In a world with a sometimes overwhelming amount of information, salespeople need to do more to stand out. Selling alone, no longer cuts it. Innovative new research has shown that on average, prospects are 57% of the way through the purchase process before they talk with a sales rep. This may be surprising to hear considering the important role that salespeople play in closing sales. However, this role may be changing.

This research tells us two important things. First, prospects are far more knowledgeable about items like price points, standard features, and general information than ever before. Knowing this, we have to begin to consider what role sales people play in the purchasing process. While a sales rep was once simply informative, the modern salesperson needs to engage in more thorough interactions with their prospects about information that isn’t readily available. Second, the modern salesperson has to disrupt prospect’s current thinking, and challenge them to consider their alternative.

Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon recognized the impact of this information when they set out to study the sales approaches of thousands of sales reps over countless interactions. Their book, The Challenger Sale, challenged the common wisdom that relationship building was actually the best way to close sales. According to the Challenger Sales Method, successful salespeople don’t worry about building relationships, rather they play the role of teacher and instruct their prospects on how to solve their problems. The book argues that sales reps must “challenge” their customers by teaching them valuable information, tailoring their pitch to each prospect, and taking control of the conversation.

In a similar way to Jill Konrath’s SNAP Selling methodology, Challenger Sales recognizes that many prospects already know a lot of information about a product based on their own research. Instead of needing to be told about all the features you have, these buyers need to be told why they should finish the sales process.

The Challenger Sales research recognized 5 distinct types of sales reps. In the book, Adamson and Dixon focus on identifying the 5 types of sales reps and then explore how each sales rep sells. In their discovery and subsequent analysis of these sales types, they found one, the Challenger, to be the most effective.

Types of Sales Reps

In their research that contributed to the findings in “The Challenger Sale,” Gartner found many shocking insights. While the most common type of salesperson was the relationship builder, they were not the most successful. While this challenges conventional wisdom, it reflects the changing nature of our society and of the sales process. The types of sales reps that are not Challengers that the research identified are not necessarily negative. In fact, many have great qualities that make for successful salespeople. However, the Challenger salesperson represents the most high performing approach.

The Lone Wolf  was used by 15% of average performers and 25% of high performers. A Lone Wolf is an independent thinker who is often confident in their own methods, and unwilling to compromise.

The Hard Worker, like all the other sales personalities, was used by a similar amount (22%) of average performing sales reps. However, it was only used by 17% of high performing sales reps. The Hard Worker is characterized by their effort and self motivation, but they do not always understand customers’ deepest values.

The Relationship Builder characterized 26% of core performers, but only 7% of high performers. A Relationship Builder gets along well with people and builds strong customer loyalty.

The Problem Solver represents 14% of core performers and only 12% of high performers. The Problem Solver sales type is detail oriented and finds and solves problems related to a prospect’s business.

The Challenger is the most successful type of salesperson. This type of rep understands their prospect’s business and has the knowledge that allows them to push back on the information they are giving them. The research found that although the

Challenger characterized around 23% of average performers, almost 40% of star performers were Challengers, and 54% were Challengers in complex sales situations. In B2B sales industries in particular, the Challenger leads to sales success.

Why Does the Challenger Sales Method Work?

Challengers add real value to a customer’s purchasing process. A survey of over 1,100 salespeople found that the majority of them felt they were paid for their time, rather than their performance or results. Most salespeople felt they were treated like commodities by their companies, while they really want to feel like they are part of a team, and be recognized for their hard work and rewarded for their results. They want to feel like a partner with their company. The Challenger Sales Method is based on the idea that salespeople are partners with their company and should be treated as such. If a salesperson is valued, they will feel like they are part of a team, and they will work harder to bring results.

A prospect’s experience with their sales rep can greatly influence their overall feeling towards a company. Sales reps add onto the information a prospect thinks they have about a company with real valuable information. Rather than just supplying information which can be found online, Challengers take authority over the sales process with new insights. While Challenger’s are helpful, they are also firm and not easily pushed around. Customers who appreciate the value they are supplying will not be dissuaded by this approach.

While relationship building has long been considered, and is still, important, Challengers bring customers value and new ideas, which results in relationships in the end. Today’s prospects expect salespeople to teach them, and Challengers fill that role.

The Three T’s

The Challenger Sales Method centers around sales rep’s ability to ask questions related to the “three t’s,” teach, tailor, and take control. While sales reps practicing other methodologies often apologize for taking a potential customer’s time, the Challenger method questions this assumption. Rather, sales people should feel empowered to continue their conversations with prospects because they are adding value to their experience. Many prospects already have a lot of information, so the sales rep must add value to the relationship or they risk becoming obsolete.


Teaching a prospect means more than just informing them about your own product or its features. Based on their expertise, the modern salesperson can provide far more valuable information than a generic internet search. Teaching can also include explaining what could happen to a prospect’s business if they fail to act on their problems.


Personalization in sales is crucial. The Challenger Sales Method recognizes the importance of providing relevant, customer centric information to your prospects. What is considered important information will change for each individual prospect, depending on a myriad of variables including size, funding, industry, or more.

Understanding what a prospect’s decision making criteria and economic drivers are will be necessary before you can begin to tailor your pitch to each prospect. Providing a custom solution to each prospect is a key tenant of Challenger sales.

Take Control of the Sales Process

A great salesperson who is confident in their product isn’t afraid of difficult conversations. Rather than being apologetic, great salespeople know that they are bringing value to their customer. In that vein, reps who are afraid of talking about price will never get anywhere. Understand your product’s value and be willing to get uncomfortable.

Taking control means leading their prospects in the direction they want to go, rather than answering to how a potential customer leads the conversation. By taking control of the sale, Salespeople teach their prospects how to solve their problems, and convince them of their role in the process.

Rise to the Challenge with Quickcard

The Challenger Sales Strategy has become a go-to methodology for many sales teams. Although in some ways unconventional, its success speaks for itself. By understanding the different types of sales reps out there, you can challenge your team to become high performers and teach, tailor, and take control of their pitchees, to take them to the next level.