The Challenger Sale, Good or Bad Advice? Part 1

One of the most controversial sales books to come out in recent years is The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.

In a nutshell, the authors argue that the key to successful selling isn’t relationship building as we know it, but challenging your clients to make a buying decision. This is done by finding clients who can act quickly, delivering insight, teaching something new, tailoring your message, and taking control of the sales process.


Based on a study of thousands of sales professionals, the authors found there are 5 categories of sales people – Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Lone Wolves, Reactive Problem Solver and Challengers.

Of the five categories, the Challengers consistently come out on top in exceeding their sales goals compared to the other types of sales people. This is especially true in long and complex sales cycles.

In this first post, I will present videos taking the pro side of the Challenger argument. In the second post, I will offer you the con side of the argument. In the third post, I will offer you a mixed point of view. In my final post, I will offer you my opinions about the book.

Below is a video from Perry Holley about the Challenger Sale. Mr. Holley admits that he has been mostly a Relationship sales person. However, he now agrees that the Challenger approach is better. He points out that of the five categories mentioned above, the Challenger salesperson was 40% more successful than the Relationship sales person. The key difference is that while the Relationship salesperson focuses on relieving tension with clients and being in the customer’s comfort zone, the Challenger salesperson focuses on using insight to create constructive tension in the sales process, and pushes the customer out of his comfort zone. Without tension, Mr. Holley argues, clients may not upgrade your services, or just issue a RFP (request for proposal) and see what other vendors have to offer.

In short, it is better to be respected than liked as a sales person.

Here is his video –

Below is a video from InsideSales.com with Matthew Dixon discussing his book in detail. He argues that customers today are more savvy in making buying decisions because of the wealth of information online. Thus, they don’t need to rely on sales people as much as they use to. That being the case, what customers are seeking today from sales people are those who can offer value by providing them unique perspectives on the marketplace, helping them avoid making mistakes, educating them on the best solutions, and making it easy for them to buy from you. Customer loyalty is based on the idea that what is important is not what we sell, but how we sell it. The Challenger sees relationships as a means to an end, and that they are actually better relationship builders than the Relationship sales people, because the relationships are founded on insight not on being agreeable.

What I found most interesting is that in a highly complex sale, the Challenger is 54% more likely to close a sale vs. just 4% by the Relationship Builder.

Here is the video below –