so smoothly.

One of the most memorable moments where I had my thinking ‘reframed’ was in 1997 with the controversial film, ‘Wag the Dog.’

In the film, less than two weeks before a president’s reelection bid, the media broadcast his involvement in a sex scandal in the White House. Seeing the threat to the president’s reelection bid, Washington’s greatest spin doctor, Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean (Robert De Niro) is summoned. His solution? To create a bigger story than the scandal, that would dominate the media until election day.

One of the memorable quotes De Niro makes in the film is, “What’s the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something. I was in the building where we filmed that with a 10-inch model made out of Legos.”

I remember the moment well. It was quite unnerving to think that the filters by which I was walking through life, may have been wrong all along. Now that, is a reframe!

The Reframe’s Two Missing Frames

One of the most common questions I continue to receive is how to Reframe. As important as the ‘how’ is, this article focuses on ‘when’ to Reframe.

A couple of years ago, as I was meeting with sales leaders in the beginnings of their Challenger implementations, there was one point I continued to reinforce when working through reframe competencies…

“You can’t Reframe something that hasn’t first been Framed.” Tweet:

With that in mind, following are two ‘frames’ that must precede every Reframe:

  • Pre-frame. The Challenger is not an arrogant, assumptive, all-knowing rep that just tells prospects how it is, and that’s that! CEB refers to that person as a jerk, not a Challenger. Therefore, in order to avoid coming across this way, it is imperative to validate with whomever you are talking with, that the issues you are seeing in their industry, are in fact their issues too. Pre-frames start a bit more broadly, focusing on industry, for example, and serves to calibrate the rep’s insights with the prospect before zeroing in on the customer’s business. This helps to prevent walking through the choreography in a misguided fashion.
  • Frame. Whereas the Pre-frame focuses more broadly on industry, the Frame narrows down to ‘customers just like them’ within the industry.This is what we have come to know as ‘The Warmer.’ It is used to build credibility by demonstrating you know a lot about customers like them, and sets the stage for a Reframe by framing the conventional wisdom that customers like them have been using to think about their issues.
  • Reframe. Finally, this is followed by the Reframe, which takes them in a completely different, and unexpected direction. Furthermore, it undermines their rationale for sticking with the conventional wisdom that has yet to move 60% of prospects out of their status quo. This begins the process that CEB refers to as ‘unteaching.’

Putting it All Together

Let’s use the opening of an article CEB wrote on ‘Traditional Strategies of Driving Customer Loyalty’ to show the Pre-frame, Frame, and Reframe in action.

[Pre-frame] Over the last few years, sales organizations have seen a fundamental shift in customer buying behavior. Not only do deals face greater scrutiny, but higher consensus requirements increase the likelihood of a “no” decision.

[Frame] Frequently heard strategies for driving customer loyalty include:

    • Product and service differentiation
    • Improving brand impact
    • Improving perceived product value

[Reframe] Conversely, our analysis finds customer loyalty impact does not squarely fall on these traditional drivers, rather it increasingly falls on the sales experience. However, this is not the product of a generically good sales experience, but rather a sales experience that delivers insight to the customer.

While this example is one-way communication in article form, turning it into a conversation would be quite easily done. At the Pre-frame stage, whether meeting with someone in person or over the phone, you are looking for visual and/or audible confirmation that this is aligned with what they are seeing and experiencing.

At the Frame stage, the same holds true, and a validation question or statement can help to confirm this is their experience too. For example, after sharing the three frequently heard strategies for addressing loyalty, if they respond with, “Exactly right,” you may respond by saying, “it sounds like you have taken a similar approach?”

Their response to that gives you better insight into exactly what you are Reframing. As we all know, customers don’t follow scripts, so preparing in a scripted manner as if those are the only three possibilities for the customer can set you up for an awkward moment.

In Conclusion

As you prepare for your next discussion with a prospect or customer, consider these two often over-looked frames before you attempt to reframe how they were thinking about their problems.

Following are three sentence-starters to aim towards crafting your own Pre-frame to Reframe.

  • Pre-frame: “One of the biggest challenges we are seeing… [Insert industry challenge that they are likely experiencing and significantly impacted by]
  • Frame: “Some of the typical ways customers similar to you have tried to address this is…[Insert the industry’s conventional wisdom tactics here]
  • Reframe: “What may surprise you is that…[Insert your insight that controverts conventional wisdom and gets them to think differently about their problem]

As one final example, I will use the sentence starters above to show what I might say to a retailer that is struggling with sales growth and discounting to improve results.

“One of the biggest trends we see affecting retailers is virtual show-rooming, whereby customers use the physical retail store to identify what they will purchase elsewhere online.

Some of the typical ways retailers similar to you have tried to address this is by price matching, discounting, or increasing their promotional activities.

You might be surprised to learn that the research we recently conducted in conjunction with the NRF showed that these three activities actually have the exact opposite effect on sales from what retailers were trying to accomplish.”

While this is just an example, what is important to remember is that you must tailor specific to the customer, and know that even the most perfectly scripted Pre-frame to Reframe will not ensure prospects also follow the script. They rarely do, so prepare accordingly!

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.


4 thoughts on “Challenger Sale Reframe: Two Missing Frames

  1. Hey Jeff! I like it! It’s very similar to what we often say internally: You have to first build up the “A” before you break it down. And you have to break down the “A” before you can build up the “B.”

  2. Jeff, I’ve just discovered your blog after doing a ton of googling once I finished the Challenger Sale for the 2nd time in one very long business trip (hooray audio books!). I’ve got my Audible version riddled with bookmarks. I’ve got even more of your blog posts riddling my footnotes of my documents taking notes. This is such a wonderful blog, you’re probably the first one I’ve stumbled upon that actually gives concrete, repeatable steps that I can take out there with me. Bravo sir!!

    I’m a bit unique (hopefully for the betterment of my first steps into sales) because I’ve got very little prior sales experience and am starting out with Challenger as my method of choice (it resonated with me because I’ve solution sold / diagnosed before and this seemed like a much more honest and immediately helpful sale to the customers). Second, I’m currently a marketing director that is about to be saddled with becoming a sales rep as well. It’s quite exciting, and I’m hoping my current 5 years in marketing and 10 years in design will aid me in ways I don’t know about yet, but specifically in attaining insights that lead TO my unique value proposition! Third, I’m a super outgoing and personable _nerd_ (yup, bet’cha didn’t think those existed did ya, ha!), so I’m really just devouring as much knowledge as I can before I meet up with my sales mentor next week to start my first cold calls and door to doors. And finally, fourth, I have just what I mentioned there: a very experienced sale mentor already setup for me in our very young division (I have to assume this is extremely rare to take your first steps as a sales person and have an experienced salesman ready to aid you in small divisions like mine).

    Ok, introductions aside, my goal is to introduce (if my sales mentor is not aware already) the Challenger teachings, and I’m crafting my first choreography. I really want to have something concrete for him to hear, or even a couple versions.

    I started out with this post by you here:[]( – for the lazy reading this comment, I found as a newby that the opener with all the links to Jeff’s articles about each step in the choreography to be _invaluable_! I dove right into the warmer, and started crafting what a few of these could look like, using your resource as a guide for a loose script on each one. So helpful!

    Then I moseyed my way on to your reframe post about pre-frame, frame, and reframe here (this particular article we’re all reading now). I’m immediately struck with questions:

    So my question: the pre-frame and frame sound just like the Warmer’s “Relate” & “Demonstrate.”

    However, once I got to the meaty parts of this article, I see that you actually say that the Frame is the warmer.

    Can you clear this up for me?

    Also, I’ve been unable to find an answer so I’m throwing an unrelated wild card in here, but do you guys ever use this method in cold e-mails, or is Challenger only ever used at in-person / over the phone meetings? I’m definitely showing my gills here, but I’d really love to know.

    Thanks so much for such a wonderful blog Jeff! Looking forward to your response!

    TL;DR: Is the Warmer’s Relate & Demonstrate steps equivalent to the pre-frame and frame? Also confused because you say the warmer is the Frame only, but it appears to me to be a 1:1 match. I don’t want to miss something here.

    • Thank you, Ken as I am both honored and flattered. Glad the articles are helping as that is precisely why I had invested the time into them.

      Regarding your question, perhaps I can help clear that up a bit for you. The short answer is, both statements are true:
      1. A proper Warmer must Relate, Demonstrate, and Validate AND…
      2. A proper Warmer to Reframe sequence, must Pre-Frame, Frame then Reframe

      Seems that most the conflict in interpretation lies in the attempt to make the Warmer’s ‘relate and demonstrate’ into the same concept as pre-frame and frame, but using different wording. Attempting to consolidate two separate concepts into one (i.e., “1:1 match) would certainly cause confusion as one was never intended to be a restatement of another.

      I like to break things up into smaller chunks, so that they are digestible. I break certain concepts down more specifically, like with Warmers and Reframes. So in summary, before jumping into the heart of your Warmer, begin with a Pre-Frame, then you will be prepared to Frame for the prospect how they have been looking at their business (Warmer = Relate + Demonstrate + Validate). Once successfully done, you can then proceed to the next type of frame…The Reframe, because you now know you were both looking through the same frame.

      As for your other question, Challenger does not have to be just face to face, but works in email and marketing as well. That is ideally how many sales discussions are beginning. From marketers that set the stage for some part of their business or circumstance that customers misunderstood. The TaylorMade example was a decent one which marketers put together to tell the story. Golfers struggling with a condition they were tolerating, thinking it was not fixable, now seek out local retailers armed with new insights about a product that TaylorMade specifically and uniquely can solve.

      I do need to caution though – You can take things inappropriately too far in marketing and email. For example, the farther down the choreography you walk down with a prospect in email, the more you are assuming about that customer. No customer is exactly the same and you don’t want to put a scripted monologue into an email. It’s not a good idea.

      Therefore, I typically advise marketing and sales emails provide a great warmer and reframe to build interest, followed by a strong CTA to prompt further discussion through the choreography.

      Hope that helps answer some of your questions Ken. It was a pleasure to hear from you and the impact it is having!

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