Too often, I start a promising business book with high hopes of gaining some new, valuable insight only to close the book disappointed. Maybe it’s me, but I find that it’s really important for business books to hit two criteria: present new ideas and actionable steps. Luckily, The Challenger Sale has both of these. What the authors of The Challenger Sale have done is taken a hefty volume of research, posited a theory based on said research, and given step-by-step instructions on how to implement this new theory into a sales team. So to start, what is the Challenger Sale method and why should you care?

Through field tests and interviews, the authors surmise that there are 5 types of Salespeople:

1) The Relationship Builder
2) The Problem Solver
3) The Hard Worker
4) The Lone Wolf
5) The Challenger

They rightly assume that most Sales Managers, CEOs and anyone else responsible for sales in an organization will think their best sales person is the Relationship Builder. I know I did. However, this is wrong, and they have the data to prove it. As you may have guessed by the title of the book, the best performer of the bunch is actually the Challenger! What does the Challenger do differently? Let’s first take a quick look at the main attributes of each type.

  1. Relationship Builder –Values relationships at all costs, even at the detriment of the company. Is afraid to say no to the customer. Will do anything to “save” the relationship.
  2. The Problem Solver – “Customer service rep in sales rep clothes.” Loves solving customer’s problems, often at the expense of generating new business.
  3. The Hard Worker – Self explanatory, is the first one in and the last one out. Working hard is the only way she/he can compete with more naturally gifted salespeople.
  4. The Lone Wolf – The lone wolf has his/her own sales process. They know what works for them and often abandon the playbook/script. Hard to wrangle in.
  5. The Challenger – The debaters on the team. Posses a deep understanding of their customer’s/client’s business. Not afraid to “push” customers on price and their way of thinking.

One important note: the middle of the pack salespeople (core performers) are an even representation of all demographics. It’s when we look at the high performers, the “all-stars”, that we see a difference. The data shows that out of all high performance salespeople, only 6% are what would be classified as Relationship Builders. By comparison, The Challenger makes up 39% of all high performers! Essentially 2/5 of all high performers are made up of this one type of sales rep. The logic follows that if you were building a sales team, wouldn’t you want as many high performers as possible?

Key Takeaways from The Challenger Sale

The first half of the book is chocked full of actionable steps every salesperson can implement to become a higher performer. The second half of the book is more heavily focused on managing a sales team, so if you are a running a small agency/company like myself you may not find this part as engaging as the first half. Below are some of my highlights.

“Teach, Tailor, Take Control”

The Challenger should aim to “teach for differentiation.” By teaching their client/prospect something new about their own business, the Challenger helps differentiate herself from other sales reps.

The Challenger should tailor for resonance. By possessing a deep understanding of their prospect’s business, the Challenger can tailor their message as a custom solution, delivering the right message to the right person in the organization.

The Challenger should take control of the sale. He/She is comfortable discussing money, and pushing the customer to ensure he/she is getting the best deal possible for their business.

Commercial Teaching

What good is it to teach your customers great insights about their business if it doesn’t lead to closing the deal? That’s what commercial teaching is about! Commercial Teaching helps you:

  1. Lead to your unique strengths
  2. Challenge customers’ assumption
  3. Catalyze action
  4. Scale across customers

Your clients should not say “Yes, exactly!” Instead they should say “Hmm, I never thought of that…”

This is probably the most “pocketable” take away from the book. Listen to what you customers says he wants, and when you can, pivot to something new. Challenge their assumption that what they ask for is best for their business. Most sales reps (Relationship Builders) can quickly become order takers, even in solution-based selling. Order takers are easily replaceable, and easily pitted against each other for a better price. The Challenger is harder to shop on price because the Challenger is not offering a price driven solution.

It’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it

Interesting data when looking at customer loyalty. Customers give the following feedback when asked why they are loyal to a company:

  1. Company or Brand Impact – 19%
  2. Product or Service Delivered – 19%
  3. Value to Price Ration – 9%
  4. Sales Experience – 53%

So essentially, the experience of buying from you is responsible for over half of your customer loyalty! That’s an amazing stat. It illustrates the importance of teaching your customer something valuable, of tailoring your message to your prospect, of being a resource to your customer in any way possible. It’s how businesses are grown. Don’t be an order taker, be an invaluable resource and you will be cherished.

Overall, The Challenger Sale is a valuable business book worth adding to the shelf of any solution based salesperson. Though the second half slowed down a bit for me, the actionable steps presented in the first half definitely made up for it. I instantly added some tools to my toolbelt, and though I am not a complete convert to the Challenger methodology (I still believe there is a place for relationship based sales), I do believe that several of the insights presented in the book are fresh and worth discovering further.