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The success gap between great salespeople and average performers is almost 200 percent, according to The Challenger Sale. Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.  The book contains game-changing research, which, Professor Neil Rackham writes in the introduction, is the most important advance in sales in many years. The Challenger Sale is a blueprint for creating a highly successful sales team and a must-read for organizations wishing to sell with excellence and maximum effectiveness.

Published in 2011 by Penguin, it’s the first book by Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at CEB, Inc., a member-based corporate advisory firm that gives companies with sales staffs around the world the tools and insights they need to transform their enterprise and boost performance.

The book gives background on the popular “solution selling” technique that sales forces widely use today. Because there is now little differentiation between individual products, customers instead want well-designed solutions bundles. They want sales reps to not only sell them a product, but also solve a problem.

As a result, a supplier is judged by the performance of their customer’s business, not necessarily by the product they are selling.

Suppliers also face extensive modifications of their deals as the complexity of the solution increases because customers believe customization is part of the solution that the rep is offering them. And, customers are using third-party consultants to get as much value from the purchasing decision as possible. Thus, sellers are confronted by aggressive third parties who also want to extract their “value” from the deal.

In 2009, sales forces, already challenged by the more complex solution selling environment, were hit with a major economic downfall. However, a small number of sales reps were, surprisingly, still selling successfully. They were even achieving the type of success found in a strong economy, not in the slow or non-existent selling environment of the era.

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The authors and their CEB colleagues spent four years studying the question of what set this successful group of sales reps apart. They found that most B2B sales reps fall into one of five distinct profiles:

  1. The Hard Worker,
  2. The Challenger,
  3. The Relationship Builder,
  4. The Lone Wolf, and
  5. The Reactive Problem Solver.

And, when they looked at these five profiles, there was one clear sales winner, The Challenger; and one clear loser, the Relationship Builder. The Challenger, the one who achieved success in the economic downturn, would have achieved success regardless of the state of the economy because they mastered the complex sale in a complex economy.

Doesn’t it make sense for a sales rep to grow relationships with their customers? Professor Rackham in effect says that’s fine, but not sufficient. The success of Challengers is because they bring new ideas to the customer, forcing them to think differently, it’s not due to their relationships.

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Customers want a sales rep who helps them identify ways to cut costs, enter new markets and reduce risks. Not only do they want to buy something, they also want to learn something. And that’s why the Challenger is so successful. The Challenger is not afraid to teach the customer, take control of the relationship, and employ both customer-value drivers and economic drivers to tailor the sale to one specific customer.

Thankfully, the authors point out that Challengers are made, not born.

Thankfully, the authors point out that Challengers are made, not born. Therefore, the book includes a Challenger coaching guide, a selling style self-diagnostic section, and a Challenger hiring guide with key questions to ask when interviewing.

The Challenger Sale, a quick (yet satisfying) read at only nine chapters or 221 pages, can be used as a guide for sales executives to find Challenger sales reps and coach their existing sales reps to become high-selling Challengers.

The book’s processes and strategies are not only useful in the sales world but can be transferred to other departments and industries.

The book’s processes and strategies are not only useful in the sales world but can be transferred to other departments and industries. They will help any executive, not just sales professionals, discover their high-achieving Challengers and grow new Challengers in order to achieve success in any economy.

As customer buying behavior is rapidly changing, the selling approach must change dramatically as well, or suppliers will be left behind. If you sell, or have a business that depends on high-performance sales people, this is a book you don't want to miss.