Are You a "Challenger"? If Not, You Should Be – You'll Sell More!

New books and articles on sales enter the marketplace all the time. A handful of them attract a decent amount of attention, and occasionally one will even cause a bit of a stir. And once in awhile, one will make such a strong impression that people can’t stop talking about it.

In November 2011, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson published a book called The Challenger Sale based on four years of research that involved interviewing over 6,000 sales professionals in nearly 100 companies. Since its publication, this book has not only turned heads but has also radically altered some of the conversations sales professionals are having about what they do—and the best way to do it.

In their book the authors identify five distinct sales types, each one defined primarily by how it interacts with customers:

  • The Hard Worker
  • The Problem Solver
  • The Challenger
  • The Relationship Builder
  • The Lone Wolf

The detailed descriptions of each type make for fascinating reading that is well worth your time. But for now, here’s the short version of each type’s most defining characteristic: the hard worker puts in long hours, the problem solver reactively fixes problems, the relationship builder strives to avoid conflict with customers, and the lone wolf forges his or her own path (sometimes by breaking the rules). Challengers, on the other hand,

use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive—with both their customers and bosses. (Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. “Selling Is Not About Relationships.” Harvard Business Review. September 30, 2011.)

But the real bombshell of the book—the point that has the sales field abuzz—is that challengers outperform the other types by a landslide. Why? The answer to this question lies in the relationships challengers have with their customers.

In their September 2011 article in Harvard Business Review, Dixon and Adamson list the primary attributes of challengers:

  • “Challengers teach their customers.”
  • “Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer.”
  • “Challengers take control of the sale.”

Do you see a theme here? Challengers are active—they take the initiative and work to build a relationship in which they engage their customers, develop custom solutions for each situation, and remain sale-oriented. They don’t wait for things to happen to them. Instead, they define their own parameters and reshape them as necessary.

Now take a look at your own sales practices and approach to marketing. Which sales type best defines you? If you’re not a challenger, then you’re not in the lead—and you’re falling farther behind each day. Each of the other types is defined by sticking to one particular trait or practice, but inflexibility doesn’t serve you well in an ever-changing market full of customers with unique needs.

Challenge yourself to find the challenger within, and you’ll soon be leading the sale-professional pack!

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