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How to Sell Like A Founder: The Challenger Sales Model

In today's climate, it's more important than ever to know how to sell in a way that solves problems for your clients. The Challenger Sales methodology helps you do just that.


According to recent studies and my experience, B2B buyers have become more resistant to traditional sales methods. The traditional methods no longer communicate in a way that shows solutions tied directly to client pain. In response, many sales teams I have been involved with incorporated a more consultative and coaching-oriented approach that helps customers. This is where the Challenger Sales model comes in.

The challenger sale model is a sales technique developed by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board. It’s based on the idea that the best salespeople challenge their customers’ assumptions and help them see the world in a new light.    By bringing a customer through the challenger process, you create a unique alignment with your solution and its ability to improve an essential aspect for the client.

If you’re looking to close more deals and boost your sales numbers, or in my case earn your first set of new customers, then it’s time to start using the challenger sale model. Keep reading to learn more about how to sell like a founder in today’s climate!


What is the Challenger Sales Model?


The challenger sale model is based on four fundamental principles that make a startling difference when engaging with a potential prospect about your solution.   And Notice I will keep using the term solution throughout this blog post, not the term product.   If you are not solving something for your client, I fully believe you are wasting your time.

  1. Teach – The challenger Sale model encourages (requires) salespeople to present their clients with new ideas and solutions rather than simply presenting them with an existing product or service. You emerge as the Subject Matter Expert and discuss best practices that allow improvements to key areas related to your solution.
  2. Tailor – The challenger sale model also encourages (requires) salespeople to tailor their solutions to the client's needs rather than pushing for an “off-the-shelf” solution. Investing 15 minutes of your time to tailor messaging to a client will dramatically impact your close rate and ACV.
  3. Lead – In the challenger sale model, salespeople take control of the conversation and lead their clients through the decision-making process rather than allowing the client to lead.   Remember, the least qualified salesperson on your team is the customer – and leaving them unguided to bring a winning business proposition to the powers that be is a clear recipe for disaster. Walk them through a process that helps them WIN!
  4. Challenge – The challenger sale model encourages salespeople to stir up controversy and get clients to think outside the box instead of simply presenting them with the status quo.   Challenge them to see the world differently based on data and facts of how your solution will bring value to their unique world.

By leveraging these four key principles, salespeople and founders can engage their clients in meaningful and valuable conversations that will help them better understand the client’s needs and solution fit. Ultimately, this leads to more successful sales pursuits, higher ACV, and more satisfied customers.


The six steps of the Challenger Sale in Action


One aspect of the Challenger Sales Model that creates engagement far superior to traditional selling is the customer's emotional journey.   It clarifies the problem, the pain it can create, and the value of solving it.   Here is how I describe it.

The Six Steps of the Challenger Sale Model are as follows:

  1. Warmer– the first step when meeting with a customer is to open with a warmer. This is not your traditional “How’s the weather” as that instantly creates distance; instead, we focus on immediately showing we are prepared, know their industry, know their company, and most importantly, know their industry and most importantly, know issues similar employers face.
  2. Reframe – The next step is to reframe the problem. This is where we bring the customer to a different viewpoint; we look back at the impact of companies that have not solved the issue. During this step, the salesperson uses the information gathered in the discovery step to help diagnose the customer’s situation and show the cost of not changing.
  3. Rational Drowning – After reframing the customer's problem, we use emotion as an engagement tool.   Remember, up to 90% of customers make business decisions for personal reasons and emotional response drives that.   This is where we start backing up our reframe with gathered data to show how big the problem we are discussing is and why solving it is critical.
  4. Emotional Impact – At this step, the salesperson can describe a typical scenario of the issues created by not solving the problem we have brought to the table. The scenario is similar to the client’s reality, and they start to make a connection to the impact of not solving the problem at a core or emotional level.
  5. A New Way – This is where we start showing there is a powerful way to solve the issue we just outlined and the value solving it can drive. Through this, we create a notable release of our tension and show the customer that things can improve significantly.   Now it is very tempting to jump directly into product demonstrations but wait, not yet.   Instead, display data and facts to cement the value of solving the problem.
  6. The Solution – This is where you introduce your solution to the customer and outline the unique attributes you bring to the table to solve the problem you just outlined and gain agreement on.   This is a straightforward process to gain commitment and excitement around your product, and my goal at this point is always to have 3 UVPs (Unique Value Points) cemented for the customer to walk away with.


Applying the Challenger Sale to your business


As discussed, The Challenger Sale Model effectively improves customer relationships and drives sales. Making the transition, or incorporating the sales methodology, is a process but very doable. Here are tips on how to use the Challenger Sale Model in your business:

  • Build a team of people who fit the model: By training people to understand the technical aspects of their job and have strong communication and consultation skills, you have a solid foundation for using the challenger model.
  • Train to use the model: This is the most critical step of the process – training and practice are the make-or-break aspects of anything – especially adopting a new sales methodology. Teaching the Challenger Sale Model and the skills they need to use in their sales interactions is essential, but creating the data and information to support the process is also essential.
  • Practice with real customers: Have your employees try out the Challenger Sale Model with real customers. This will help them gain experience and build confidence. Record and review the sessions as a team – learn from each other and accelerate growth.
  • Analyze results: Track the results of using the Challenger Sale Model with each customer interaction and your sales team overall.   Especially focus on the conversion rates between sales stages as the output of this methodology for me has been faster transitions through the sales process.

By following these tips and using the Challenger Sale Model, you can position your business to drive sales, scale fast and achieve long-term success.


Why the Challenger Sale Works


The Challenger Sale Model works because it encourages customer-focused dialogue, helps build strong relationships, and deepens customer trust. Here are five reasons why I feel it works in sales:

  1. Challenger gives structure to customer interactions: The Challenger Sale Model gives structure to customer interactions and helps to optimize and align customer communication. For a sales team to use a structured methodology, it also allows the team to measure and improve faster.
  2. Establishes trust-based relationships: The Challenger Sale Model enables sales teams to establish trust-based customer relationships by providing personalized guidance and tailored solutions.
  3. Drives results: The Challenger Sale Model encourages sales teams to challenge customers to think differently and encourages customers to take action to achieve desired outcomes.
  4. Connects customer needs with tailored solutions: The Challenger Sale Model enables sales teams or founders to connect customer needs effectively with tailored solutions that provide more value. The more value the faster the process and the higher the ACV.
  5. Inspires customers to think differently about their business: The Challenger Sale Model encourages customers to think differently about their business and challenge traditional decision-making approaches. Many of the people you are speaking with have higher career aspirations. Thinking differently and solving issues taps into that desire – challenger helps sales teams connect to a person’s inner drive and deliver solutions.


Your thoughts?


At the end of the day, it all comes down to understanding and adapting to the customer’s needs. The Challenger Sale Model has helped me become better equipped to face customer challenges, understand their needs, and present tailored solutions.

The key takeaway that I’ve learned from the Challenger Sales Model is how to engage customers in a conversation effectively. A conversation where the customer becomes an active participant and starts to understand how your products and services can help them achieve the desired outcomes. This is a powerful approach to sales, and I believe any sales organization must adopt this methodology to achieve success in the future.

Overall, the Challenger Sale Model helps to create a more collaborative and trust-based relationship between the sales team and the customer. This helps to bridge the gap between the customer’s needs and the business objectives and creates a win-win situation.

What have your thoughts been on the Challenger Sale Model? Are you currently using it and have you seen success with it? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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