I’ve just finished reading and recommend a new book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Addington entitled “The Challenger Sale”; I enjoyed the quality of the writing and the research underpinning the work.The challenger sales type has been identified as the most effective in complex B2B selling and was the only sales cohort from the extensive research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board to achieve success during the downturn. Figuring out what Challengers are doing differently, cloning that behavior and recruiting and training more challenger types is a priority recommendation in this book.

The 5 Sales Profiles

The Challenger  the challenger
Lone Wolf


lone wolf
 Hard Worker  hard worker
 Reactive Problem Solver  reactive problem solver
 Relationship Builder  relationship builder

The Challenger Sale is an essential read for sales managers and sales professionals looking to improve sales performance.

A Widening Talent Gap

In transactional selling, the star performers outperform the core by 59%. In complex B2B selling environments, the research indicates that the star performers outperformed the core performers by almost 200%.

top performers, challenger vs rest

As the sale becomes more complex, the gap between the core and star performers widens dramatically…companies are becoming more dependent on fewer sales people to carry the day. The good news is Challenger Selling skills, methods and process can be taught and learned and the upside in closing the gap between the core and star performer group is well worth the investment in messaging, training and individual development.

Challenger Attributes

What is it that Challengers do differently that sets them apart from other sales people? From the 44 attributes in the survey, six of them were statistically significant in defining the Challenger rep:

  • Offers the customer unique perspective
  • Strong 2 way communication skills
  • Knows customer value drivers
  • Can identify economic drivers of customers business
  • Is comfortable discussing money
  • Can pressure the customer

Disrupt Status Quo with an Informed Opinion 

The book talks about teaching the buyer about a problem they did not know they had as a winning attribute of the Challenger. The idea of the salesperson disrupting the status quo with an informed opinion or reframe about how the buyer could improve an aspect of their business is not new.

What is new is the research and analysis of how effective the Challenger sales type is vs. the other sales profiles and the core performers in the organization.

I have two books on my desk, Why Killer Products Don’t Sell (Dominic Rowsell & Ian Gotts) and a new book Conversations that win the Complex Sale, by (Tim Reesterer) that both describe the process and method for winning new business using a similar approach to that espoused by the authors.

Challenger Selling Whiteboard Conversations

We have adapted our Whiteboardselling methodology over the past year to integrate the Killer Products method of early buyer engagement and the initiation of the value captured or value created buying process, by :

  • leading with an informed opinion backed by in depth research;
  • educating the buyer on new opportunities central to their success,
  • bringing internal and external issues into focus that the buyer may not have been aware of and.
  • making the buyer aware of the risks in the journey.

We ran a Whiteboardselling training session last week for a major system integration company and the whiteboard story we created used subtle positioning against a balanced field of competitors and made insightful and clear distinctions between the value captured in our approach and risks associated with alternate approaches and offered a road-map to begin the journey.

Whiteboard Storytelling a key tool for enabling the challenger sale.

I’ve been working on messaging as a core element of sales performance improvement for the past 7 years and as an affiliate with Whiteboardselling for a year now and have completed more than 60 messaging engagements that involved Whiteboard storytelling and our prior Messaging Architecture and Buyer Relevant Messaging Template approach.The Whiteboard storytelling method is the ideal mechanism to capture the Challenger Sale positioning and value creation story into a visual story that salespeople will quickly internalize and that customers will engage in, can easily understand and that they will remember.

It was a surprising omission from the book – the lack of reference tochallenger whiteboard whiteboarding; there was a reference to the need for marketing to help develop the message and then to sales management and training to help engage the training methodology to adopt the technique internally….but not a whisper about a Whiteboard story.Capturing your Challenger story in a whiteboard and varying it slightly for your audience is a core best practice of Whiteboardselling. Proof points will change, value emphasis will change based on the buyer, but the core ideas and value creation message will remain constant.

Capturing the image of your discussion in a visual confection on one page, highlighting their issues in red, your solution in green and agreed next steps in blue is a best practice after a successful whiteboard session. The next best practice step is embedding it in a meeting summary letter to follow up the sales call. This is one of the single most powerful tools in getting your ideas shared at the executive level and vital for surviving the internal funding battle in the positioning phase of the buying process.