Thoughts on The Challenger Sale


Part of being a professional salesperson is staying up-to-date with the latest thoughts and ideas about what is working now in the field of selling and what isn’t.

Just in the sales arena alone, I’ve read books explaining different personality types, I’ve read all kinds of techniques and scripts to use, I’ve read books focused on the mindset of a champion salesperson, and I’ve read books by people who think they know about NLP try to explain how to use it to manipulate people into blindly following your every command.

Most of the information is simply regurgitated over and over again, yet passed off as new, special, and different.

I consider myself to be in the intermediate stages of sales ability. Even though I’ve been doing this for 25+ years, I repeated what I learned in my first year of sales for at least 15 of those years.

I’ve come to believe that part of working towards mastery in sales is deciding to focus on it, learn everything you can and practice every day.

That’s why I read sales books, especially the new ones.

One of the most recent releases that is getting a lot of attention is “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.

I originally thought this book would be another exposé on the different personalities of salespeople that would drone on and on about the differences between some ridiculous classifications such as badgers, ferrets, eagles and sharks.

While similar, so far I have been pleasantly surprised that the authors of the Challenger sale have left a lot of the fluff that could be attributed to these personality types out of the book. For instance, how do you recognize a specific personality type? How do you manage a specific personality type? What to do if you are that specific personality type. How to work with teams if you’re a specific personality type. How to recognize the personality types of your prospects so that you can change your tactics to match theirs. This type of ridiculousness can go on and on and really kill a book.

I’m only halfway through the book, and I see its value, but I can’t understand why so many salespeople are so excited about it, and sales managers are asking to have their sales reps trained according to the Challenger model.

“The Challenger Sale” states that there are five types of salespeople: the hard worker, the challenger, the relationship builder, the lone wolf, and the reactive problem solver. According to their research, the Challenger is the most successful of the five because they always have a different view of the world, they understand the customer’s business, they love to debate, and they push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively. They are assertive, and they sell based on value not price.

The authors identified six attributes out of 44 that define someone as a Challenger sales rep:

  • Offers the customer unique perspectives
  • Has strong two-way communication skills
  • Knows the individual customers value drivers
  • Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business
  • Is comfortable discussing money
  • Can pressure the customer

Now I’m not trying to be rude, or mean, or disrespectful, but who can call themselves a salesperson when they don’t possess the skills above?

You see, in my way of thinking, the above six items are not attributes, they are skills.

I agree that junior sales reps do not possess these skills. Maybe, just maybe, some old-timers might not possess these skills either. It does take a couple years of experience with awareness of what you are doing to develop the right attitude and sell this way… But, I don’t see this is groundbreaking.

Well, unless there are no seasoned sales managers, or sales professionals in the workforce anymore.

I own my own business so I’m not sure how newly hired sales reps are trained at other companies. I do know however, that as a sales professional who only eats when something is sold, I’m personally going to do everything I can to learn and perfect my selling skills.

When I look at the list of six attributes that define someone as a Challenger sales rep above, they are easily achieved by learning just two skills and developing a single attitude.

The skills are questioning and listening techniques, and the attitude is “I’m a professional and an equal.”

Let’s talk about the attitude first.

When you feel like a professional, someone who is experienced and knowledgeable and you feel like a peer or equal to the person you are talking to, you will be comfortable discussing money, pressuring the customer, and ensuring that your time is not wasted.

This is the foundation of self-esteem and confidence – and… I dare say, this is the major lesson and obstacle for salespeople.

When I’m prospecting and qualifying, I want to disqualify someone as fast as possible so I can get on to the next person. After all, time is money. And if the person I’m speaking with can’t make a decision, or doesn’t have the money necessary to take advantage of my solution, there is nothing for me to gain by investing more time in the conversation. I’m not trying to be rude, I’m trying to be realistic. Remember, I don’t eat unless I sell!

So, for me, I’m going to talk about money as soon as possible in the conversation. Why? Because if they don’t have any, I shouldn’t be talking to them.

If they do have money however, then I will invest the time necessary to understand their needs, problems, issues, and pains. As a professional salesperson, I provide solutions to their problems, issues, and pains, and fulfill their needs.

I will find their economic value drivers, and I will identify the economic drivers of their business. Want to know how? I will ask them, I will listen, I will take notes and I will ask more questions.

During the entire conversation I will try to identify the boundaries of the person’s internal map (to borrow some NLP lingo). Doing this allows me to naturally offer unique perspectives – but, not so unique that the person I’m having a conversation with doesn’t understand what I’m saying.

Remember, I estimate my sales skill level to be intermediate. But according to “The Challenger Sale,” I’m advanced – maybe even masterful.

I highly doubt that.

In fact, while reading the book, my major question about the Challenger Sale model is:
“What happened to all the salespeople?”

Does no one know how to ask questions anymore? Does no one know how to listen anymore?

Before I end this rant, let me leave you with some food for thought. This example comes from Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP.

Since NLP is language dependent, and is focused on influencing others with language, Richard took a part-time job selling cars for a Mercedes-Benz dealer. The dealer had an assortment of pre-owned Cadillac’s and Lincoln Continental’s that they couldn’t get rid of. Richard decided that the outcome he wanted to achieve was to sell those pre-owned vehicles.

He saw a man browsing the inventory of a Volkswagen dealer across the street unattended. Richard ran across the street, stood on the sidewalk and beckoned the man over to him. Richard asked the man, “Do you have a family?” The man said. “Yes!” And Richard said, “You must not love them very much if you would put them in one of these cars.” The man was taken back, and with his blood starting to boil from the seeming insult said, “Why do you say that?” To which Richard replied, “Because if you get into a wreck in that car, your children in the back seat will have their legs crushed if they don’t get killed.” Without stopping, Richard said, “I’ve got a pre-owned Cadillac on my lot that is so heavy and strong that if it got into a wreck with this Volkswagen, the Volkswagen would be totaled, but you would not only be able to drive the Cadillac away from the scene of the wreck, you would only need a Brillo pad to buff out the scuff that the Volkswagen made. Plus, you would save $9,000 which could buy a lot more gas than you could save by driving that car.”

This story represents the Challenger Sale Model in action.

As you can guess, Richard sold the car. In fact, he sold all the pre-owned vehicles on the lot in a month using this tactic.

The only “things” necessary to achieve this type of result is: an understanding of personal maps and models, questioning and listening skills, and self confidence.

Sales is understanding what is important to the person you are having a conversation with, so you can influence them to make a decision.

If the data presented in the Challenger sale is accurate, it can only mean there is a lot of new, unskilled salespeople in the workforce, or the majority of the salespeople are unprofessional and are unwilling to work on mastering their skills and are just repeating their first year over and over again – like I was.

Let Me Know!

I’m extremely interested to hear your thoughts! Do you think “The Challenger Sale” is groundbreaking information, or just another way of presenting basic sales training? Let’s discuss using the comments section below.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller is the owner of, a sales and marketing coaching and training company in Atlanta, Georgia.

Michael’s mission is helping small business owners understand, and organize their marketing so they can make money and grow.

Mindwhirl helps business owners plan and implement effective, profitable marketing campaigns and sales programs.

If you need more sales, we know how to get leads and grow businesses. Call us today at (404) 858-3105, or email me at

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