Book Review: The Challenger by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon

In their cutting-edge book, Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon propose that there exist several primary sales approaches that have evolved over time. One, however, stands out from the rest as superior, and learning, practicing, and finally implementing it into a business’s sales processes will have beneficial effects over time: the Challenger sales approach. Adamson and Dixon make a compelling argument for the superiority of the “Challenger” approach, outlining the ways in which it’s adaptable to any business model alongside statistical support for its success rate.

Adamson and Dixon distinguish the Challenger Sale from other prevailing models. Product, or Transactional Sales, for instance, focus on the perks: the features and benefits of a product are emphasized in order to justify its price (and, sometimes, the price itself can be spun as a feature, if it is low enough). Meanwhile, Solution, or Conservative, Sales requires a lot of customer involvement, attempting to address the pain points experienced by a customer in order to convince them. This approach is particularly complicated, because it requires consensus among consumers about which pain points are most valuable – and, ultimately, it can lead to consumer avoidance of the product a business is trying to sell.

The Challenger approach, on the other hand, positions the business as the thought leader. It is about asserting control of the conversation by teaching customers information they may not have already known, creating a sense of trust and allowing the sales person to tailor their conversation to the needs of the customer without depending on them. In studies revealed by Adamson and Dixon, 39% of top performing salespeople (54% for those selling complex products) used the Challenger approach – by far the single most successful technique compared to relationship-building (7%), problem-solving (12%), and taking a lone wolf approach (25%).

Ultimately, the Challenger Style is comprised of three main methods:

1. Teaching for differentiation

Delivering insights that reframe the way customers think about their business and their needs

2. Tailors the message

The message is based on the consumer – on their drives and needs at the time. It considers both what drives them to succeed, both personally and professionally, and the concerns they’re experiencing.

3. Asserts control

Creates and leverages constructive tension in the process and openly pursues goals in a direct way to drive agreed-upon value and to overcome risk aversion.

The Challenger Sales Call Flow is a major contributor to the success of the approach. According to Adamson and Dixon, it goes as follows:

1. The Warmer

Instead of giving the customer the power by asking them to list their pain points and preferences, the Challenger will hypothesize about what they are based on experience and research. Ask the customer for acknowledgement while framing these challenges as what they’re experiencing with other companies.

2. The Reframe

Building off the challenge(s) your customer just acknowledged, the Challenger will bring their attention to a new perspective. This will connect those challenges to either a bigger problem or a bigger opportunity that they never realized they had.

3. Rational Drowning

In this step, the Challenger makes their case for why the reframe is worth the customer’s time and attention. This is the time to bring in facts- data, publications, and numbers. The goal is to make the customer uncomfortable about not being previously aware of such an obvious challenge.

4. Emotional Impact

Once the foundation of fact is laid out, it’s time to supplement it with emotional appeal. The customer has to see themselves in the narrative the Challenger is weaving. Paint a picture for them about how the behaviors they’re displaying have led others to negative outcomes or dissatisfaction.

5. A New Way

You’ve vividly described the problem. Now, a Challenger must convince the customer of the solution. This is not about your product yet – it’s about the many steps they would have to take in order to fix their problem, highlighting how difficult and time-consuming it could be.

6. Your Solution

This is where the Challenger brings in the solution your business is offering, making its superiority to the competition clear and indisputable.

Ultimately, Adamson and Dixon assert that the Challenger approach hinges on one important distinction: it places an emphasis on the salesperson’s ability to teach the customer something, not sell them something. This differentiation allows for trust-building, thought leadership, and increased customer receptiveness.

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