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The Challenger Sales Model: Everything You Need to Know

Sales reps are indispensable to the success of every business organization. The hard work they put into getting prospects, reaching out to them, nurturing them, and ultimately converting them to paying customers.

The intensity of the job and the time and effort invested into the sales process by sales reps have influenced the rate at which sales professionals and leaders create new books, processes, and techniques that can make sales a lot better for sales teams around the world.

One of such sales-related solutions was developed by two sales leaders and the managing director of CEB’s Sales Executive Council in Washington, D.C, Mattew Dixon and Brent Adamson, in their book, “The Challenger Sales” in 2011.

Dixon and Adamson discovered the new sales methodology called the “Challenger sales model” after an in-depth study of sales reps across various industries to replace the traditional sales approach of building relationships with customers.

They argued in their book that the old-school method of relationship building is not suitable for large and complex B2B solutions. The “Challenger sale” puts the sales reps in charge of the sales process, and tactics and gives them the autonomy to influence their prospects and customers’ decision.

In this article, we will take you through the definitions, key steps, techniques, and other essential things you should know about the challenger sales model.

Table of Content

  • What is the Challenger sales model?
  • The Five (5) profiles of a sales rep
  • The Pros & Cons of Challenger sales model
  • Key Traits of a Challenger sales rep
  • What is the T-T-T Challenger sales process?
  • How can Sales managers implement the challenger sales model?
  • 3 Challenger Sale techniques every salesperson should know
  • The Challenger sales training for every sales rep

What is the Challenger sales model?

 the challenger sales mode

The challenger sales model is a sales methodology or process that encourages sales reps to teach, tailor and take control of their customer’s sales experience. This sales method directs sales reps to emulate the strategies and tactics of “challengers” – the high-performing sales reps – to win their sales deals.

In simple terms, the challenger sales methodology trains sales reps to study their prospects to discover their pain points, interests, and goals not just to sell their products or services to them as other sales reps do but to use that information to teach their prospects about their pain points, tailor their sales communications to suit the prospects and ultimately take control of their sales process.

This challenger sales method allows sales reps to find their prospect’s business problems or opportunities, and approach their prospects with the aim of calling their attention to the business problems, and educating them about them to arouse their interest in solving the problem.

Once you show them how the business problem is affecting their business performance and get them to buy into this need, you immediately explain how your business can help them solve the problem to increase your chances of attaining success.

Existing research support this approach as they found that challenging customers’ beliefs, disrupting their thinking, and teaching them something new can effectively drive sales results.

The Five (5) profiles of a Sales Rep

 challenger sales model steps

Mattew Dixon and Brent Adamson discovered that the sales behavior that drives customer loyalty is not the brand, service, product features, or price, instead, it is 53% of customer loyalty largely depends on how the sales rep interacts with the customers and is helpful to them.

According to their study, B2B sales professionals can be categorized into five (5) different profiles, based on the skills and behaviors that the sales reps use to interact and encourage sales with their various customers.

Here are the five (5) profiles as explained in the challenger sales book:

The Hard worker

This kind of sales reps are self-motivated and are not known to give up on sales tasks, even when they experience the most frustrating sales process. They are reportedly more interested in feedback and personal development.

Hard workers are:

  • Self-motivated.
  • Don’t give up easily!
  • Always willing to go one step further. 
  • Determined to complete tasks. 
  • Appreciates feedback for personal development. 

The Lone wolf

These sales reps are self-assured, and competent and are known to always follow their instincts. They deliver results but are tough to manage.

The lone wolf has the following qualities:

  • They believe so much in themselves.
  • They trust and follow their instincts.
  • They can be difficult to manage although they are known to deliver satisfactory results.

The Relationship Builder

These sales reps are consultative reps known to people’s pleasers who believe in building relationships with their prospects to initiate sales.

Relationship builders have the following qualities:

  • They are willing to give their time to customers.
  • They maintain an excellent connection with their customers.
  • They love to ask lots of questions.
  • They are more focused on building relationships with customers.
  • They love to meet every need of their customers.

The Problemsolvers

These sales reps are detail-oriented, reliable, and great listeners and observers that are able to pick on little details and make sure every problem that their customer is facing gets resolved.

Problem solvers have the following qualities:

  • They are detailed-oriented
  • They are more focused on solving their prospect’s business problem.
  • They are reliable and trustworthy
  • Their primary focus is to improve customer service, not close sales deals.

The Challengers

These sales reps are the powerhouse of the reps, they understand what their company does and are well informed about their customer’s business pain points and goals. They use the information to teach their customers about their business problems and how they can help.

Challengers have the following qualities:

  • They love to debate
  • Their sales approach involves pushing their customer’s limit
  • They have the ability to see the world from a different view
  • They have a good understanding of their customer’s business and can use that to give them valuable insights to change their customer’s perspectives and ultimately encourage sales.

The Pros & Cons of Challenger Sales Model

 what is the challenger sales model

As effective as the challenger sales methodology is among sales professionals – with the high sales records, good customer experience, improved customer loyalty, etc. – they also have their setbacks.

The Pros

The pros of the challenger sales model are:

1. It understands and prioritizes customers’ value drivers.

2. It provides customers with an exciting perspective on their product or service that many other sales methodologies fail to achieve.

3. They are able to identify their customer’s economic drivers, thereby making it a lot easier for them to have open discussions about their budget with them.

The Cons

The cons of the challenger sales model are:

1. They are best suited for complex sales processes rather than simple sales cycles.

2. They only work well with sales reps who possess advanced sales skills. Judging by its framework, sales reps who have been trained with other sales methodologies would find it hard to use the challenger sales model.

3. It only works well with top-performing sales reps.

4. It can be counter-productive for traditional sales reps to use the challenger sales methodology.

Key Traits of a Challenger Sales Rep

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A challenger sales rep is a top performer who has an impressive successful track record and understands the best way to create a sales pitch that drives sales.

A challenger sales rep possesses the following qualities:

1. Thye have unique abilities to provide their customers with new perspectives.

2. They possess impressive two-way communication skills.

3. They understand what makes the customer’s product or service valuable and indispensable to their customers.

4. They identify their prospects and business economic drivers – price, sales performance, and costs.

5. They are good talkers and understand when and how to discuss money matters with their prospects.

6. They have the ability to pressurize their customers in a good way.

7. They are good teachers. A Challenger sales rep teaches their prospect about their business problems and proffers realistic solutions to these problems.

8. They are strategic salespeople. A challenger rep understands the customer’s problems and is able to use this information to create sales strategies that meet the customer’s needs and preferences.

9. They are controllers and decision makers who can use the available information and their knowledge of the challenger model to take control of their sales discussion. They know how to make sales happen.

What is the T-T-T Challenger Sales Process?

The T-T-T challenger process stands for teaching, tailoring, and taking control. It details the process that a sales professional uses the challenger sales approach to drive sales.

The process is quite straightforward and follows three key steps, which are:


 challenger model sales

The first step is to research the customers and find out all the important information they can find about the prospects such as pain points, interests, and goals.

They use this information gathered over time, to teach their prospects about the business problems they are unaware of and consistent increase their awareness of the issue.

According to the challenge sales book, a sales rep can teach their prospects in the following ways;

1. By offering them valuable insights or perspectives on their market.

2. By helping their prospects find alternatives.

3. By providing continuous advice and consultation.

4. By helping their customer find solutions to avoidable problems.

5. By educating the new member on new issues and outcomes.


 challenger sales model examples

This second step is when the sales rep tailors his sales process to meet the needs of the prospects.

At this point, they understand what the problem is and have informed their prospect about the problem, they only need to develop a tailored sales strategy that will help them solve their customer’s business problem.

Based on the challenger book, a sales rep using the challenger sales model can tailor their sales strategies in the following ways.

1. Creating a sales strategy that educates prospects about the solutions to their business problems.

2. In the challenger selling approach, the sales rep creates a strong connection between them and the prospects’ stakeholders.

3. Challenger reps customize individual stakeholders based on customer outcomes

Take Control of the sale

 challenger sales model overview

This is the final step in the challenger sales model. It is when the sales rep takes control of the sales conversation and is able to decide on the right time and way to offer the solution to the prospect – most likely a way they can’t ignore.

The challenger sale recommends that sales reps control the sales process by doing the following

1. The ability to keep the sales process moving.

2. Keep every discussion about finance comfortable.

3. Educate the prospect on the process of purchasing a complex solution.

4. Create discounts based on the value created for the customer.

5. By successfully giving customers a new perspective.

Aside from this, the book also lists a four-step negotiation framework that challenger sales reps go through:

1. Acknowledge and defer: This is when the customer requests incentives like discounts and the sales rep is forced to accept the requests but request for more time – thereby creating more value for the customer and making them demand more.

2. Deepen and Broaden: This is when the sales rep informs the prospect about their business problem and identifies the solution to solve those problems. This act creates more value for customers.

3. Explore and Compare: This is when the sales rep analyzes different trade-offs to check out options that don’t affect the margins and instead offer customers more value.

4. Concede as per the plan: When negotiating with customers, it’s important to understand when, when, and how to concede to make better decisions on the best time and way to do this. Experts recommend investing a lot of time into planning to achieve this. Check out the complete guide about the sales plan.

How can Sales managers implement the challenger sales model?

Sales managers are critical to the success and effectiveness of a sales team. They have more experience in sales and have managerial skills to coordinate the activities of sales reps. Also, to implement the challenger sales model, you need competent and skilled sales managers who have knowledge of how the challenger sales model works.

Sadly, reports suggest that the majority of sales managers lack the skills needed to implement the challenger sales methodology. To manage this, here are three key factors that sales managers must understand;

1. Coaching

 challenger sales model questions

Coaching is a form of training that counsels a group of people (sales team) on the best way to develop or improve certain skills to boost their performance and productivity. In this scenario, It is the conscious effort sales managers take to train their sales reps on how to work with the challenger sales model to boost productivity.

Mattew and Brent in their book recommend that sales manager take the following approach to coach their sales team:

  1. Make it an ongoing process.
  2. Tailor the coaching to fit the personality of every sales rep.
  3. The focus of the coaching should be on their behavior, not knowledge.

2. Pause before coaching

For sales managers to become experts in coaching their teams during sales interactions, they need to have full knowledge of the PAUSE framework. It represents the following:

P – Prepare for the coaching conversion: This involves getting the sales reps to prepare in advance for the coaching.

A – Affirm the relationship: This states that more emphasis should be placed on personal development rather than performance management

U – Understand expected behavior: This involves teaching sales managers some of the critical things they need to observe and look out for in sales reps to enable them to handle sales conversations better.

S – Specify behavior change: This involves giving managers a set of behaviors and standards to look out for to determine behavior change.

E – Embed new behaviors: This is the point where sales managers now have to instill the new behaviors to complete the coaching process.

3. Drive sales innovation

 what is challenger sales model

This last factor identifies ways a sales manager can drive sales innovation. “The challenger sales” recommends three (3) ways sales managers can drive sales innovation.

1. Investigation: This is when a sales manager looks into the reasons for low sales or sales performance by a sales rep – finding out what’s preventing sales deals from moving ahead.

2. Creation: This is the process of creating solutions by either resolving customers’ challenges or creating more opportunities for cross-selling.

3. Sharing: This is when sales managers after successfully solving business problems, share their solutions and strategies with sales reps to replicate them.

3 Challenger Sale techniques every salesperson should know

Challengers are star performers who understand the best way to influence their customer’s perspectives to achieve sales. A challenger sales rep uses the following techniques to drive sales results:

1. Identify problems: This involves identifying a unique opportunity to help them solve their prospect’s business problems. As experts in changing their prospect’s perspectives, challengers ensure that the business problem or opportunity is one that the prospect hasn’t thought of before to drive sales.

2. Present solutions: Now that you have identified the problem, this is when you present the solution to the prospect, specifically, highlighting how the solution can improve their sales performance

3. Apply pressure: You apply gentle but firm pressure on your prospects to get them to close the sales deal, highlighting the benefits the solution can bring to their business.

The Challenger sales training for every sales rep

 challenger sales model summary

Since most challengers are high sales performers, many organizations want their sales reps to adopt the challenger sales approach to close sales deals.

Since sales reps have different personalities that determine the sales techniques they use, here are effective ways sales managers can train different sales reps to adopt the challenger sales model:

For Hard workers, consider the following:

  • Teach them to pay attention to the “teaching” aspect of the challenger sales model.
  • Give them constant feedback on how they are performing with the challenger sale model.
  • Praise them when necessary – since hard workers love to please their employers, praising them will motivate them to do more.

For Lone wolves, consider the following:

  • Teach them to have a productive two-way conversation with prospects and teammates – with more emphasis on effective communication.
  • Provide them with a guide on how to use the challenger sales model.
  • As individuals who love to work alone, the last resort is letting them figure out how best to use the challenger sales model on their own.

For relationship builders, consider the following:

  • Teach them to focus on the “pressuring” and “taking control” aspects of the challenger sales methodology.
  • Get them to feel comfortable about talking about money with prospects.
  • Get them to understand the importance of data and teach them how to use data in their sales pitching process.

For problem solvers, consider the following:

  • Get them to focus on the “creating new perspective” aspect of the challenger sales methodology.
  • Teach them to focus on creating a sales pitch that addresses their prospect’s business problems.
  • Leverage their strong stakeholder communication skills to get the support of top executives at the prospect’s organization.


Although every sales rep has a unique selling style that fits their personality, the challenger sales model presents new perspectives and techniques that can help sales reps regardless of their sales style to improve their sales process, close more sales deals and enhance overall sales performance.