September 5th, 2012

The Missing Link in the Challenger Sales Training Approach

Challenger Sales Training

I recently read a white paper by a competitor that I’ve long known and long respected.  The paper reflected the influence of The Challenger Sale on this company’s sales methodology.  The concept of “Challenger” has captured the interest of the mainstream press and social media and sounds appealing to many sales leaders who are looking for new ways to drive business in a slow-growth economy.  Several voices in our industry have argued against the Challenger sales training approach.  My initial reaction was to recognize it as an approach that I didn’t buy into — live and let live.  But the interest in Challenger sales training that I have seen has spurred me to add my voice.

Changes in the Selling Environment Create Opportunities for New Approaches

One only has to spend a week in the field meeting with customers to know that the game has changed.  Sales strategies and tactics that worked well in the not-too-distant past are no longer enough.  There is a dearth of new models.  But in the search to replace inadequate models with new models, we can’t go backward and forget the uniqueness of each buyer or the psychology of selling.

The Challenger approach has made a contribution in underscoring the need for salespeople to take advantage of the research and data available to them. Challenger also inspired marketing to step up to the plate with relevant knowledge sharing that can be turned into insight salespeople can use to engage customers and add value.

I challenge them to move forward by recognizing that the best teaching is with smart questions. Yes, salespeople should bring ideas to customers to help them grow their businesses and solve business problems.

Challenging the Challenger Sales Training Approach

How does a salesperson presume at the outset of a customer meeting that they have unique insights to bring when their customers, who work at their businesses every day and likely have teams struggling at whiteboards to identify and solve problems are, according to all research, smarter than ever before.  The missing link is a validation of the customer’s perspective through questioning and dialogue.

Salespeople do know more than customers in many areas.  But how individual customers think is not one of them. Salespeople know what their solutions can accomplish.  They have more experience with the benefits and pitfalls.  They know the industry. They can guide the process to an efficient close. Their marketing teams may have supplied them with success stories and marketing messages.  But unless they are mind readers, salespeople don’t know what customers have or have not considered, what is unique about them, how they perceive things, and how they’d react to being “taught” what to do.

Customers want advice, and salespeople must be prepared with a portfolio of knowledge to confidently provide it at the right time.   They need the skills to validate how customers perceive the issues.  A “challenging” insight can be used to drive to the value the salesperson can provide through a consultative dialogue, not replace it.

Selling has always been about information.  But today it is not just data.  The value of data is in the interpretation.  How does it help a customer solve business challenges and achieve outcomes?    The interpreter is an important role salesperson can play.  The bar has been raised higher than anything we have seen before in what it takes for salespeople to add value.  The complex sale demands that salespeople have increased industry knowledge, business acumen and skill, and the tools to search and share and interpret data.  Sales forces need to be retooled and old systems revamped.  Salespeople must be prepared to share ideas and go into sales meetings as equals.  But not as superiors.

It’s critical not to confuse marketing with selling.  Understanding a customer persona is not the same as understanding the actual living, breathing customer and his or her perception of the world and business challenges, politics, or ego.  Challenger is backed by research.  But being in this business for many years, I would have liked to have seen the profile of a true Consultative Salesperson represented in the research not to be confused with the narrowly defined Relationship Seller.  If the Consultative category had existed, it could have done better than the seemingly triumphant Challenger category.

Adding Value for the Customer

There is a saying that to a hammer, everything is a nail.  So it was with this Challenger hammer. Customers want to know that the salesperson knows how they see the world.  Certainly, relating on a personal level with customers is important, but being friends is not what I am talking about here.  Knowing customers means understanding what solves their business challenges and what drives them to buy or not buy.

Go in armed to the gills with a full portfolio of knowledge, insights, data, and ideas.  Use that portfolio to engage customers by sharing insights and asking business challenge questions that show that you know what you are talking about and that lead to your value.

Intelligent questions provide as much insight as answers.  They give you insights into the customer’s thinking and jumpstart the collaborative process.  They also help you validate that your insight is relevant. To succeed salespeople in today’s selling environment must blend a higher portfolio of knowledge with even stronger dialogue skills to become a true thought partner with their customer and build long-term relationships and close more deals — which is still the name of the game.

Richardson: Sales Training and Strategy Execution – helping leaders prepare their organization to execute sales strategies and achieve business objectives. Contact us at or 215-940-9255.critique of the challenger sales training approach

About The Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Richardson, a global sales training business. As a recognized leader in the industry, she has won the coveted Stevie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales Excellence for 2006 and in 2007 she was identified by Training Industry, Inc. as one of the “Top 20 Most Influential Training Professionals.” Linda was also recognized with the Top Sales and Marketing Award for Thought Leader in 2012 by the Top Sales World.

Linda Richardson

49 Responses to “The Missing Link in the Challenger Sales Training Approach”

  1. September 05, 2012 at 9:08 am, Ian Brodie said:

    Linda – thanks so much for this post.
    I fear the problem with the Challenger folks is that in order to sell a bunch of their books they had to be able to say that everything else that went before is wrong and now you need to learn this new way. That’s almost never true in any field.

    Unfortunately, it led them to stereotyping and misrepresenting things like relationship selling – pretending it was about being a back-slapping good ‘ol boy as opposed to building a relationship based on collaboration and delivery of value.

    The Challenger approach emphasises and brings to the fore certain aspects of good practice that were always there in other methodologies. I know from my own experience that potential clients more often come to the table with pre-conceived ideas and that if you don’t challenge these, you can end up being commoditised.

    But by falsely painting a picture of previous approaches offering no challenge at all, they lead salespeople to throw away all the good things they learnt about questioning and building relationships in favour of a blunt attack that’s more likely to annoy customers.



    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Ian,
      You make some great points. Over the past 40 years there have been many advancements in selling and the impact has been to raise performance standards to a higher level. Most of the improvements were to meet new sales challenges. Technology has introduced an whole new level of challenge and the answer is to leave behind what is not relevant and build on and add to what it takes to sell to today’s new buyer. Thanks again, Linda


  2. September 05, 2012 at 7:37 pm, Peter Finkelstein said:

    I have been around – in sales and sales consulting – for the past 40 years. Over at least the last 15 I have heard of the death of solutions selling, usually by people propagating a repackaged version of older systems. Reality is that even if one went back to the days of barrier selling (in the 1950’s) those techniques aqre still used. All that is taking place is a refinement and additions to the sales tool kit.

    Needs satisfaction was the first major developmental change in selling (Neil Rackham – 1972 under the auspices of Xerox Learning Systems). Since then the skills have been refined and the approach made more customer centric.

    Solutions selling was (and still is) a true response to the reality that buyers control the sales process. What is taking place now, and what our research at Barrett is showing is that solutions selling has to be driven by effective sales strategy – not repackaged marketing strategies, but focused micro segmented strategies that place buyers perceptions of value and solutions in the centre and work outward, rather than the approach mentioned in Challenger selling, where the buyer becomes the “target”.


    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      HI Peter,
      Thank you for your comments. Buyers are in greater control of the process and I agree with you this demands an effective sales strategy and an even deeper understanding of what customers perceive value to be and working backwards from that. Thank you for bringing you expertise to weigh in. Linda


  3. September 06, 2012 at 10:48 am, Chris Vail said:

    A timely and well-reasoned response to the Challenger folks.

    A question I’d like to pose to Linda, as well as Ian and Peter if they’d care to weigh in…

    It seems to me that buyers are more informed than ever. As a salesperson, I feel like “technique” matters less and less when the buyers are wise to all the salesperson’s tactics. The buyers seem increasingly able to strip away the less tangible elements of a solution’s value in order to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison before choosing what to buy, effectively forcing all competitors into a race to the bottom, where we’re reduced to low-balling price and RFP responses matter more than relationships or insights.

    If the solutions are all thus reduced to commodities, are we back to the old-school fundamentals of business – where companies focus on building real value and points of differentiation into their products and services (relying less on sales “talent” to offset product weakness), and salespeople make their living more on “hustle” than “finesse”?

    It seems to me that Linda is correct on many points – I believe it’s better to ask the right questions than to assume a customer will find an idea truly insightful (and really, how else could a salesperson know what a customer would think without having asked good questions and done some relationship building before hand?). Even if I had the most challenging insights, wouldn’t I still need to “hustle” in order to find enough customers willing to buy based on my insights?

    By the same token, the Challenger folks do highlight a fundamental challenge for sales – the buyers want to buy, not be sold, and they want to control that process, not be manipulated. It seems like a lot of companies are still trying to manage sales teams as if we controlled the sales process, when in fact it’s the buyers that control their buying process.

    To me, it keeps coming back to two things: companies need to do more to differentiate on value, and salespeople need to hustle more to find customers quickly and build trust in the relationship sooner.

    What say you all?


  4. September 06, 2012 at 2:49 pm, Kurt Haug said:

    To Chris’s questions: I think “technique” per se has for a long time been a very small part of a successful sales approach. It’s no longer (if it ever really was) just about the tie-downs and commitment patterns. Being TRULY consultative is not a technique, but a mindset. It’s not about “hustle” and “talent” but about developing a repeatable and scalable model for caring about the customer FIRST– and establishing incentives and a culture to support that orientation.

    Of course, skills, dedication and discipline are more important than ever. But that’s just table stakes. To win each hand– let alone the game– you have to understand the client’s needs and add appropriate value and insight. And execute flawlessly.


  5. Linda Richardson

    September 06, 2012 at 6:35 pm, linda Richardson said:

    I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I agree that consultative selling is as much a mind set as a skill set and that salespeople must have a deeper portfolio of knowledge if they are to bring value to today’s customers. Product knowledge is just one piece of that portfolio. The point about products being reduced to commodities is interesting. Even if competitive products are identical, and very few are, and if customers compare products apples to apples, it is important to remember we are not selling products. The product is one part of what we bring to customers. An offering includes things such as expertise, advice, interpretation and trust and the relationship and those factors are critical to differentiating and winning. I think it is more important than ever for salespeople to truly understand the full value they bring to customers and to use that to shape solutions based on their understanding of the outcome that the customer wants to achieve. I’m also not so sure customers don’t want to be “sold” (unless you define selling as hard sell which is not what we are talking about) and in fact they prefer salespeople who show that they want their business. That’s not at odds with having the customers’ best interest at heart and delivering real value. Thanks for the sharing your thought provoking ideas. Linda


  6. September 07, 2012 at 12:36 pm, Andrew Rudin said:

    Linda: I’m so glad to see a piece challenging The Challenger Sale. I like the book, and it contains some great insights, but it’s important to always “question the answers.” Salespeople are notorious for looking for shortcuts (yes, guilty!), or for chasing the “next great thing.” Your point that “a ‘challenging’ insight can be used to drive to the value the salesperson can provide through a consultative dialogue, not replace it” underscores the risk that accompanies rote homage to “The Challenger Sale.”: we should never simply assume that we bring great insights or epiphanies to prospects. That mindset quickly mutates into arrogance, and is as surely deal-breaking as bringing no insight at all . . .

    As far as the Chris’s well-stated comments. I agree for the most part. The only one I strenuously disagree with is that customers don’t want to be sold. They don’t want to be sold the WRONG WAY. Some salespeople have taken the ‘don’t want to be sold’ sentiment to heart, and that has resulted in some poor selling strategies and tactics.


    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for sharing your insights. Your point about the real risk of arrogance hits home for me. Customers can and should learn from salespeople but salespeople who fail to learn from customers miss the opportunity to understand the customer’s challenges from his or her perspective which is critical to shaping winning solutions. They also miss building their own knowledge which they can play forward. Linda


  7. September 07, 2012 at 3:30 pm, Michael Perla said:

    Very thoughtful post Linda. Having been on both sides – buyer and seller – I can tell you that you need to know what you are walking into. If you don’t check the level of knowledge of the customer, you can look very foolish. For example, I still remember a COO of a consulting firm trying to sell me on using his services. He didn’t realize I had been a consultant for 10+ years before I took my role in the company. It was a bit insulting. The challenge or provocative approach has its place in the toolkit … but if it’s your only tool or approach that’s a problem. Per the classic quote by Maslow: “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”


  8. September 07, 2012 at 4:15 pm, Dave Brock said:

    This is probably one of the best discussions of Challenger that I’ve seen. It is really unfortunate that Matt and Brett don’t join in.

    Both your points, Linda, those of Ian, Peter, Kurt, and Chris really resonate with me.

    The Challenger concept is not new–it’s been a fundamental part of professional selling, for decades (regardless of the labels we apply–consultative, solutions, etc.). Perhaps, too many have forgotten the base principles or fail to execute them. The Challenger book reminds us of them in a very provocative manner.

    However, the implementation of Challenger leaves a huge amount to be desired. The focus is on the Teaching Pitch–sounds a lot like today’s version of the Product Pitch, only we are teaching on insight. The focus seems to be too much on talking (with or without having earned the rigth) and too little on establishing a collaborative dialog. Whatever you call it–consultative, solutions, or challenging, great sales professionals understand the importance of the collaborative discussion–leveraging the knowledge, skills, experience of both the sales person and the customer to create a better solution than either could individually.

    This is the big “miss” in the Challenger approach, it’s what others have recognized for years, seeking to blend asking insightful and provocative questions, leveraging data, insight, differing expriences, listening, pushing back, provoking, and collaboratively solving problems.

    Furthermore, Challenger, as implemented focuses only on a small part of the selling process–it only addresses creating disstisfaction with the current state. It doesn’t provide insight into what’s next, how to align the customer, drive the change, etc. It doesn’t recognize the reality that we have to intercept and engage the customer with where they are in their buying process, not only choose to intercept people in the Challenging phase.

    There is a lot of power in what the author’s state in the book, it reminds us of things we knew we should be doing, have had tools and methods to do, but have failed to do.

    Thanks so much for stimulating a thoughtful discussion. Regards, Dave


    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Dave,
      Thank you for jumping in with your expertise. I appreciate your pointing out that the Teaching Pitch sounds a little to close for comfort to the Product Pitch which definitely is not what the new buyer wants to hear. Even so the best teaching is done with questions and as you pointed out collaboration. There are some very good things in the book but selling isn’t all research. Thanks again for sharing your thinking. Linda


  9. September 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm, Nick Toman said:

    All, thanks for the great discourse. Matt Dixon and I have posted some thoughts on our blog. Look forward to the continuing dialogue.



  10. September 14, 2012 at 5:04 am, Jonathan Farrington said:

    Hi Linda,

    It’s good that so many people are joining this debate, and everyone has made some extremely valid points: Although you and I are having ongoing discussions on this topic, and I have already published a significant amount of comments, I wanted to highlight just one issue, which for me questions the validity – the credibility even – of the Challenger theory.

    Yet again, in their response to this post they suggest that ” Interviews that we’ve had with the world’s very best sales performers underscore this finding.” My point is this: If you only interview 0.0006% of the world’s sales population, how can you possibly assert that the 6000 you observe are “the world’s very best?” This is misguided assumption, and highly misleading.



    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Jonathan,
      I share your appreciation for all the ideas and expertise being put forward . It really is a tribute to our field that professionals care so much to get it right. In this complex selling world two plus heads are definitely better than one. Thank you, Linda


  11. September 14, 2012 at 9:22 am, Chuck said:

    As someone who has been on the Challenger journey for about two years, I can tell you that most of the comments here come from folks who just don’t understand the research at a deep enough level. CEB has expanded on their challenger work since the book was published (as highlighted in their end of solution sales HBR article), and it is very informative, runs very counter to how most reps sell today. I know it’s different than most selling methodologies for a few reasons. One, it’s a very long and difficult change process to get our reps to sell the way they need to sell today. Two, our customers are increasingly more vocal about what it takes to win. One of my reps was struggling with a deal, the customer had gone silent after a lengthy sales process. He got me involved to help him, and when we finally got a meeting with the customer, we learned that we had lost the deal. When I asked why, the customer said “you guys came in, asked us about our needs and built a solution around our needs. Your competitor came in and told us what our needs should be. And their solution linked to a pressing issue than yours did.”

    We are in a very complex sales environment (high tech) with 6-12 month sales cycles. So maybe our situation is unique. But I felt compelled to add my voice, because we know that Challenger works when you do it right. However, doing it right is a long and transformational journey.


    • Linda Richardson

      September 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Chuck, There certainly is a lesson to be learned from your experience. Clearly you are committed to helping your salespeople make the necessary changes to win in the new sales environment. In your situation the customer appears to have been aware of a need and had already begun to scope out ideas for the solution. I agree that salespeople must be prepared to bring ideas and advice that challenge a customer’s thinking when there is the opportunity to add value (customers don’t always get it wrong) by reframing or changing the diagnosed need or the direction of the solution. As you said this is a transformational journey. Salespeople must have a deep portfolio of knowledge and skill and a mind set to add value and solve business challenges not sell products. The competitor saved the customer from falling into a hole and was rewarded for it. The question is how did the competitor do this. For any salesperson to think he or she can go into a meeting regardless of how armed with relevant insights and ideas, and have the answer without also understanding how the customer perceives the business challenge is not a winning formula. The key is the marriage between insight and smart questioning. The questions must focus on the business challenge and solutions must deliver business outcomes. Challenging a customers thinking with insights, ideas, and advice and probing those issues are not mutually exclusive. I believe they are equally important. I have found that insight that plugs into a smart need dialogue produces the best results. Thank you for adding to the dialogue. Linda


      • September 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm, Chuck said:


        Thank you for your thoughts. I think you and I agree here, and I know that the challenger folks would agree as well. You can’t really provide insights without a dialogue around how they apply to every customer’s unique business environment (and questioning is a critical part of that process). Yet simply questioning without providing insight doesn’t get us to the right results (which is what happened with my sales rep).

        It’s nice to see the world of sales evolving and becoming ever more sophisticated.



        • Linda Richardson

          September 20, 2012 at 11:20 am, Linda Richardson said:

          Chuck, You have captured the point perfectly. Thanks! Linda


  12. September 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm, Nick Toman said:

    Thanks for expressing the concern re the statistical validity of our data, as well as the general research approach we take. I thought it might be helpful if I outline a bit of our process, as well as provide a light primer on the types of multivariate regression, factor, and other cluster analyses we conduct.
    Several times over I have seen your posts claiming that the Challenger model is not valid since it accounts for a fractionally small percent of the universe of salespeople. I am happy to conduct a phone call with you personally and go deeper to ensure you understand our model, our approach, and other details. Should it prove helpful, we can even include folks on our quantitative analysis team. I would kindly (and with the utmost respect) please ask that refrain in your critique until you’ve had this opportunity. (Conversely, I’d ask that once you’ve had this opportunity you amend your comments across several webpages and forums since they are unfounded and misinformed).
    While it is true that we have .00000X% of salespeople captured in our model, the way that any type of social or behavioral science is conducted, is to understand what a representative population to the broader universe thinks/does/perceives/demonstrates/etc. Our analysis is no different than the scientific experiments you rely upon, for example, for the prescriptions you take. Pharma companies cannot run experiments with all of the world’s population to ensure a drug is safe, so clinical trials are conducted. These trials represent a fractionally small, but representative population to ensure drugs are fit for consumption. Think of our analysis in a corollary fashion – only in terms of understanding what drives sales effectiveness.
    When building such models, we do several things to ensure statistical validity (and make sure that our advice on the backend is sound, applicable, and justified):
    1) Adequate controls. Control variables are added into any model to help ensure that the results are indeed applicable across a variety of scenarios. Among the extensive controls that we include in our models are geography, industry, sales cycle length, sales channels, territory size, organizational structure, etc. (this list is quite extensive and I won’t bore you with the details). These controls allow us the see if any outliers exist within the analysis. For example, this would help us determine if a particular driver of sales effectiveness was not applicable in Asia, or for highly transactional companies, or in key account channels, etc. Without such controls, there is no way to ensure validity or applicability, so these are paramount to our modeling efforts. These controls help us understand the “broader story” in the dataset, as well as account for the invariable marginal differences across geo/industry/channel/etc. The Challenger story, as told, is the universal truth we found which accounts for this control set. So in US manufacturing markets, for example, Challengers still teach, tailor, and take control just as they do in EMEA technology markets.
    2) Adequate sample size. Folks outside statistical fields falsely believe there is “magical” number threshold that must be met for a data set to be valid. There are various confidence factors we look for in models to essentially tell us we have an affirmative pattern in the data (given the variety and complexity of these confidence factors, I won’t go into great detail). One of the more common confidence factors is a chi-squared test. I would encourage you to read about that here:'s_chi-squared_test – this will help explain what these confidence factors are. Remarkably, provided one has a decently representative data set, one can product quite high confidence factors in the data, and therefore have a statistically valid data set. Indeed, in our models, we started seeing clear patterns with an n of 600 sales reps. In fact, these pattern held true as we added upwards of 33x respondents to the dataset (and continue to add to that). With a data set representing north of 20,000 reps (again, representative of a global set, across industry, etc.), you can not only understand what is “crudishly” driving sales effectiveness, but get quite precise with the analysis.
    3) Test a wide array of hypothesis and expected variables. The time, planning, thought, and collaboration with heads of sales and their teams that goes into a single survey we conduct is extensive. The reason is simple – we cannot test an infinitude of variables (as much as I’d often like to!). Sales reps and managers, like anyone, have a tolerance for survey length. Make it to too long and no one finishes. So we must be deliberate in what we test. We have ideas and hypothesis, and we need represent those with our in our variable set. We also must include variables that anyone with familiarity in sales would expect to see in model. No survey is comprehensive, but we try to be as comprehensive as one can with these surveys. Were there other variables we could have tested in that data set? You bet – and I would have loved to test more – but practically speaking, surveys over 20 minutes long are unlikely to yield a good number of completed surveys for doing the full analysis.
    4) Analyze realistic performance differences. As mentioned in our blog (cited in my comment above), statistical analysis is derived from variability in populations – in this case sales reps. High performers do things differently – and we care a lot about what they do. But to analyze what they do, we need to contrast their approach with the “rest.” We would find lots of variability in the performance levels of low performers versus high performers – and we’d have a really interesting model as a result. However, expecting a sales organization to use that analysis to help make low performers (bottom 20%) into high performers (top 20%) isn’t realistic at all. We’d be doing a disservice to our clients if we conducted analysis that way. So we look at the differences in the core/average performing rep population (middle 40%) versus high performers. This gives us a reasonable proxy for driving incremental improvement into the sales force.
    Beyond the quantitative analysis that has gone into this body of work, we have conducted extensive qualitative analysis. This comes in the form of hundreds of interviews with heads of sales, their operations teams, their L&D leaders, key directors, secondary managers, FLSMs, and most importantly their salespeople. I say most importantly since reps are without fail, the greatest source of qualitative data at our disposal.
    We ask our clients – Heads of Sales – for their top performers over time. These are individuals who are continual President’s Club recipients, crush their quota year on year, and often serve as a key thought partner to the sales head. In other words, they are qualified.
    Additionally, we interview average performers too. The contrast in average versus high performer perspective is very helpful and helps us string together our data analysis.
    I hope this helps clarify.
    Thanks for the continued dialogue!


    • Linda Richardson

      September 17, 2012 at 1:16 am, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Nick,
      I appreciate your sharing information on the integrity of your research method and protocol. I would like to learn more and explore with you the theories you’ve generated and avenues other than research that might be factored in when developing a methodology. Your insights have gotten a lot of good minds focused on the new sales map and how to best navigate it. Thank you, Linda


  13. September 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:


    Thank you for responding so “comprehensively”

    We could have a chat, or alternatively we could organize an online debate – a roundtable – open to anyone who has an interest in this issue: I am happy to both organize and promote it. That way we all get to put our point(s) across, and the constituents of the sales space get to decide for themselves.

    What do you say, are you up for it?




    • September 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm, Nick Toman said:

      Hi Jonathon, I’ll have my admin reach out. Look forward to meeting you.


  14. Dario Priolo

    September 14, 2012 at 3:42 pm, Dario Priolo said:

    – We’re more than happy to continue the debate on our blog. We will invite some experts to weigh in on the topic and we encourage you to do the same. This may also surface others to participate in a live debate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  15. September 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:

    Great Nick, So I can go ahead and organize a roundtable so everyone can exchange views in an open forum?



  16. September 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:

    PS: I think we will be able to persuade Richardson to sponsor the event as they have been such generous sponsors of worthwhile sales space initiatives


  17. Dario Priolo

    September 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm, Dario Priolo said:

    It would be our pleasure!


  18. September 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:

    Many thanks Dario, I think it will be a very worthwhile and stimulating event, where everyone with a stake gets to air their views, in a no-nonsense debate: I feel certain that it will create huge interest.



  19. September 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm, Nick Toman said:

    All, great idea. We look forward to the exchange. JF/DP – I’ll have my admin reach out.



  20. September 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:


    Excellent! We will begin alerting the media of a pending event.

    I’ll have my admin reach back when your admin reach out.



  21. September 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm, Victor Antonio said:

    Linda , your review was criticized on LI and I posted this after reading your review. JF suggested I add this to the conversation.

    — VA Response —
    I read Linda’s review and I don’t see it quite like you do. Her assessment, in my opinion, seems fair. She’s not discounting the merit of TCS (or research), merely making commentary on other aspects of selling that are still relevant to the sales process.

    She agrees with the lynchpin of TCS that companies have to make finding “insight” a corporate capability (i.e., get marketing to step up or as Rackham would say, get marketing involved in both the downstream and upstream aspect of message delivery).

    And, she did highlight a question I had as well; I would’ve like to see the profile of the consultative salespeople represented in the research; especially the Challengers. This may be added in TCSv2.0 🙂

    Bottom-line, I didn’t feel like she was kicking dirt on TCS’s book cover 🙂 I like to think of sales trainers, authors and researchers as a community trying to add color and texture in understanding the sales landscape. I believe Linda added some nice dabs to the discussion.

    I’ll add this, if one were to re-read Mack Hanan’s Consultative Selling, sans the TCS research, you will find many of the concepts (kernels) in his book that you’ll find in TCS. Hanan was ahead of his time in my opinion. I like TCS because it provides “profile constructs” that we can now have a debate around…and this is the essence of research..not to find the “unifying field theory” of selling, but to get us that much closer to mapping the sales terrain. For that, I thank the authors.


    • Linda Richardson

      September 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm, Linda Richardson said:

      Hi Victor,
      Thank you for your comments. I regret my thoughts were taken as they were. I believe conversations such as the ones we are having are healthy and productive and can result in advancing our understanding of sales effectiveness for the new sales terrain. Technology has made possible amazing synergy of thoughts. Hopefully we will all be smarter as a result of the dialogue and if views remain polarized then customers will have a greater understanding of the issues so they can make informed decisions about the sales culture and approach that is best for their organizations. I do agree with the lynchpin as you note. I think we would all agree that none of us has all of the answers. Thank you again for supporting an open exchange of ideas. With appreciation, Linda


  22. September 14, 2012 at 9:14 pm, Dan Adams said:

    I would like to join the debate.
    See my post on LinkedIn or see my Sept. newsletter:


  23. September 16, 2012 at 9:14 am, Matt Dixon said:

    I certainly hope I’m not the only person who sees the irony in talking about how we should have an “online debate” while we are, in fact, having an online debate.

    Jonathan, Nick is far nicer than I am. I’m not letting you off the hook quite so easily.

    A debate, is by definition, an intelligent discussion of competing ideas. One side presents an argument, the other side a rebuttal to that argument, then back to the arguing side to issue a response, etc. This, unfortunately, is not how you have chosen to operate. Instead of engaging in a professional and intelligent discussion of ideas–as people like Linda, Charlie Green, Dave Brock, and others have–you instead choose to spread falsehoods and level baseless accusations, sounding more like a tabloid journalist than the thought leader you claim to be. Then, when we offer responses to your many accusations, you change the subject or claim you’re too busy to respond.

    Not so fast.

    To catch everybody up, here are a few of our favorite Jonathan Farrington comments from the past couple of months:

    “They only surveyed 0.0000001% of the salespeople in the world!”

    “They aren’t practitioners, they’re just academics! Having a master’s, Ph.D. or being a member of MENSA doesn’t qualify them to offer sales advice!”

    “Neil Rackham didn’t offer to write their foreword, they asked HIM to write it!”

    “Their sample is full of retail store clerks!”

    “A Challenger is the same as a consultative salesperson!” (Note that this one was later replaced with the equally confusing “They didn’t test Consultative Selling skills in their study!” More on this later.)

    “Challenger teaches salespeople to engage in adversarial selling!” (Wait, I thought you just said Challenger was about adversarial selling…but if Challenger is the same thing as Consultative Selling…hmmmm…)

    I think you get the point…

    Before we have any sort of additional debate (at least one that you will be invited to), I’d first like to see if you’ll actually answer a few questions directly.

    Let’s first talk methodology.

    You leveled (once again) your accusation that “the Challenger guys only surveyed 0.000000001% of the world’s salespeople!”—a claim you’ve been quite shameless in spreading all over the internet.

    Nick, a seasoned researcher, knows a great deal about quantitative and social science research methods and took the time to write a thorough rebuttal to you to explain the many ways in which you are incorrect.

    But rather than responding to him, you changed the subject.

    I think Nick (and the readers here) deserve a direct response. Help us understand why he is wrong and you are right. I think we’d all like to hear your explanation of proper statistical methods and what the “magic number” sample size is that you were looking for. Alternatively, feel free to apologize for your accusation and admit that this is, in fact, not your area of expertise. If you concur with us that our methods were, in fact, quite rigorous…then I would echo Nick’s request that you amend the comments and blog posts you’ve been leaving all over the web for the past couple of months accusing us of shoddy work.

    Now, let’s talk about whether we tested Consultative Selling skills or not.

    You’ve been quite strident in saying that a Challenger is just a Consultative Seller by another name. You’ve been saying to would-be readers of our book, in effect, “there’s nothing to see here, please move along.” Surprisingly, you have been equally strident in arguing that we didn’t test Consultative Selling attributes in our research. I would be happy to provide the direct quotes from your many blog posts and comments if none of this sounds familiar.

    So, my second question is this: how could we have not tested Consultative Selling but at the same time have found something that is identical to Consultative Selling? A logical conundrum if ever there was one.

    A follow up question to this one, please: If you say we didn’t actually test Consultative Selling skills, please articulate the exact skills you think we left out and then I will tell you whether those you’ve named were included in the 50 variables we tested or not. As Nick explains, no survey (at least not one anybody would fill out) can test everything. We think we covered the waterfront of sales skills but I am open to hearing about ones you thought were missing.

    Third question…

    You have been quite vocal about the fact that only “practitioners” like yourself should be able to offer guidance to salespeople. Then, when I challenge you (no pun intended), you quickly backpedal and say that you hold our work “in the highest regard.”

    Putting aside the fact that you are a consultant, not a practitioner, indulge me for a moment. You can’t have it both ways, deriding “academic” research while also praising us for our contributions to the profession.

    So, which is it? Is research important to improving sales effectiveness or not? What role does it play? Is our work an important contribution to the profession or is it academic tripe?

    Fourth question…

    You have equated Challenger with adversarial selling in your blog posts. I have pointed out to you that you must own an abridged version of the book as we devote a great deal of real estate explaining that this is not the correct interpretation of what it means to “take control of the sale.” To cut to the chase, please either acknowledge this falsehood or explain to us where (specific pages, paragraphs and sentences, please) we said that Challenger is the same as being an adversarial salesperson.

    And one more for good measure…

    I asked you in a previous post to help readers understand how you would prioritize selling skills in today’s sales environment. Life, as you know, is about trade-offs and resource-constrained sales leaders cannot invest in making salespeople better at everything. In many respects, our book is designed to help leaders and managers prioritize and make tough decisions by showing those selling skills that have become “select for” in today’s sales world. This doesn’t mean that other skills are no longer useful or important, but it does mean they are less of a differentiator today than they used to be.

    So, what are the selling skills that are more important today than they were five years ago? Which ones are less important today than they were five years ago?

    Once you have answered these questions, please feel free to ask us any questions you would like and we’ll do our best to try and answer them.

    The irony is that across all of your comments and blog posts on Challenger, Jonathan, you’ve never once asked us a direct question about our work. Instead, you accuse, attack…and then run for cover when you are called out on it.

    So, consider this a litmus test for any additional online debate we might have. If you wish to answer these questions in a direct and professional manner, then I would be glad to have a debate with you. Otherwise, I’m afraid we all have better things to do.

    Best regards,



  24. September 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:

    We are both head strong in our views, and I believe passionate about our work. I don’t want this to become a “he said, she said”. So suffice it to say I feel you have seriously misquoted me and the comments being out of context further changes my message. I am happy to be specific is you would like me to be. I think what is important is I have questions and misgivings about the research and more questions for Nick and you. I would like to set up the panel if you are up for it. Please know I started this debate and responded to every message and am not going anywhere.


  25. September 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm, Nick Toman said:

    Linda, et al – some further thoughts to Linda’s second point that Challenger confuses sales and marketing.

    Again, thanks for the continued dialogue.


  26. September 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm, Matt Dixon said:

    Are you changing the subject again, Jonathan?

    Just to counter your claim that you are being “seriously misquoted,” here are several direct quotes from your many blogs and ensuing comments about our work…

    1) On your sample size critique:

    “I suppose the first alarm bell to ring was the size of their survey…Well, there are around 12.8 million salespeople employed in the USA alone, and probably an equal number in Europe. You can then double that again if you add in the rest of the world, so conservatively, we are talking about 100 million salespeople world-wide. This means that their survey represented 0.006% at the very best, which can hardly be described as an accurate sample can it? To put that in perspective, that’s like the mayor of New York asking 100 people if the Brooklyn Bridge should be replaced, and acting on that advice, claiming it is what the population of the city has demanded.”

    2) On your suggestion that we somehow flooded our sample with non-B2B field salespeople:

    “Look, my main concern about the relatively small scope of the survey, is what if 30% were B2C sales people working in retail?”

    3) On your suggestion that we asked Neil to write our foreword, not the other way around:

    “You say that he ‘offered’ to write the foreword. My understanding is that you approached him?”

    4) On you view that only practitioners like yourself should be able to offer sales advice:

    “Those of us who have made our way up the ‘sales ladder’ from bag carrier, have an intimate feel for these things – in my case, a 40 years feel. I have a PhD, a Masters, an MBA, and I am a member of MENSA – do any of those qualifications/honors/accreditations qualify me to pontificate about the real world of selling? No, far from it: I place total trust in those 40 years of frontline experience – that has given me the most relevant qualification I need – and I am still a voracious learner/pupil.”

    “As we have discussed on a number of occasions, like you, I am totally opposed to frontline sales professionals being put into boxes – particularly by academics with little, if any “in-field experience””

    5) And, the ensuing backpedaling:

    “I do need to make it quite clear that I have nothing against ‘academics’ whatsoever, and in fact I am frequently referred to as one myself.”

    “The book is well written, and is certainly thought-provoking.”

    “I have huge respect for your work.”

    6) On your claim that Challenger is the same as consultative selling:

    “What they have described there are the actions of a consultative sales professional.”

    “The notion that this is all new thinking is seriously flawed – a very large % of the sales community have been selling consultatively for years.”

    Your reply to a commenter who asked if you’ve ever seen a Challenger in action: “Yes, and I call that person a consultative seller.”

    7) On your (contradictory) suggestion that we didn’t test Consultative Selling in our research:

    “What I think you missed is conducting research on what consultative selling is. Your interpretation of it and total omission of it in your types still baffles me…It seems to me that the lens you looked through in doing the research lacked a sales perspective”

    8) On your suggestion that Challenger is “adversarial selling”:

    “My greatest fear is that salespeople will read this book – written by eminent academics, with no apparent in-field experience – and believe that ‘adversarial selling’ is the new way forward.”

    “We never talk up and we never talk down – we discuss ‘with.’ We are assertive, but never aggressive – and understanding the difference is fundamental to success in a frontline sales role.”

    “[M]y interpretation, which is shared by a large percentage of sales commentators that I have discussed the book with, is that the tone throughout is one of ‘aggressive control’ not ‘assertive guidance.’”

    I’m sorry that you feel you are being misquoted, Jonathan. But, as you can plainly see, nobody is misquoting you.

    At the end of the day, it’s one thing to professionally disagree on principles (again, as Linda, Dave, Charlie and others have done), but it’s another thing entirely to willfully spread falsehoods and level baseless accusations—and then to not admit it or show any remorse when your bluff has been called, as it has been many times over. That’s not the kind of debate we have any interest in engaging in, to be quite frank. We respect your right to disagree, but we also expect you to admit when you’re wrong.

    As I think I made plainly clear in my last comment, I’d first like to hear your direct answers to my direct questions before I sign up to participate in any sort of panel discussion with you. Without being able to assess your willingness and ability to engage in a professional dialogue, any “panel” feels like little more than handing you a digital soapbox.



  27. September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm, Jonathan Farrington said:

    Many thanks for yet another “expansive” response!
    To begin with, I hadn’t realized that there was any ambiguity in my proposal for an “online debate” – i.e. a live audio/visual broadcast, which can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in this topic – total transparency. I have already suggested we are prepared to organize such an event, and Richardson has kindly agreed to sponsor it. I do hope you and other members of the Challenger team will agree? I can assure you that I do not need a “”digital soapbox”
    I feel certain that Linda, Charlie, Dave et al. will be grateful for your compliment, but they might be more so if you responded to their comments, and certainly they might be jealous of all the attention you are giving me.
    Next I would like to correct the quotations you have used, which are inaccurate:
    “They only surveyed 0.0000001% of the salespeople in the world!”
    What I actually said was:
    “There are around 12.8 million salespeople employed in the USA alone, and probably an equal number in Europe. You can then double that again if you add in the rest of the world, so conservatively, we are talking about 100 million salespeople world-wide. This means that their survey represented 0.006%” This is a quote from my article here –
    I think if you had really only surveyed 0.0000001% – i.e. 0.1 people, we really would have struggled with the credibility of your work.
    Next one: “They aren’t practitioners, they’re just academics! Having a master’s, Ph.D. or being a member of MENSA doesn’t qualify them to offer sales advice!”
    What I actually said was:
    “Those of us, who have made our way up the “sales ladder” from bag carrier, have an intimate feel for these things – in my case, a 40 years feel. I have a PhD, a Masters, an MBA, and I am a member of MENSA – do any of those qualifications/honors/accreditations qualify me to pontificate about the real world of selling?”
    Next one: “Neil Rackham didn’t offer to write their foreword, they asked HIM to write it!”
    As you know, I cannot find any mention of this quotation, because it doesn’t exist. The only time I mentioned Neil was when I asked you “You say that he “offered” to write the foreword. My understanding is that you approached him?” to which you responded “ let me explain to you how Prof. Rackham came to write our foreword since you seem more interested in spreading hearsay rather than getting your story straight.
    We did reach out to him first—but that was in response to a Youtube video one of our members sent us in which he’s shown presenting some of our Challengeretc.”
    Next One: “Their sample is full of retail store clerks!”
    Again Matt, I can find no reference to this whatsoever, because I didn’t say – does that sound like the language of an old fashioned English gentleman? I’m not sure what a “retail store clerk” is
    Next One: “A Challenger is the same as a consultative salesperson!” (Note that this one was later replaced with the equally confusing “They didn’t test Consultative Selling skills in their study!”
    No again! What I actually said was: “What they have described there are the actions of a consultative sales professional, BUT we do not presume to “teach” and we certainly do not aim to “control” – for “control” you could read “manipulate”
    What we do do, is to share new thinking whenever that is appropriate, and we value our company, our solutions, and ourselves: We never talk up and we never talk down – we discuss “with” We are assertive, but never aggressive – and understanding the difference is fundamental to success in a frontline sales role.”
    In fact I have never suggested that you didn’t test Consultative Selling skills in your study. I think you are confused with a comment made by Linda, and if you scroll up to the post above, you will read “I would have liked to have seen the profile of a true Consultative Salesperson represented in the research not to be confused with the narrowly defined Relationship Seller. If the Consultative category had existed, it could have done better than the seemingly triumphant Challenger category. There is a saying that to a hammer, everything is a nail. So it was with this Challenger hammer.”
    Last one: “Challenger teaches salespeople to engage in adversarial selling!” (Wait, I thought you just said Challenger was about adversarial selling…but if Challenger is the same thing as Consultative Selling…hmmmm…)
    I repeat again: “What they have described there are the actions of a consultative sales professional, BUT we do not presume to “teach” and we certainly do not aim to “control” – for “control” you could read “manipulate”
    I have never suggested that Challenger selling and Consultative selling are identical – as you well know Matt.
    In summary Matt, I think it is terribly important from a credibility standpoint when quoting someone, to quote accurately, and always attribute comments to the right person – don’t you?
    Now let me deal with Nick’s comments:
    To be honest without reading your full research it is extremely difficult to provide a comprehensive response.
    Two fundamental points about being able to draw solid conclusions about relatively small samples and the need for controls are certainly right. It’s possible you’ve missed controls, but I would need a very solid understanding of their experimental method and hypotheses to spot missing ones.
    I’m very suspicious about using data from questionnaires for anything other than qualitative analysis (i.e. looking specifically at individuals in small groups) because they’re such a subjective way of getting information and designing good questionnaires requires a fair amount of skill. For that reason his analogy to clinical trials is a bit flawed, with many drugs there are objective tests of whether a patient is recovering etc. but the point that you can extrapolate results from a relatively small sample is still bang on. Ultimately, the more people you test the more certain you can be that a given effect is due to an actual characteristic of the population rather being due to the sample you selected.
    What he’s doing sounds like plenty of social psychological research I’ve read. He talks about using factor analysis/multivariate regression on the data from the questionnaires and that’s how a lot of people have developed models of personality. Basically you start with a lot of concepts, ask questions about them, see which are related, and so focus in on the true, separate factors within the data. If he is asking good questions, Chi-squared is a good test to be doing (uses categories rather than continuous measurements).
    I’m quite curious about why he/you didn’t interview people who are regarded as low performing. Certainly if I was doing this as an academic exercise I’d want to know what was going on across the range but it might not make commercial sense.
    Bottom line is, Nick is obviously showing a good grasp of experimental design. That said, I’ve seen plenty of papers published in scientific journals which have horribly misunderstood their data, used the wrong tests, and missed controls. Experimental design is hard enough with objective, quantitative data (like reactions times or blood pressure), let alone trying to use people’s self-assessment of their actions.
    Finally Matt, I would be very happy to share my thoughts on the “state of the sales universe” in fact I have been doing just that for almost six years via my daily blog. I am also published widely, so always happy to share my experience. I have also personally trained, coached and mentored more than 100.000 frontline sales professionals and managers. Let’s get online live and I’ll answer any questions you have.
    Please don’t suggest that I am running for cover. I started this “debate” and I have responded to every single message. I am going to see it through – I am not going anywhere.




  28. September 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm, Tim Ohai said:

    Love the discussion here. Linda, did you think it spawn such volume?

    I have no problem with the premise of the Challenger position (I especially liked Nick’s link to the blog on confusing marketing with sales) as long as there is recognition that Challenger is not the “uber” sales methodology to end all sales methodologies. Linda used the concept of blending in her closing paragraph. I think this is a very good way to both embrace and put boundaries around what Challenger is about.

    What I am more concerned with is the stuff Dave Brock mentioned (and didn’t really see a response to). How does Challenger fit into the bigger picture?

    I think Tamara Schenk raised a number of really good points in her blog ( about the greater selling system and the current gaps in how Challenger links to that system. Senior business leaders should be seeing the same things (and I know, I just wrote the word “should” – which always causes me to slightly wince).

    Nick and Matt, is this something that you can address or is it something you haven’t figured out yet (and trust me, that is not a criticism – I know what it is like to build something as you fly it)?

    Finally, I would love it if Richardson hosted a round table on this. Please let me know if something actually develops. A debate would be fine as well, but only if Bill O’Reilly and Stephen Colbert moderated.


    • September 24, 2012 at 9:35 am, Nick Toman said:

      Tim – Thanks for adding. Two quick points… 1) Brent Adamson (co-author of TCS) posted a response on Tamara’s site regarding her critique of Challenger in light of ops/enablement. You can find that here:

      On point #2, I’d turn to Dave Brock himself, as I think he’s had one of the best “takes” on TCS I’ve read… From his blog

      “As the authors outline, Challenger Selling demands great introspection across the organization, not just in sales. It requires asking yourself, “What do we want to stand for?” “What meaning do we want to create for our customers?” “Who are the customers that we can create that meaning for?” ”What experience to we want to create for our customers and prospects–through the life cycle of our relationship with them?” “Do our product, service, marketing, and other strategies all align with that?” I could go on. The problem is, too many organizations don’t have this understanding of what drives customers–at least at the depth demanded for success in Challenger Selling. Think about it for a moment, we build our products to satisfy our customer needs, we focus our marketing programs on content demonstrating our solutions are superior in addressing customer needs. But Challenger Selling demands we intercept the customer in a different place. Inherently, the issues that need to be addressed are probably known within our development and marketing teams, but we haven’t structured what we do around those issues. The gap is not between sales and the customer, the gap is between our organizations and what we stand for to our target customers. Until we close that gap with our own strategies and organizational capabilities, Challenger Selling will be just another initiative that will fall far short of its potential. There’s, rightfully so, a huge rush to Challenger Selling. But I worry, it’s starting in sales. Sales cannot successfully sustain Challenger Selling, unless the entire organization has a “Challenger Business Strategy.” Sales has to be quipped to have the right conversations, at the right time, with the right customers. The book provides great advice about how sales can lead these conversations. But first sales needs to know what conversations they should be having, and how to position those to the company’s sweet spot. It’s not sales’ job to figure that out, it’s marketing, product management, customer service, and the business strategists that need to provide that leadership, content, and tools.The book is a must read for all in business. I wish the authors had been able to focus more on the Challenger Business Strategy–perhaps that’s the sequel.”

      Indeed this requires a significant effort to standup, with clear strategy spanning the broader commercial and product organizations. This is not a sales training initiative, or a slap-on methodology. As companies pursuing this route will tell you, it’s transformational. It has to be since it shifts so far from what’s been the norm in sales.

      Our latest work at CEB has continued to probe more deeply into the idea of insight and how an organization can truly stand up a capability for delivering insight to customers through all commercial channels (sales and marketing). As Dave mentions in his post, there is certainly enough material to justify another book on that topic alone.(Stay tuned for more on that in future posts).

      Without overdivulging, we’re quickly realizing that successfully shifting to a Challenger Selling approach doesn’t require moving mountains…Rather it requires a precise understanding of what opportunity exists to teach customers in a way that benefits the customer and leads back to a supplier’s differentiator. Those are hard questions to answer, but once answered, momentum is built remarkably fast.


  29. September 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm, Marc Maloy said:

    CEB research doesn’t suggest that Challenger Selling is the ubiquitous, end-all be-all, everything else we’ve learned over the years is false, or “the wrong way” of selling methodologies. It simply suggests that things are changing pretty quickly and you better start thinking differently to remain relevant.

    The post, and many of the comments, reminded me of a conversation between a kid and “The One” (AKA: NEO) from the movie The Matrix. It kind of went like this….
    KID: Don’t try to bend the spoon with your mind, that’s impossible. Rather, simply realize the truth.
    NEO: And, what truth is that?
    KID: That there is no spoon. Then you will see that it’s not the spoon that bends, but rather your mind…

    I immediately thought of the movie when I read the part in the post about CEB’s “missing link is validation of the customer’s perspective through questioning and dialogue” because to write it means….unfortunately, that it’s not understood. Unlike yesteryear, customers today are over half way through their purchase process when they engage a sales person for the first time. Therefore, leading that customer back to the beginning for discovery, needs analysis, solution development to those needs, etc… hurts chances rather than helps them. Also, it’s important to point out that the a lot of the data from CEB’s research are averages—which means that sometimes a customer will reach out where and when they learn as opposed to over halfway through their purchase decision. So it’s important for a sales professional to diagnose where someone is in the buying process as a first critical step. Whereas all engagements started at the beginning even 5-7 years ago, that could not be further from the truth now.


  30. September 25, 2012 at 12:18 am, Tim Ohai said:

    Nick, I agree wholeheartedly that the idea of creating (or really exposing) the tension between sales and marketing in a way that drives synergy is absolutely critical . In fact, I am quite happy to see the topic being raised consistently as an expectation that must be addressed. But that is why I am drawn to figure out the linkages to the entire system. There HAS to be a defined, greater context for this discussion to really take root, as Dave points out.

    Marc, if you are suggesting that we all jump off the proverbial cliff into the non-linear, I’m with ya. If sales leaders don’t embrace this, I feel sorry for their sales teams. Which is why my co-author, Brian Lambert, and I push so hard for designing the system from the sales conversation backwards. There are just too many people trying to develop content/messages/tools/etc. so they can shove it into the conversation.


  31. September 28, 2012 at 1:37 pm, Mitch Little said:

    Wow, what a response… I wish I had found this string earlier. Here is just one more perspective on all this. I have carried a bag in B2B sales and lead WW Sales and marketing teams for more than 40 years. I have been part of small teams (1) and large teams. The key to this discussion, in my mind, is that the world has changed and we can chose to respond or become irrelevant. My choice is to lead the change. I have worked closely with Brent for some time and from the beginning my position to all this is that Challenger skills are one more skill set that we add to our tool kit. Not that it is a substitute process. We have developed a Situational Client Engagement Style that uses the four fundamental styles of working with clients that depends on who you are working with, when you are working with them, and what they are open to. It starts at the bottom left of the complexity scale with the style of Product Selling, which allows for the fact that in some time and places that my be the ONLY way you can engage. It moves up the scale to Solutions Supplier that says there will be at time and a place that dictates this is the best way to serve your client. From there we move up the scale to Trusted Advisor that requires more knowledge about business acumen than products but doe NOT preclude the need for product or solutions knowledge. At the top of the scale is the style that we call Insight Provider. And there in lies the Challenger Rep style as a baseline for that engagement. The issue here is that not all clients will engage at all levels. Not all sales people are capable of engaging well in all styles, and our job as sales leaders is to match there ability to the client base and then morph both. So my major point to all of this is that there is a need for multiple styles to match the changing world and if we do not recognize that and act we will become dinosaurs (market leaders that are now extinct). Just sayin….. my thoughts!


    • September 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm, Marc Maloy said:

      Mitch, I would love to see the framework you guys have built if you don’t mind sharing. This type of “maturity index” seems like a great tool.


  32. September 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm, Mitch Little said:

    Glad to share with the audience or individually. It is a pretty simple framework that needs some not so simple enlightenment.


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  34. February 20, 2016 at 7:28 pm, Scott Woodhouse said:

    I find the controversy fascinating on Challenger. Its the consultants who are giving the Yea or Nea if you will. But what about the people who are true A players, that have been doing conflict selling, solutions selling, or whatever were calling it this year. I have spent a lot of time analyzing my deals. I sell both the big Iron in hospitals, and IT in the hospitals. All the deals are complex. WE have some huge dinosaurs out there who still believe in the rolodex system. Sorry, that went a way years ago. And it’s not the “what” it’s the “how”, I have been preaching that forever. I have hundreds of examples to prove it. I never took a farmer position. I am a hunter killer. Roll overs bore me. Competitive kills are fun. I’d tell you my track record, but no one believes me anyways, and frankly, the was yesterday, what are you going to do for me today?

    Challenger nails it. I wish we could do an annual sales contest. See who the best is. The one thing that i don’t remember seeing is there a multiple ways to take a deal complex. Everyone associates that with adding product to the deal. There are other ways to do it. Also people think the amount of money dictates a deal. I guess if your selling a ball point pen that would be true, but that’s not denominator for a complex sale. Well, those are my 2 cents for what its worth.


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  36. December 26, 2016 at 10:23 am, Brian Stephens said:

    First point I’d like to make is that 12,000 words into this well-written article and 30 follow-on posts and the group is collaborating and acting with a high degree of professionalism and decorum. It gives me hope for 2017. Thank you all. The second point is that in that in the same 12K words nobody mentioned the value and impact that Social Selling has to enable modern sales strategy.

    Discussing strategy and cross-table discussion nuance with buyers and not acknowledging the shift towards Social is like scheduling a preeminent surgeon’s time for a procedure and then not telling them which operating theater to report to.

    We’ve crossed the chasm with Social Selling, the late majority is engaging in 2017.

    Clara Shih’s “Social Business Imperative” is a great read and would positively impact the direction of this conversation. (That book is at the bottom of your stocking, I snuck it in there last night…)

    While this group is busy discussing what sellers should talk about in meetings, the customers are connected and researching. They aren’t waiting in a conference room for our visit. They are researching and finding their “Trusted Advisor” sellers that have already proven leadership in respective venues via strong personal branding, relevant content sharing, and a pattern of acting on buyer’s “signals”. (These sellers were the early adopters of Social Selling).

    Failing to recognize that the buyer is driving the conversation in today’s digital context dates this thread.

    Statistics show that >70% of today’s “always connected” buyers are completing their due diligence and are near a buying decision before engaging with sales.

    If a seller arrives looking sharp with a leather bag composed of the latest sales methodology – but who’s social profile, professional brand and online presence does not match that bag’s espoused sales prestige – the meeting will be a short one. In fact, in most cases that specific incongruity means that the meeting never happens.

    In today’s digital world “traditional” relationship building becomes a proactive, consistent investment by the sales person to create their expert persona, harden their brand and generate active conversations that the buyer collides with or is influenced by via common and extended network connections.

    In today’s fast moving digital world, a Salesperson’s digital exhaust is their shiny new leather bag.

    In another data mining exercise across this 12K word string I find it interesting that the only two references to Digital, were both comments (actually 1 comment and 1 retort) on the need, or lack there of, of a “Digital Soapbox”…

    By not recognizing the digital world in which we live today and the impact it has on relationships, solution selling and sales – you could easily change the date of Linda’s original post to 1977 vs. 2017 . Put some Tom Jones on and reread the post and show me where I’m wrong.

    I think Challenger has strong potential. Each of you shared clear logical points. I appreciate being part of this conversation and your broader sales peer group.

    Strong Selling in 2017,

    Brian Stephens


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