BlogSales MethodsWhat Are The Challenger Sales Types? How To Use Them?

What Are The Challenger Sales Types? How To Use Them?

The world as we know it is ever-changing. And, with that, customers are becoming more informed than ever before. The volume of businesses is at an all-time high, which empowers consumers to make educated purchasing decisions. But, for businesses, this means that customers can find and take their business to a competitor in just a few clicks of a button. 

As a result of this, customer expectations are higher than ever before; they’ve evolved so much over the last few years that customer loyalty is now 53% attributed to a good customer sales experience over price, quality or branding. 

So, how can we improve the customer sales experience? One such way is through using the challenger sales types. Below, we’ll look into the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of each of the five challenger sales types.

The challenger sales book summary

The Challenger Sale: How To Take Control of the Customer Conversation” was published in 2011 and written by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon. Adamson and Dixon interviewed thousands of B2B salespeople across 90 countries to understand their sales methods and whether or not the relationship-building strategy is the right or wrong approach to sales. 

While researching and writing this book, they found that sales reps typically fit into one of five sales personas: The challenger, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the lone wolf and the problem solver. Each of these sales profiles has its own attributes and advantages. However, the challenger sales model was found to be the most effective of the five types of sales reps – particularly in complex selling environments. 

The book found that customers can no longer be ‘managed’ through a traditional sales cycle and that this new approach to sales can overcome this; they also found that solution selling was no longer effective. 

By looking at the top-performing sales reps as part of their interviews, they found that:

  • 40% of high sales performers primarily used the challenger style as their sales methodology
  • High-performing salespeople were 2x more likely to use the challenger approach than any other approach to sales
  • More than 50% of all-star performers fit the challenger profile in complex sales environments
  • Only 7% of top performers used a relationship-building approach to sales. This was the worst-performing of the five distinct profiles.  

While the original research was published in a 2011 book, a 2019 study by Gartner showed that challengers now made up almost 50% of ‘star performers’ in a sales team. 

The challenger sales rep has six distinctive traits:

  1. Offers a unique perspective to the customer
  2. Has strong 2-way communication skills
  3. Knows the individual customer’s values and drivers
  4. Can identify economic drivers of customer’s business
  5. Is comfortable discussing money
  6. Can effectively pressure the customer. 

Challenger sales rep types

Below, we’ll look at all five types of sales reps as well as their individual sales approach, unique traits and attributes.

ProfileAttributes% of salespeople in each profile
The ChallengerOffers a new perspective
Doesn’t shy away from conversations about budget or cost
Tactfully pressures the client using the T-T-T model
Loves to debate and challenge.
The Hard WorkerWill go the extra mile for a customer to make a sale
Doesn’t always effectively focus on the customer’s individual values and drivers
The Relationship BuilderCreates a bond or strong professional relationship with the ‘gatekeeper’
Tries to create an internal advocate within a business to push the agenda of a new product or method 
Good interpersonal skills internally and externally.
The Lone WolfA high-performing salesperson who exceeds quotas
Not necessarily adept at interpersonal skills within their business
May break rules or make promises they can’t keep
Self-assured and makes gut and instinctive decisions. 
The Problem SolverIdentifies the customers’ current needs, wants and pain points
Addresses these by matching pain points to features and benefits of the product or service 
Uses a customer service-based approach to sales, eagerly solving problems
Reliable and detail-oriented.

How to use the challenger sales type

Challenger sales reps adopt a ‘T-T-T’ sales tactic. The three Ts stand for: Teach, Tailor and Take control.

  1. Teach: The salesperson teaches the prospective customer or client about a problem they may not be aware of, with a new perspective solution
  2. Tailor: Next, they tailor the sale for each prospect based on their value drivers, wants and needs
  3. Take control: Finally, the sales representative will take control of the sale by offering a tailored solution to the customer. They will take control of pricing discussions and apply pressure to get organisational buy-in and a sale.

As well as the T-T-T approach, Adamson and Dixon also broke down a six-part sales process that makes a good challenger or ‘commercial teaching’ sales pitch. Commercial teaching is an approach to selling that teaches prospective customers how to think about their commercial needs. This six-step approach is what separates sales leaders from average performers.

1. The warmer

Start to build credibility and authority by showing your prospect that you understand the challenges they are facing as a business; perhaps this is service issues with a competitor, a lack of integrations or using out-of-date technology. While the warmer can be used to open a sales meeting, you may need to use elements of this sales methodology to successfully book an appointment or initiate a sales conversation.

2. The reframe

Challenging the status quo for your customer is a good gateway into the second part of the pitch – the reframe. This allows you to connect the customers to challenges to a bigger problem or wider opportunity that they haven’t previously considered. Again, this shows credibility and knowledge about their industry, sector and businesses. This is a good introduction to the pitch. As a seasoned sales professional, you should be able to quickly match up your customer’s issues with the benefits of your product, service or solution.

3. Rational drowning

Now is a good time to show prospects hard data, statistics and case studies that back up why they should consider the wider issue that you’ve raised. Try to keep away from pitching your entire product, but share customer stories and hard data to demonstrate how a different solution could be better for them. 

4. Emotional impact

Modern sales and purchasing decisions are still driven by emotion in 95% of cases. So, create an emotion by empathising with their current pain and what things could be like for them with a new solution – happier, easier, simpler, faster, more efficient, etc. Others have already benefited from the solution, so why wouldn’t they?

5. A new way

Now, show your solution and the way in which they should be thinking about their business. This is the time for a sales pitch – but remember to keep it tailored to their own requirements and needs rather than pitching all the features and benefits of the product. 

6. Your solution

Demonstrate how your solution is the best one available and how it will fit in with their new perspective and priorities. At this point, as long as the other steps have gone well, a sale, quote or product demo of the alternative solution is the next logical step for your prospect to take. Remember to create an efficient post-sales follow-up plan.

How to train other sales types

As the most successful of the five sales rep profiles, you may be wondering how to train the other four sales types to start to use elements of the challenger sales model. Remember that the challenger model works best for complex sales cycles but is less effective for transactional sales.

Coaching a hard worker

Hard workers are already successful salespeople due to their self-motivated nature. So, encourage this group of sales reps to use the teaching aspect of the challenger sales model. They should teach their prospects about wider issues rather than their current pain points to drive a consultative sale.

Coaching a lone wolf

While lone wolves have no issue in closing a sale, it’s important that they work to improve their communication skills. Instead of forcing a lone wolf to change their (already successful) sales style, share the tactics of the challenger sales model and allow them to adopt it as they go.

Coaching a relationship builder

Relationship builders are great at creating healthy commercial relationship with customers, but they may need to work on pushing and taking control of their sales and the sales conversation instead of bending over backwards to please their customers.

Coaching a problem solver

Problem-solvers will often have many attributes of the consultative sale, as they’ll see a problem and aim to fix it with their solution. However, they may not utilise the ability to offer a new perspective to a customer or gain a deep understanding of the business’ needs. So, encourage them to create a tailored solution for each customer rather than solve a single obvious issue – this is what takes it from a transactional sale to a complex sale.


What are the significant traits of a challenger sales rep?

Those who are challenger sales reps generally have good self-esteem, high energy and optimism. They are ambitious and purposeful, they question and challenge the status quo, they are very resilient and work efficiently.

What are the pros and cons of the challenger sales methodology? 

While the challenger sales methodology is undeniably effective, it does have pros and cons. The positives include prioritising the customer’s values and drivers and giving the customers a unique perspective on their issues – this helps these sales reps stand out from the crowd. The main con of this approach is that while it performs exponentially better than the other four sales rep profiles in complex sales cycles, it’s less effective in transactional sales. It’s also quite tricky to master and not suited to all – therefore, only your best-performing sales leaders will be able to use the challenger sales model to its fullest potential.

What is a solution sale?

A solution sell or ‘solution selling’ is where a sales team focuses on fixing a problem rather than leading with the features and benefits of a product to make a sale. This makes the sales pitch more relevant to the customer and provides a direct solution to their issue rather than selling the product or service as a whole.


Known as ‘Anti Solution Selling’, the challenger sales model assists you in selling your solution to your prospects by uncovering your prospects’ problems and addressing these with your product. While Adamson and Dixon uncovered five distinct sales profiles, each of them with its own strengths and weaknesses. However, as the top-performer in complex sales environments, each sales profile has positives that can be applied to the challenger sales model.

References & further reading

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