Challenger Sales Model: What It Is and Why It Matters

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore the Challenger sales model and find out how you can use it to boost B2B sales.

[Featured Image] Two colleagues meet in the office and discuss the pros and cons of incorporating the Challenger Sales Model into their work.

You might benefit from using the Challenger sales method when closing a sale in a competitive business-to-business (B2B) market. Read this guide to learn more about the Challenger sales model and who developed it. Explore some characteristics that make it unique and find out how other types of sales representatives differ from Challengers. Then, learn about the steps involved in the Challenger sales model and the pros and cons of the method. 

What is the Challenger sales methodology?

Used frequently in B2B sales, the Challenger sales methodology involves challenging a potential customer's beliefs by introducing new information and insights. Rather than listing all the benefits a product or service can offer, the Challenger salesperson defines a unique customer problem and presents the product or service as a solution. With thorough research, the Challenger salesperson demonstrates knowledge of the customer and the product or service, allowing them to take charge of the conversation and direct the customer toward a purchase. 

Who developed the Challenger sales model?

Sales experts Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson developed the Challenger sales model. They wrote about it in their best-selling book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, released in 2011. Following the success of this book, Dixon and Adamson co-wrote a sequel, The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results

Individually, Dixon and Adamson also write for publications like Harvard Business Review and consult, train, and lecture worldwide. Both men have PhDs and vast experience in fields like sales, marketing, product development, and project management. 

How Challenger sales representatives differ from other sales reps

Dixon and Adamson once served as managing directors of the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), now Gartner, a leading research and consulting company. CEB surveyed 6,000 sales representatives during this time and found that most fell into one of five profiles [1]. 

Examining each profile shows how Challengers differ regarding sales behaviors and practices from their peers. The five profiles of sales representatives include:


As the name implies, people within this profile enjoy a challenge. Their deep knowledge of the product or service and thorough customer research allow them to push back when the customer voices an objection about need, price, or value. 

Hard workers

Hard workers don't hesitate to put all the effort necessary into making a sale. People within this profile stay motivated because they embrace the process of improving and developing in their profession.

Lone wolves

A sales rep described as a lone wolf has a fiercely independent nature. People within this profile tend to follow their own instincts regardless of company protocol. Lone wolves have plenty of drive, but controlling them may challenge sales managers and CEOs. 

Problem solvers

Problem solvers have two key characteristics: attention to detail and reliability. They look for the best solutions to a customer's problem but may focus too much time on pleasing the last customer rather than looking for a way to make a new sale.  

Relationship builders

People within this profile try to make sales by building emotional connections with their customers and minimizing tension or discomfort. Customers often see relationship builders as kind, positive, and giving of their time. 

3 capabilities of Challenger sales reps

Challenger sales representatives have three capabilities that other sales representatives may need to develop. All begin with the letter T

1. Teaching: The sales rep provides insight into the customer's unique problem or problems.

2. Tailoring: The sales rep tailors the solution to the problem.

3. Taking control: The sales rep challenges any objections by redirecting the customer back to the benefits of the service or product.

6 steps in the Challenger sales process

To fully understand the Challenger sales method, it helps to know about six critical steps involved in the process. Although the steps may change slightly from customer to customer, this template offers a helpful guide:

1. Identify the customer's needs. Originally dubbed the "warm-up," this step involves researching the customer in advance and identifying their particular pain points at the time of sale. 

2. Reframe the conversation. This step involves reframing the customer's current beliefs and encouraging them to consider new perspectives and solutions.

3. Introduce rationality. Also known as "rational drowning," this step involves introducing hard facts and statistics that back up potential new solutions.    

4. Create emotional impact. This step involves providing information that relates to feelings and experiences. For instance, the sales rep might share stories about how the product or service helped other customers or emphasize the costs involved if the sale doesn't occur.  

5. Suggest a new path. Also called "value proposition," this step involves introducing a new solution that solves the customer's unique problem and explaining its benefits. 

6. Sell the product or service. The final step in the Challenger sales method involves wrapping up the conversation and convincing the customer to purchase the product or service.

Benefits and drawbacks of the Challenger sales model

All sales methods have pros and cons. The essential advantage of the Challenger method remains its effectiveness. According to the CEB study mentioned above, 39 percent of the top salespeople surveyed use the Challenger method, which beats the next highest-selling group (lone wolves) by 14 percent [1]. In addition, while sales reps using other methods may feel uncomfortable discussing prices, the thorough research involved in the Challenger method allows sales reps to talk about prices comfortably. 

Some drawbacks of the Challenger sales method include its success rate with certain sales over others. Although it has a high success rate with complex sales, it may prove less successful with simpler sales. In addition, some sales reps might need help adapting to the Challenger method if they have a less assertive personality or if trained on a different sales method. 

Get started on Coursera.

The Challenger sales model can help elevate the sales process. To continue building your knowledge and skills in sales, consider enrolling in the Sales Training for High Performing Teams Specialization offered on Coursera by the experts at HubSpot Academy. Available to sales professionals at any career stage, this four-course series covers inbound sales methodology, tips for defining your target market, prospecting and negotiating strategies, selling to active and passive buyers, and more. 

Article sources

  1. Gartner. "The Power of the Challenger Sales Model," Accessed March 10, 2024.

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