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How to Take Control of the Customer Conversation (based on the Challenger Sale Book)

Over the last 6 months, this book (The Challenger Sale) was trying to get me to read it. It kept coming up under “Book Recommendations” on Amazon. So, eventually, after scanning through a few reviews, I decided to order it.

When it arrived, I went through the Content Page, with little excitement to be honest (like someone that feels obligated to do something), picked a section that caught my attention, read through it, closed the book, put in on my book shelve and left it there.

Three months passed. Other books were read and got all my attention. Until a few days ago, my 2-year old son had the great idea of decorating my office floor with all the books from my book shelve…And “The Challenger Sale” book, in it's bright red cover caught my attention again. I now wanted to read it and learn from it. I was ready, and it only took me 5 days to finish it.

I put together a little review (mostly for myself if you want to know) so I can go back to it later for refreshers. I decided to publish my review in three parts to make it quick to read and digest for those of you interested in learning (or refreshing) concepts helpful for your performance success.

Not everyone will be interested in the topics discussed in the book, but it is a must read if:

-You want to improve your sales expertise and shape up your skills

-You are in B2B sales

-You are in Sales Leadership

-You run a business where there are Sales Operations

I can say that, this is a book that requires your full attention, but assuming you are interested in the topics of Sales Success, Sales Performance Improvement and Management Effectiveness, this read will keep you engaged and give you new perspectives you haven’t considered before.

The Challenger Sale” was first published in 2011 by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB (now part of Gartner), where they help customers grow by maximizing their potential and channeling it towards high-impact strategies proven to deliver results.

In early 2009, Dixon and Adamson, along with their collaborators at CEB, wanted to answer a very pressing question in the minds of sales leaders back then: How can we sell our way through the worst economy in decades?

This question took them in a journey of careful and expanded research, around (1) who the best type of reps were out there, (2) how they were continuing to deliver great results and (3) what support was necessary from their corporate teams.

Every recommendation and strategy in the book gets backed up with data from the results of thousands of surveys responses and interviews where managers, reps and corporate leaders participated. These guys did their homework!

Nowadays we get flooded with so much information and it is so hard to keep up with everything. I do recognize that the world of sales has continued to evolve, but there are 3 main sections (or big learning lessons) from the book that I believe are relevant today and will continue to be crucial for the success of Sales Teams for while.

In this Post, I'll be sharing the first big learning lesson from the book. Post #2 and #3 will go live in the next days.

First Big Lesson: Which are the BEST and WORST types of Sales Reps?

Nixon and Adamson, grouped Sales Reps in 5 buckets (Again, after lots of research).

  1. The Hard Worker—Always willing to go the extra mile, self-motivated, interested in feedback and development.

  2. The Challenger—These are the debaters in our team. They understand their customers and their business. They teach customers new things about their own business and prepares them to compete more effectively.

  3. The Relationship Builder—Generous in giving time to help others, gets along with everyone. Their position with customers is one of accessibility and service.

  4. The Reactive Problem Solver—Ensures all problems are solved. Detail-oriented. These are the reps that enjoy doing “customer service” tasks, even though these activities keep them away from reaching goals.

  5. The Lone Wolf—Follows own processes and instincts (instead of rules). Self-assured. Difficult to control. These are the agents we keep ONLY because (and if) they perform. They tend to be a pain in the bottom.

In analyzing results, they determined that there is one clear LOSER and one clear WINNER in the group.

The clear loser (to everyone’s surprise) was the Relationship Builder and the winner was (obviously, if they named the book after them!) the Challenger rep.

Challengers achieve greater results because they excel at teaching, tailoring and taking control of the sale throughout the entire process. They are not afraid of making things a little "tense", providing brand new perspectives that get customers out of their comfort zone.

Relationship builders instead, are focused on being accepted and liked. They are generous with their time and that "tension" that makes Challenger Reps so successful, is really uncomfortable for Relationship Builders. They intentionally work on releasing any discomfort clients may feel.

Important to note: Challenger Reps are more likely to succeed in Business to Business (B2B) environments. Results indicated that for less complex, more transaction type sales (like inside/tele sales), where success is a matter of call volume and call quality, Hard Workers Reps are the most likely to succeed.

How do the Challenger Reps make success happen?

Anyone in the world of Sales know how finding the customers' needs is crucial for successful results. From there, discovery questions were born: To create a simple path that would describe what our customers want so we could then bring up the solution that was going to solve all their problems.

In the book, a section that I highlighted read:

"But what if customers truly don't know what they need? What is customers' single greatest need -ironically- is to figure out exactly what they need? If this were true, rather than asking customers what they need, the better sales technique might in fact be to tell customers what they need. And that's exactly what Challengers do."

The Challengers have figured it out. They teach customers what’s best for them, how they can make/save money and where they are leaving opportunities on the table. They prepare to bring to the table solutions that not only makes their customers stronger and more successful, but also close them new business.

In the next post, I will share the 6-Steps Challengers use to close the sale, so stay tuned! And remember: It is not what you sell, it's how you sell it!

Check Part II Here: 6 "Discrete" Steps to Close Sales

Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here

Mariana Jaeger


Austin, Texas based, serving clients globally.

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