Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation

Rate this book
What's the secret to sales success? If you're like most business leaders, you'd say it's fundamentally about relationships-and you'd be wrong. The best salespeople don't just build relationships with customers. They challenge them.

The need to understand what top-performing reps are doing that their average performing colleagues are not drove Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at Corporate Executive Board to investigate the skills, behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes that matter most for high performance. And what they discovered may be the biggest shock to conventional sales wisdom in decades.

Based on an exhaustive study of thousands of sales reps across multiple industries and geographies, The Challenger Sale argues that classic relationship building is a losing approach, especially when it comes to selling complex, large-scale business-to-business solutions. The authors' study found that every sales rep in the world falls into one of five distinct profiles, and while all of these types of reps can deliver average sales performance, only one-the Challenger- delivers consistently high performance.

Instead of bludgeoning customers with endless facts and features about their company and products, Challengers approach customers with unique insights about how they can save or make money. They tailor their sales message to the customer's specific needs and objectives. Rather than acquiescing to the customer's every demand or objection, they are assertive, pushing back when necessary and taking control of the sale.

The things that make Challengers unique are replicable and teachable to the average sales rep. Once you understand how to identify the Challengers in your organization, you can model their approach and embed it throughout your sales force. The authors explain how almost any average-performing rep, once equipped with the right tools, can successfully reframe customers' expectations and deliver a distinctive purchase experience that drives higher levels of customer loyalty and, ultimately, greater growth.

221 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2011

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Matthew Dixon

31 books41 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,643 (30%)
4 stars
3,423 (39%)
3 stars
1,911 (22%)
2 stars
448 (5%)
1 star
176 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 521 reviews
68 reviews30 followers
August 5, 2012
I've read probably 150 sales books in my life.

I read this and thought "My Friend Is Here!". Then I called our new friends at Penguin, arranged for the intro to the authors, and used their techniques on them to get a contract to produce the book trailer.

This book is for the misfits - not the lone wolf salespeople, but the ones that are fearless, ready to handle hot potatoes and play poker, and teach, and take control of selling situations.

It's been a long held belief that "relationship selling" is the way to go. And I build and love and am honored by the relationships in my network. However. However. However.

They don't make sales. I want sales, more than friends. I want speedy decisions, and great business, and adreniline. That's this book. Teach people, tailor solutions, take control.

All in a nice way, all in a way that's not "hey, that guy's an asshole," but "hey, that asshole really helped us."

My friend is here. This book validated my career-to-date, and gave me the nuanced voacabulary to play to my strengths.

{A word about my reviews: books are sacred. With few exceptions, I don't post reviews of bad books on here. I read a lot, and I just simply don't rate books I don't think are worth 3 or so stars. There are exceptions - books that are destructive to the reader will not be spared my ire}.

Profile Image for Grant Barnes.
241 reviews17 followers
March 25, 2021
The 5 Sales Rep Types:

1. The Hard Worker
2. The Relationship Builder
3. The Lone Wolf
4. The Reactive Problem Solver
(a customer service rep in sales rep clothing)
5. The Challenger

6 Characteristics of a Challenger Rep:

1. They offer customers a unique perspective
2. They have great 2-way communication skills
3. They know the customer's value drivers
4. They can identify economic drivers of the customer's business 
5. The rep is comfortable discussing money
6. The rep can pressure the customer

A challenger sales rep can TEACH, TAILOR, AND TAKE CONTROL through constructive tension. 

Challengers aren't necessarily world-class question askers, rather world-class teachers. 

Only 38% of customer loyalty is a result of brand/product/service because your competition is great too (not much differentiation) 

Only 9% of customer loyalty Is a result of price to value

Loyalty is found in the sales call. 53% of customer loyalty is attributed to the sales experience. Over half of customer loyalty is not WHAT you sell but HOW you sell it.

Sharing new insights (best) vs doing good discovery (good).

Commercial Teaching:
Teach customers about a problem they have that only you can solve! 
customer: "Wow—how can I make that happen?"
Rep: "let me show you how we're the only one that can provide that" 

It sounds counterintuitive but if your customer says "yes that's exactly what keeps me up at night" then you have failed because you have not taught them anything new. This is where relationship builders fail. 

"Huh, I never thought about it that way before" is when you win. 

If you are going to build an ROI Calculator, make sure you factor in the cost of the new framework you presented not just your product. 

The 6 Steps of a World-class Teaching Pitch

1. The Warmer
Assessment of key challenges and building credibility by leading with hypothesis of their pain I.e., "we're seein thus in the industry, are you dealing with that too?" Vs "What keeps you up at night?"

2. The Reframe
Reframing their problem 

3. Rational Drowning 
#s driven poking the new pain

4. Emotional Inpact
Make sure they feel the pain by making is personal. Story telling of similar companies. 

5. A New Way
Point by point solution (not about the specific supplier yet). Before the customer buys your solution they have to buy the solution. 

6. Your Solution
Build a pitch that leads TO your solution, not WITH it.

Putting 1-6 together and you get:
"What's currently costing our customers more money than they realize that only we can help them fix?"

1. Low performer 
2. Core performer
3. Top performer

Coaching has much less impact on 1 & 3 and much more on 2. Think of a top tier golfer; they have a swing coach but it may it may only take 1 stroke off their average. A horrible golfer/athlete won't really improve even with the best coaching because they ...simply suck. Coaching will help a capable, middle of the road golfer the most. 

The innovative manager does the following:
Profile Image for Parcoast.
268 reviews6 followers
February 17, 2015
The Challenger Sale is not a bad book, especially when directed to the right audience, but that is where I had trouble with it. I picked it up as a general manager of a small business, and found that although some of the ideas were good, and the research interesting, it was not very applicable in my situation. It would be better directed toward sales managers in established organizations. The method it promotes is to control the sale by way challenging the customer, and I like that approach. However, so much of small business is about learning about the customer that I can't see where this would be a better overall approach. I can't have our sales team out challenging our customers all day, not because I fear they would be over bearing, but because I know we would miss opportunities to hear from the customer. In a small business, the sales function isn't just about sales. It is market research, product development and R&D all at once.

I got the most value from the general concept that the challenger persona is the real winner in sales, not the relationship builder. Their research was compelling, but even more importantly the examples resonated with my own experience. For those 20 pages I took notes, and took pictures of the graphs, and I think I can incorporate those insights into my business. And then there was the rest of the book.

The rest of the book is really a conglomerate of a few other known skillsets. Take the Crucial Conversations material and combine it with a good negotiation book, such as Getting Past No, and you well over 50% of the way there on this material. With that in mind, this would have been better as a 90 page pamphlet, outlining their research and what it discovered.
Profile Image for Paul.
32 reviews
March 7, 2012
There's been so many books on selling and so many "systems" that it's hard to find something... anything... new and innovative. The Challenger Sale does, in fact, challenge some long held assumptions about selling success. Unlike your usual book of advice written by some self-proclaimed sales "guru," this book bases its guidance and conclusions on research... hard data research. Most salespeople who have been successful over a long period of time and through the ups and downs of economies intuitively knew why they were successful but perhaps couldn't quite articulate the reasons. The Challenger Sale does just that. In a very straightforward way, this book tells you what you need to change, why you need to change and doesn't lay all of this change solely at the feet of the salesperson. It holds senior leadership accountable as well.

After selling for twenty years and feeling as if so much sales training was boring, uninspiring and downright asinine, I found myself time and again pumping my fist in the air and saying, "YES! THEY GET IT!"

Highly recommended if you want to start your journey on the way to becoming the best of the best. Not recommended if you're a sales robot.
Profile Image for Jacob.
Author 3 books129 followers
February 3, 2014
I loved the premise of this book. Without any question I agree with the message that the authors present. Sales people must evolve into being consultants and teachers who challenge the customer and force a conversation about goals and insights.

I do think the book rambles on a little and is unnecessarily long. It would make for a great 1-2 hour seminar or sales training but I felt like I slowly stopped getting value as I read on.
Profile Image for Christine Lynch.
140 reviews5 followers
December 6, 2016
I read this book because Taylor had to read it for work at UPS and mentioned it was good; unfortunately he mentioned it was good after reading only the first chapter or two and the message of this book, definitely could have been conveyed in one chapter instead of nine.

Basically, there are 5 types of salespeople:
-The Hard worker
-The Relationship builder
-The Lone wolf
-The Reactive problem solver
-The Challenger

Obviously (read the name of the book), the "Challenger" has been shown to be the most effective type of salesperson, both post-recession when this book was presumably written as well as for the foreseeable future. The challenger sale is a 3-pronged method:
1. Teach (provide your customer with new market insight or ideas they haven't thought about before)
2. Tailor (change your message depending on who you are talking to in the org [CEO vs. tech specialist])
3. Take control

A few more pointers on "building challengers" in your organization:
-Challengers are made not just born
-the combination of their skills is what matters most
-challenging is more about organizational capabilities than individual skills
-building challengers doesn't happen overnight

For organizations to win business, they should build the challenger model into their salespeople and company culture at an executive level.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jay French.
2,035 reviews74 followers
November 16, 2016
I found the concept of “The Challenger Sale” to be very interesting. Like many business books, this one starts with “we’ve done a study”, this time on the types of salesmen that are successful. In this case, the findings are not that your typical “relationship is key” salesman is very successful. But neither is the “here’s our product info” salesman. The best kind of salesman in the current environment is one that is knowledgeable about his prospect’s business and can challenge them with a better way to operate. Having worked for a large company, I’ve seen this change occur in the field, with a different kind of training over the past few years, and reorganization of the sales function by industry, all to ease the learning of the prospect’s business. I appreciated that this book explains why those changes occurred and what they are supposed to accomplish, better than the explanation at work. For salesmen not familiar with this way of selling, it appears it can be more difficult, depending on your personality. You can come off as pushy and a know-it-all. But the results appear to make it worthwhile. Being a “challenger”, you have to be a know-it-all, and a real one, not a fake one. Be smarter, not suaver (if that's a word).

A nit on the audiobook version of this: The narrator does not pronounce the company “Nike” correctly. How can something like that happen and slip past the production guys? Very odd, and of course I obsessively thought about that for a few minutes while listening and had to repeat.
Profile Image for Kair Käsper.
153 reviews29 followers
December 28, 2020
It's damn difficult to find a good sales book that's not filled with fluff. This book also doesn't fully pass the test, but the concepts discussed are quite practical and applicable in any company.

As someone who is building out the sales function at a startup, this book entered orbit at the exact right time.
Profile Image for Garrett Wilson.
11 reviews2 followers
October 12, 2020
This book presented so many fascinating concepts that I know are going to be so helpful in my sales job. This book challenges conventional wisdom on building successful relationships with clients, but it also acknowledges that every sales person is different. So many great takeaways that I can’t wait to implement!
Profile Image for Cedric Chin.
Author 3 books90 followers
June 1, 2021
I'm having trouble rating this book.

Enough credible people have said that the Challenger Sale was a 'landmark publication', that 'they keep coming back to it', and that it's a 'must read' ... that I assume the problem is with me, not with the book itself. But I read this right after SPIN Selling, and SPIN was an order magnitude better — the thinking there was more rigorous, the argumentation crisper, and the techniques better presented. The irony, of course, is that SPIN's author, Neil Rackham, endorsed Challenger as the next major update to the SPIN Selling paradigm. He even wrote the foreword to this book.

I think my problem with the Challenger approach is that I do not have the background to appreciate it. Reader beware: the authors assume that you have a background in solution selling, and are looking for an upgrade that takes you from good to great. To be fair to them, they make it clear that the target audience for the book are those who are running fairly complex, high-value sales deals. If you're selling into smaller accounts, or if your product involves less stakeholders, it's probably worth it to stick to something like SPIN.
Profile Image for Sven Kirsimäe.
50 reviews5 followers
May 17, 2020
This book is to understand how to sell and what personality types might fit the best for your sales team. For me, it all reminds a lot about 🎣 :D

The major outcome of the book is, that the Challenger type of a salesperson applies to any other role there is, which is great news for anyone not in sales ;)
Profile Image for Jared.
86 reviews
April 28, 2016
There are very few books that I would give 6 stars out of 5 - but this is one of them. I listened to this in audio, but will go purchase the book so I can add my notes and experiences in the margins. This book will change my professional perspective; and how I view my career.
Profile Image for Ian.
62 reviews2 followers
October 17, 2012
Some interesting thoughts and tools, but it feels like they turned a simple white paper into a book. There is a lot of fluff to wade through.
Profile Image for Vasyl Pasternak.
142 reviews13 followers
December 9, 2017
very boring book, author tried to show this as scientific work, and overloaded it with graphs, tables, statistics. but this doesn't make book more interesting and information more trustful
Profile Image for Jökull Auðunsson.
12 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2018
Like most business books, could have been condensed into something shorter but just as impactful. Very good field guide for enterprise and service-style sales teams.
Profile Image for RTS.
105 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2022
A book that does one thing, but does it well.

The authors take a simple truth - "being customer-centric enables higher sales" - and rebut it completely.

Customer-centric is not a smart goal. In fact, you almost want to do the opposite. To get sales, you have to be contrarian, and disagree with customers.

If the customer is always right, they won't see the value in having you there. You're better served by showing them (gently/confidently) where they're wrong, where you're smarter.

(It's very Loki in Avengers - "It is the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation." We're all subby brats, deep down!!)

The parallels to dating feel obvious. People want to date folks who are weird and specific and jarring and smart. The worst thing you can be is "nice." (This has been explained to death in dating, with The Game and PUA culture, and it's very barf but sadly it works.)

The reason this isn't 5 stars: It's a great book, and a great premise. It debunks what the reader thinks is a simple truth. But it didn't extend as far as it could - this applies to as much to sales as to fundraising, to social interactions, to hiring. Imo, there's a deep, obscure truth here about how humans think.

But instead of pursuing that line of inquiry, the authors talk about "managerial sales innovativeness" in detail. First of all, that's a made-up term, and second of all, it's so distant from the main point. Idk. Maybe I wanted theory more than practice.

Anyway, an absolutely worthwhile read for any bozo like me, who's forced to sell despite having no background in it. Would fully recommend.
Profile Image for Sid.
83 reviews1 follower
May 18, 2018
As far as sales books go, this is one of the better ones. The premise as the economy tanked in 2008, sales org. had to find a way to grow their business in a shrinking market. To do so, sales org. have to bring valuable insights to the clients. It's not just about gathering requirements and providing a solution. Rather, it's about knowing the customer's market, teaching them something they don't know, and tailoring a solution that helps THEM differentiate in the marketplace. The word customer centric is often misused by sales org. The true definition is not thinking about your company and leading with your strengths. It's more about starting with the customer's challenges and leading to your strengths that can help them overcome. The main concepts of the Challenger Sale are Teach, Tailor and Take Control of the conversation. The book is practical enough and provides ample examples. A must read for not just sales org., but the marketing dept's, and the engineering (solutions) teams!
February 8, 2023
Good book 📕
I always feel hesitant about dividing people into groups, whether it is 12 Zodiac signs, or 5 groups of different sales personalities. Each of us, sales, has a bit of everything.
With this though in mind, you can read the book with the mission to make your Challenger part the prevailing one, not just changing yourself completely.

The idea behind the Challenger person: teach tailor control is very straightforward but still essential in sales.

What’ll stay in my mind and help me - is getting this aha-moment via revealing the problems that the customer is not even aware yet that my solution can help resolve; but it’s hard to do this cause you’re sort of forcing these problems upon them at first and sometimes might be wrong with the suggestions.

To sum it up, I find the book great and insightful. Definitely, there’re a few chapters/ pages/ paragraphs that are irrelevant/ boring/ useless that could have been removed to save our time but the book is definitely above average and worth reading.
January 20, 2023
Interesting data-driven perspective on improving outcome in sales environments. Dixon and Adamson connected common knowledge on optimizing sales and delivered some new insights and established new paths to success. The most refreshing point was challenging that relationships are the leading driver to sales success. Instead of solely focusing on relationship building, confidently (and competently) representing the solution you offer and how it specifically relates to each customer was found to have the best outcomes.
Profile Image for Chris Marr.
53 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2020
If you’re in B2B sales this sales philosophy is not only worth reading, but worthy of study and practice. I’ll be revisiting this book and in the mean time I’ll be implementing some of the key practices in the challenger sales philosophy to improve how I consult and help my clients make better decisions, faster.
Profile Image for Annasnova.
366 reviews
June 13, 2017
This book came recommended by sales pros with a lot of experience and I can see why. It's *the* sales book I've been looking for to help understand complex selling in B2B environment. It offered a completely different take on the sales process and opened up my eyes to so many things! Should be a must read for anyone in business - not only sales.
7 reviews10 followers
May 18, 2017
For all my complex sales friends, if you've not read it it is defintely worth it.
23 reviews2 followers
October 13, 2022
The book explains a new type of sales approach that has been uncovered through years of research by the CEB institute. There were previously 4 wifely accepted types of sales people, each with varying degrees of success. The fifth, uncovered by the research, is titled the 'Challeneger'.

This type of sales person focuses on education and insight to change a customer's behaviour. The goal with their approach is to encourage customers to understand the cost of continuing with certain decisions or choosing not to act.

The challenger sales approach has the demonstrated ability to perform in all market conditions. A must read for any sales leader/sales person to stand out against the rest.
Profile Image for Genia Aslanian.
9 reviews5 followers
February 4, 2023
Overall, it’s an informative book for both managers and reps.
I just wish there were more examples of companies deploying this method.
Profile Image for Jill.
650 reviews6 followers
July 3, 2017
I've never read a book about sales specifically, and this one was a great entry point. I had so many "ah-hah" moments while reading it- "so that's why our best salespeople pitch this way!" If I were leading a sales org, I would reread this, and have my managers and employees read it, too. Biggest take-away: the best sales reps offer their customers some new insight, or way of seeing things differently (and conveniently, that insight leads them down the path toward their product as a solution).
Profile Image for Darrell Amy.
Author 1 book
April 14, 2020
I highly endorse The Challenger Sale for any company in the B2B space. There is so much value in this book for both marketers and sales professionals. In the spirit of marketing and sales alignment, this would be a fantastic team read. Salespeople would begin to see the vision for developing business acumen. Marketing professionals would get a clear understanding of the type of content they need to provide to support the sale. Business owners would see how they can add value by mentoring their marketing and salespeople in the fundamentals of business.

Some books are hard to summarize because they are jam-packed with ideas, insights, and practical applications. The Challenger Sale is one of these books. Based on empirical research conducted at the end of the last recession, this book offers sage advice for business leaders seeking to navigate the questions of how to market and sell in the post-COVID economy.
The way the book begins should get our attention:

“When we unlocked the mystery of high performance in a down econmy, the story turned out to be much bigger than anyone anticipated.”

Before I offer my favorite takeaways, I must offer some repentance. As marketing professionals, we all have been guilty of quoting one specific piece of data from the 2012 CEB research behind the Challenger Sale: Buyers are on average 57% through the process of making a buying decision before engaging a company or sales rep. (Read The End of Solution Sales published in the Harvard Business Review.) Not only is this data now almost 10 years old, it’s a no-brainer.

We get it. Buyers do online research.The Challenger Sales offers so much more than this. I believe that this book could aptly be titled, “The Challenger Marketer” because it offers just as much insight for marketing as it does for sales. So, in the spirit of going beyond the worn-out “57%” number (and ensuing arguments between marketing and salespeople who vigorously deny this data), let’s look at some of the key takeaways from this amazing book.

The Shift To Buying Teams
Sure, buyers do research online. We get that. But the Challenger Sale highlights more key changes in how businesses buy.. I think these two changes are critical:

The Rise of the Consensus-Based Sale.
Increased Risk Aversion
Guess what? If you sell in the B2B space, you don’t sell to one person, you sell to a team. Later research presented in The Challenger Customer revealed that there is an average of 6.7 decision-makers and influencers on a business buying team.

Why? Businesses, and individual decision-makers, have figured out that if a team makes a decision, there is less risk. “Customers are looking for ways to reduce both the complexity and risk that suppliers’ solutions selling efforts have foisted upon them.”

What does this mean? In Revenue Growth Engine, I talk about influencing buying teams. To be successful, salespeople, with the help of marketers, need to be able to identify and influence people with whom they may not even get a face-to-face (or Zoom) meeting.

Later in the book, Adamson and Dixon take a deep dive into how successful reps handle team buying teams. I was always taught to go straight for the C-Suite. However, the research showed that what C-level decision-makers value is buy-in from their team. “The best way you sell more stuff over time isn’t by going directly to the person that signs the deal, but by approaching him or her indirectly through stakeholders able to establish more widespread support for your solution.”

What does this mean? We may need to rethink our approach to new deals. I’m not saying we don’t go to the top, but as we do, we better also bring along the rest of the buying team. That means we have established relationships of trust and value with multiple stakeholders.

The #1 Type of Sales Representative
When we think of successful salespeople, we typically think of reps that have great relational skills. They are able to make friends and build trust. The research behind The Challenger Sale discovered the exact opposite. The most successful salespeople were the ones are Challengers.

What is a Challenger? They are the debaters “They have a deep understanding of the customer’s business and use that understanding to push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively.” This type of rep outperformed the relational sales rep by a huge margin.

“In the traditional model, it’s customer-generated intelligence that is valuable to the supplier.” As salespeople would go in and do discovery first to learn about their business. “In the emerging model, it’s supplier-generated insight that is valuable to the customer.”

Today, it’s not just the buyer that does homework online before the sales process. Reps and marketers also need to do their homework, learning about the prospect’s business and industry, so they can begin the conversation by bringing valuable insights to the table.

Challenger Reps (and Marketers) Lead With Insight
What can we learn from this? Are relationships important? Absolutely. However, the type of relationship that buyers value is one that brings insight to the table.

When I talk with sales leaders, I often ask about their sales team’s level of business acumen. I think you can guess the answer.

Similarly, marketers need to look at their content. Does it provide insight? Does it demonstrate a knowledge of the buyer’s problems and the outcomes they desire?

As much as we need Challenger reps, I think we also need Challenger marketers.

Sales and marketing need to unite around understanding the real business issues faced by their ideal clients. All the way back to my solution selling training days, I’ve said, “We need less product training and more problem training.” (Buyers Do Not Buy Products... They Buy Outcomes!)

The reps that will succeed going forward will understand business problems and how the products solve these problems. Without this, reps are what my good friend and Selling From the Heart Podcast co-host, Larry Levine calls “empty suits.”

These reps need to be supported by a marketing team that also understands the problems. Branding and cute social media posts need to be replaced with substance. I believe that A Focussed Message is high octane fuel for a high-performance Revenue Growth Engine.

Perhaps this current economic downturn will thin the herd, rewarding companies, marketers, and sales reps that bring substance, ideas, insights, and solutions to the market. The question we all have to answer is, “Am I an empty suit or do I bring value?” What are you going to do today to understand more about your clients’ business?

Commercial Teaching
Challenger reps “teach, tailor, and take control.” I think the section on Commercial Teaching is brilliant. Yes, Challengers need to bring insights to their clients. But the way they bring that insight may be as important as the insights themselves.

I love this line: “Don’t lead WITH, lead TO.” Most salespeople and marketers lead WITH their products. Instead, they should do teach in a way that leads TO the solution.

The key here is to begin the conversation with an insight that “reframes the way they think about their business.” In other words, don’t just throw data at a customer and then jump to how your product resolves the issue. There is an important interim step. Reps need to reframe the issue that the data brings up. In other words, reps need to beyond insight to show the implications to that client.

Adamson and Dixon share a six-step choreography for telling your sales story that is brilliant. Rather than trying to teach it here, I recommend you flip to chapter 4 and study this in detail as a sales and marketing team.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 521 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.